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ROCKABILLY WORKSHOP (Part I) Official Thread! Here we go!

Discussion in 'Rockabilly 2005' started by route66gal, Feb 16, 2005.

  1. route66gal

    route66gal Registered Guest

    They took my blue suede shoes, down to ol’ Mobile
    Got to rockin’ with the rhythm, run ‘em over at the hill
    Put your cat clothes on
    Cause tonight we’re really gonna rock it right
    Yeah, Kitty, put your cat clothes on
    Cause tonight we’re gonna really bop it right
    -Put Your Cat Clothes On - Carl Perkins

    Western wear, hawaiian duds, glamour and sex kitten dresses….what do they all have in common? At any modern rockabilly event, you’re likely to see all of the above and many more styles - sometimes mixed into a single outfit.

    (I shot and edited this music video for my friend, Lisa Dean, owner of the no-longer-in-business vintage store, Under the Sun. It should give you an idea of the rockabilly look. It may take a minute to load - you may want to go about other business while it does - but eventually it should load fine. Dial-up folks may want to sit this one out, but it's a fun little piece!Music by the Collins Kids)

    In this part of the workshop, I’m going to focus heavily on the influence of American western culture in rockabilly wear. The history of western wear alone has a lot in common with the evolution of rockabilly fashion itself.

    During the 19th century, fashion was spread throughout north america by several separate groups crossing paths - native americans, hunters, trappers, gold rushers, mexicans - suddenly, they were all travelling the country spreading their disparate fashions, picking up fringe here, beaded and embroidered embellishments and buckskin there.

    Above: 60s vinyl jacket inspired by 19th century western wear

    Once country music came into full swing, there were the "dressing up" and "dressing down" approaches to western clothing. Barn dances, like the WLS National Barn Dance and of the 40s were more about dressing down - dungarees and gingham dresses and other easy to wear and clean clothes were the norm in the radio days.

    50s gingham ready-to-wear western dress

    Ornate fiesta dresses from New Mexico and the more utilitarian "squaw" (or patio) dresses from indian reservations became very popular - the two styles came together into one southwestern dress style. It is important to note that while the word "squaw" is looked down upon today due to less than respectful connotations, this term was used for years in connection with these dresses and no disrespect is meant when vintage fashion enthusiasts use the term.

    Three-piece fiesta outfit - perfect for dancing, it comes with its own matching bloomers!

    Guaze squaw, or patio, dresses such as this one, call for unique, but simple care - simply handwash, squeeze, then tie into sections and allow to dry! No ironing necessary!

    Also popular are handpainted vintage mexican circle skirts, such as this sequined one, from Azteca de Mexico.

    Above: Here's a great example of a New York design based on casual western dress principals.

    Yet another example of southwestern influence.

    Once televised shows like Ranch Party and the much more glamorous Grand Ol' Opry became popular with mainstream audiences, costumes became more extravagent.

    The Collins Kids perform on the Saturday night TV show, Ranch Party. Note that the extras sitting around are in more casual clothes, while Larry and Lorrie wear elaborate stage costumes. When the Collins Kids played VLV #1, Lorrie actually FIT into one of the costumes she wore as a young teenager. Can we say "lucky lady"?

    I just have to post this one - it's a shot from my own wedding that reminds me of the Barn Dance photo above :) I'm wearing my Mom's wedding dress - and that's my mom and dad dancing next to us - ain't they cute?


    Turk and Rodeo Ben were from Poland, and Nudie was Russian, and all three brought eastern european influences with them, adding to the US southwestern fashions that they loved. These were fashions reserved for the stars for the most part - and they bought pieces by the hundreds. Rodeo Ben even branched out to design the first pair of Wrangler jeans for Blue Bell, making the rare crossover from custom clothier to the ultimate in comfort wear - denim (a topic I'll be covering in an upcoming workshop!)

    Hank Williams in the Nudie suit that he loved so much. This was the suit he was buried in.

    Nudie with Elvis in the infamous gold lame suit he made for him - a departure from his western wear, but it certainly garnered him international attention.

    While the custom western tailors deserve much more attention, since I don't have any of their pieces in my personal collection, I have been unable to gather photos other than copyrighted images. Hopefully by later inthe week I'll be able to share more with you. In the meantime, here are some great links on these fabulous tailors:
    Nudie's Rodeo Tailor

    A bit of info on Manuel (if you have a better link, please let me know!)

    There is also a new exhibit opening up at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, February 18 called the
    Kings of Country Couture that would definitely be worth your while if you're in the Nashville area.

    Of course, there were plenty of designers ready to share mid-line clothes that were a step up from plainer cotton weaves and gingham. Companies such as HBarC, Rockmount, California Ranchwear, and a host of others. These designers often worked with gabardine, creating a sharper, more tailored look. They incorporated the embellishments used by the custom tailors, such as the fancy embroidery, piping, yokes, and five-snap cuffs favored by the custom tailors - only they found shortcuts and opened quality factories to make these pieces affordable to the general public.

    Gabardine HBarC ladies shirt

    Ladies HBarC long-tail satiny woodgrain-look shirt and light blue denim skirt with white leather fringe and accents

    Yellow satin novelty western blouse with cartoonish horses by Panhandle Slim

    60s fringed and sequined polyester HBarC shirt

    Rockmount Ranch Wear square dance western shirt with vintage sidezip western jeans

    Another great cotton Rockmount shirt

    1970s H Bar C El Dorado Fancy Western

    1970s H Bar C with tuxedo type cuffs (need to be folded up and clips with cufflinks)

    1970s Embroidered Extra Fancy H Bar C with smile pockets and shotgun cuffs


    Crowd at the Denver Rock n Rhythm-Billy Weekend, 1996

    Crowd at Viva Las Vegas, 2000

    I took this photo at Viva Las Vegas #1 - it pretty much sums it all up - western gingham, beaded pink sweater, Bloody Marys and ice cream. Rockabilly style is a little bit of EVERYTHING.

    An entire dissertation could be written on this topic (as well as the others), but I think pictoral examples will speak louder than words. Since honky tonk, hillbilly, R&B, jump blues, western swing and a whole slew of musical styles came together to give birth to this style of music known as rockabilly, it just stands to reason that fashion will show these influences as well. The fashions worn by Elvis Presley both on stage and in movies really shows the diversity in rockabilly fashion. By looking at some rockabilly musicians' fashion choices in the past and currently, we can see how rockabilly fashions have become such a mishmash of seemingly disparate styles.

    Wayne Hancock, the second coming of Hank Williams, Sr, hanging out, trying some new songs out with friends.

    Wayne isn't a rockabilly musician, per se - he writes and sings good old honky tonk music - but he's part of the rockabilly tribe. So why does he wear vintage hawaiian most of the time? Comfort and style - doesn't mean he has to cover Don Ho songs!

    Promo shot of Wayne Hancock in front of Leon's Country Store in Rockne, Texas - the little town that Wayne calls home. Note the bench, note the hawaiian shirt, and note the cuffed jeans. This is modern rockabilly fashion.

    Similarly, here's High Noon, the rockabilly trio, at a friend's crawfish boil a couple of days before their reunion at Viva Las Vegas 2000. Like Wayne, this comfortable style is common when they perform live as well.

    On the ladies' side, no one set the standard for women and rockabilly like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin
    Today, artists like Marti Brom and Dee Lannon continue in the tradition of these wonderful style and music icons.



    I'll end with this photo of the wonderful Rosie Flores playing an instore in the much missed Under the Sun here in Austin, Texas. Fashion and music always belong together.


    Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts! Just to let you know, some of the pieces you see here from my personal collection will be available in time for VLV - I'll let you know when I get to listing!


    Suggested Reading:

    Hillbilly Hollywood by Debby Bull

    How the West was Worn by Holly George-Warren and Michelle Freedman

    100 Years of Western Wear by Tyler Beard

    Suggested links:
    For great music and photos,
  2. gaildavid

    gaildavid VFG Member

    Fantastic information and photos, Melanie!!


  3. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Melanie, this is wonderful! I knew of the Mexican circle skirt
    popularity for events such as VLV, however, I always thought of
    the western influence as being more of a fringe look (no pun intended).

    I'm understanding from what you have above and from the pics, that
    Western influenced vintage is actually quite big.....correct?

    Loved seeing the pics!

  4. artizania

    artizania Alumni +

  5. dibs2002

    dibs2002 Registered Guest

    Wow Mel! Fantastic!

    Interesting with the western wear - I have a friend who rides and shows her horse western, and you should see the show clothes. They are very similar to some of the items up above with lots of embellishments and shiny things on it!

  6. cymbeline

    cymbeline Registered Guest

    Wonderful, I really enjoyed this so much!
  7. route66gal

    route66gal Registered Guest

    Hi, Sue -

    Yes, western wear is really quite popular. The day to day fashions are huge within the scene and the showier stage costume like pieces do make an appearance often. Daily wear might also include overalls for guys or gals - but it's just as likely for a hawaiian shirt to be worn underneath as it is for gingham. One area that I had planned to get into was cowboy boots -but I just ran plum outta energy, LOL! Here in Austin, you'll often find vintage cowboy boots worn under cuffed jeans as well as fancy dresses. For those who can afford it, full on, head-to-toe fancy western outfits are much admired as well. From current trends on ebay, however, it looks like other unique ready-to-wear pieces are going for just as much as those made by the custom tailors. It's exciting to watch!

  8. route66gal

    route66gal Registered Guest

    Deb, I know that a lot of amazing embellishments have been done for show riders - sequins hand-sewn on fringe, etc. They're made to give the rider as much sparkle as they possibly can have in an arena. Nudie's Rodeo Tailor and Ben the Rodeo Tailor really brought riders to a new level of pizazz!

  9. ourbabyroo

    ourbabyroo Registered Guest

    Mel ~

    Fantastic pictures and info. This thread is definitely a keeper!!

    And of course, I LOVE the video. :)

    I have some shoe questions - not general shoe questions (I know that's another workshop ;) ) but questions as to if they are Rockabilly or not. But I don't want to jump the gun and throw you off base...so I will wait. :)
  10. I notice that although one traditionally thinks of Rockabilly as 50s oriented fashionwise, with a good strong dash of WWII pinup girl thrown in, it is interesting to see the 70s items. So one would draw the conclusion that its "Look" over exact period dating that wins the day.

  11. route66gal

    route66gal Registered Guest

    Chris, this is true, especially with western wear. HBarC, for example, might have widened their collars over the years, but that has just given a bit of a psychobilly edge to the proceedings.

    I think the coolness that Gram Parsons brought to the picture - with his over-the-top marijuana leaf Nudie suit - had a lot to do with the progression of psychobilly style. Smilie pockets, arrowhead reinforcements, and long cuffs created by the custom tailors in the 40s really advanced the fashion to a place that allowed a bit of creativity in the 70s to still be cool today with the rockabilly crowds.

    A note about authenticity - in some rockabilly scenes, authenticity is more important than others. But to pretend that the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s never happened, a rockabilly aficianado is kidding him or herself - and missing out on a lot of cool music and style. A rockabilly that listens to Gene Vincent and Deke Dickerson (neo / "authentic" rockabilly), and no one in between is doing himself a huge disservice. The Byrds, X, and the Blasters, for example, all brought a whole new dimension to fashion, style, and music in rockabilly history.

    Of course, aside from western fashion, there's also the issue of tattoos. They're HUGE in the rockabilly world - not just with psychobilly types. But they're often garish and loud - and *no* rockabilly in the 50s would ever consider getting one (unless they were in the service, perhaps). But today, a tattoo of a naked lady is quite commonplace - but not "authentic".

    Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. Where was I again? LOL!

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that funky little touches happened over the years in western apparel as well as other traditional attire, and rockabillies the world over seem to have embraced these little enhancements in some cases. They add a touch of funkiness to the proceedings.

  12. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    i love it! really interesting for me from a british perspective too, as i'm not so clued up on the history etc., just recognise the look.

    thanks melanie!:)

    am looking forward to the rest.
  13. PodVintage

    PodVintage Alumni

  14. Catboxvintage

    Catboxvintage Registered Guest

    Excellent job! All those great pics make me want to go on a shopping spree:) I see a lot of the guys in jeans. Do you know if there is a particular brand or style that is more popular than others?
  15. artisannes

    artisannes VFG Member

    I just love that video - you rock!!!

  16. dibs2002

    dibs2002 Registered Guest

    Speaking of Brits Harriet - you jogged my memory!

    I lived in London from 1986 - 1988. I was given 2 free tickets to a concert at Wembley arena, it was country & western with Jerry Lee Lewis. It was so odd to see people speaking in British accents dressed in checked shirts with pearly buttons, cowboy hats and cowboy boots. I thought they were a bit over the top. The concert lasted 7 hours and was the twangiest music ever, but we were determined to stay to see Jerry Lee Lewis. 7 hours later when he finally played, the crowd went wild.

    Looking back on it, I think THAT was rockabilly.

  17. dibs2002

    dibs2002 Registered Guest

    Stray thought - how does James Dean from Rebel Without a Clue fit into the RAB scene - or does he?

  18. Catboxvintage

    Catboxvintage Registered Guest

    Oh, and though I know it's not exactly clothing, can we talk about hair for a minute? I'm wondering what tricks the gals use to give their hair that RAB look. Clips? Hairspray? Flower pins?
  19. route66gal

    route66gal Registered Guest

    Angela - cuffed redlines are the order of the day - Levis 501XX must find their way into any respectable rockabilly wardrobe. I'll get into it in detail more in the denim workshop in April, but basically, the key to jeans for guys is this selvage:


    Bigger shot of same jeans:

    Older jeans also have bucklebacks - here's what to look for - this is from a pair of repros I sold recently:


    Original bucklebacks, however, are exceedingly rare - finding a pair of jeans that rare makes finding your run of the mill Big E look like finding a penny on the sidewalk.

    Speaking of Big Es, while that is what everyone always searches for, there are other details that are just as important - there are small e's, for example, that are redlines - and those sell well, too. I'll cover this in more detail in the upcoming workshop. (Ooooh, teaser!)

    Sanforized Lees and Wrangler Blue Bells are also popular jeans.

  20. pf1

    pf1 Registered Guest

    Terrific work...! I learned soooo much. Though I live right outside Nashville, I didn't even know about the upcoming Country Music Hall of Fame "Kings of Country Couture" exhibit. Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts is currently running a Manuel exhibit (through May 22), showcasing his couture series of 50 state jackets.

    What a great way to spend the day in Nashville..! Two exhibits within 1/2 mile of each other, and a stop at Tootsie's in between...


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