Retro Chick is taking a well earned break, but to keep you entertained today’s post comes from Wake Up Little Susie. Susie is a vintage seller, and this post about her style evolution is particularly interesting as she comes to “vintage” from the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene of the 1980s and has a slightly different take on it than those of us who were teenagers in the 90s, or are coming to “vintage” as teenagers now.

With my distinct 1950s look I’ve become a familiar face in Norwich over the years, at Rock ‘n’ Roll gigs, vintage fairs, on the number 16 bus or just going about my daily business! I’m recognised every where I go – a charity collector in a shop the other day greeted me with ‘Oh, you’re that vintage lady!’ and I was recently stopped by someone who said ‘I often see you on the bus and just wanted to say I think you look lovely!’ – but, has anyone ever wondered why I look this way, and how I got interested in 1950s style?

Susie & Simon 2012

My love for all things vintage stems from my life-long love for Rock ‘n’ Roll music. Difficult to pin-point exactly where it came from – partly my parent’s record collection, partly the pop culture that was around when I was a kid in the ‘70s with the likes of ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Grease’ on our TV and movie screens and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the charts in the form of Showaddywaddy and The Darts, and as a teenager in the ‘80s when Shakin’ Stevens made it big. Whatever, I just innately felt that this was the music and period for me!

With my increasing love for Rock ‘n’ Roll came the seemingly natural desire to dress accordingly and I would go crazy trying to get Rock ‘n’ Roll outfits. Luckily there was that retro ‘50s thing going on in the ‘80s with lots of lovely pastels and bright colours. A polka dot full skirt was easy to obtain, and whilst still at primary school I remember finding net petticoats in British Home Stores. Never a confident child or outgoing teenager, I still had that inner desire to ‘look different’ and make a point of doing my own style thing. As I got older into the ‘80s, I would see the older Rockabilly girls in Norwich, with their turned up jeans and big curly quiffs, and immediately knew that I wanted to be like them! I would improvise best I could, turning up my jeans and matching the colour of a sweater with the ribbon in my ponytail.

Susie and her brother in the mid 80s

Through music magazines I discovered the reproduction clothing companies Ted’s Corner and Daddy-O, a big break through in the evolution of my style. I wore my red Ted’s Corner circle skirt to death and to this day still wear the white net petticoat I ordered from them at the age of 14! Daddy-O reproduced the more American styles with pedal pushers, stripy blouses and Jane Russell gypsy tops which all found their way into my early teenage wardrobe! My first major vintage find was a beautiful blue St Michael’s skirt with white buttons, from a boot sale at Wells which kicked off my exploration of old clothes shops in Norwich – (we just called it ‘original’ clothing then, the term ‘vintage’ wasn’t used as widely as it is now). Of course in the mid ‘80s it was much easier to pick up ‘50s clothes in charity shops, and I still have a good collection of colourful print dresses picked up in those days for less than a fiver.

Susie red circle skirt, mid '80s

The biggest event in my Rock ‘n’ Roll history came with my first rockin’ gig at C.C.’s Nightspot in Norwich in February 1988! I had pestered Robbie, son of my parents friends who I’d heard was into Rock ‘n’ Roll, until he decided it was time to introduce me to the exciting world of the Norwich Rock ‘n’ Roll scene at the age of 16 and offered me a lift – needless to say I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back since! This opened me up to types of music I was unfamiliar with and I was soon delving into the Rockabilly section in Andy’s Records, and buying repro 45s in the City’s second hand record shops featuring all the latest boppers, jivers and strollers! Dancing was instantly high on my list of things to learn to do, and all the girls already into the ‘50s look on the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene became a huge influence.

In the ‘80s the thing was to be as authentic as possible, very little repro clothing was worn then, and I would marvel at the hair set in ‘poodle’ styles, the glamorous make-up and fantastic clothes. Pretty soon Sandra, to become one of my life-long best mates, took me under her wing, passed on some original dresses and bags to me (yippee!), I plucked up the courage to ask what kind of eye-liner they all wore (liquid!) and soon I was setting my hair with plastic rollers and setting lotion, to varying degrees of success.

Skegness 1994

The first Hemsby Rock ‘n’ Roll weekender came at the right time for me at 17, in October 1988, and weekenders led to a whole new adventure in hearing new music, record collecting and outfit planning! Friday night would mean my second best dress at that time, something light and comfy to dance in as you’d be itching to get out on the floor on the first night of a weekender! Saturday was the day so best smart/casual was called for, usually my nicest pair of fitted slacks with a ‘50s top. Saturday night was the big night, definitely spending time in the chalet with a head full of rollers before donning my absolute best evening dress and accessories. By Sunday, a little jaded (too much dancing and alcohol, not enough food and sleep) a more casual look could creep in, with my Daddy-O side zip jeans, but by Sunday night it would be on with a skirt, again for maximum ease of dancing.

My main criteria to this day for deciding whether or not to buy a dress is ‘can I dance in it?’ I’ve grown up with the Hemsby weekenders, meeting my husband to be there in May 1991, finding that special someone to share my life and interests with being the number one great thing about my love for the ‘50s!

Susie Hemsby 1995

You would think that in a scene relating to a specific period of time, fashions would remain fairly static but trends still come and go, sometimes influenced (whether consciously or otherwise) by general trends. The ‘must look ‘50s’ attitude of the ‘80s rockabilly scene changed into a more casual thing in the ‘90s with girls wearing jeans, T-shirts, leather trousers and motorcycle boots and the set hairstyles giving way to straight hair and ‘Betty Page’ fringes. This look was never ‘me’ and I carried on with my ‘50s print dresses and curls, by then wearing what I liked and felt good in without a thought for trends or making a point – I had found ‘my style’!

I’ve also more recently adjusted to a whole new wave of vintage fans that haven’t come up through the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene, originally finding that hard to understand but now finding a completely new and cool wavelength with them! The current vintage ladies go for a more stylised look, influenced by pin-up and burlesque styles and look fantastic but I’m happy with my more relaxed natural look (I can’t get my hair to stay that tidy anyway!) and I guess I’ve got it right as I’ve been told many times (at home & in the States) that I remind people of how their Mum looked in the ‘50s! We’re now in a new and exciting time to be vintage fans so I’m enjoying being ‘me’ more than ever!