Era of rollers wasn’t so rockin’

Replicating 1950s attire for a week sharpens understanding of past, present

I ended this week wearing a black Audrey Hepburn style dress with a very large petticoat, rhinestone necklace and earrings, and a big red leather belt tying it all together.

Lucy Marco

I ended this week wearing a black Audrey Hepburn style dress with a very large petticoat, rhinestone necklace and earrings, and a big red leather belt tying it all together.

Lucy Marco

Oxford saddle shoes? Check. Obnoxious skirts with petticoats and shirts buttoned all the way to the top? Yep. Never enough pearls and rhinestones? Yes ma’am. Ridiculously quaffed hair? Got it.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this week I will be discovering what happens when I strictly follow the grooming and fashion of a traditional ‘50s woman. The ‘50s were culturally a very interesting time for America, as commercialism and technology advanced and expanded, the fashion trends did as well.

Henry Tarin is the owner of Big Bertha’s Paradise, an eclectic and eccentric shop, full of one-of-a-kind vintage masterpieces. Tarin believes that the ‘50s was a time of women empowerment, celebrating women’s bodies and introducing concepts such as wide skirts, shoulder pads, big belts and women’s pants.

“The ‘50s were atomic. It was the beginning of the women’s movement really, giving them power. It gave them nip waists and shoulders, celebrating the woman’s body. These women were powerful!” Tarin said. “They went from bland to atomic, being a pin-up.”
This week I will find out through firsthand experience what measures the women of the ‘50s took to get ready in the morning, as well how my peers react to my wearing the fashion of that decade.

I did my research by looking through old magazines from the ‘50s and watching classic films such as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Roman Holiday” and “Sunset Boulevard.” I took special note of my favorite looks and outfits that could possibly inspire one of my looks. I also asked grandma and senior neighbors on their own experiences growing up in the ‘50s.

It will be interesting to see the contrast between then and now, and discover what has definitely changed and what has stayed the same.

Day 1

A classic look. made up of a buttoned up shirt, sleeves rolled, high-waisted and loose legged jeans with a belt, oxford shoes, and a vintage pink sweater tied around my shoulders.

I woke up this morning exhausted, after a long night of putting rollers in my hair. Sleeping with big plastic curlers in your hair is not anywhere near comfortable let me just tell you. After rolling out of bed, I promptly began to prepare my makeup look, which consisted mostly of eyeliner, mascara and the most red lipstick I own. I threw on my high-waisted and loose legged jeans, my white button up shirt, pearl necklace, rhinestone earrings, black leather belt, white bobby socks, oxford saddle shoes, and then I tied a vintage pink sweater around my shoulders.

My hairstyle defied the laws of gravity after the work of overnight curlers, thousands of bobby pins and lots of hairspray. I’m ready.

I arrived at school feeling a little uncomfortable and out of my element, not knowing what to expect. But after some subtle internal panicking, I realized it doesn’t matter. Some people looked at me slightly confused, some seemed to not even notice, while others commented “Lucy, what is this?”

With my hair curled, it is about bob length, which is which is weird considering I have hair just longer than my shoulders usually. But most people didn’t identify my new, old hairstyle as a ‘50s look. They mostly just said “Hey! You cut your hair!”

At the end of the day, besides my close friends, no one seemed to really notice or care that I was clearly not looking like I usually do. At times, I felt uncomfortable with looking so different (change is scary) but I managed to ease my way into this unfamiliar style.

Also, preparing my hair tonight took literally two hours. Unacceptable. How was this ever socially OK? How did the women of the ‘50s not just sit on the floor and scream?

Day 2

This look was made up of authentically ’50s, red dress (with a petticoat of course), pearls, diamond earrings, and oxford saddle shoes.

Today, I felt a little more out of place than I did yesterday. I wore a red dress that’s tight at the waist and has a petticoat underneath that is literally just a plastic net. Beauty is pain. This dress was actually sewn in the ‘50s. I bought it a while ago at a vintage store. I looked very formal, in high contrast with the typical present-day fashion trends and styles (especially in Austin). My curls were extra tight today, probably the shortest I’ve ever seen my hair. Pinning it together, to achieve that classic ’50s look, was a nightmare. It takes eternity and every molecule of hairspray inhaled felt like it took a year off of my life.

In chemistry (appropriate considering all the chemicals in my hair), a lot of people asked or complimented me about how I looked, and this became my routine throughout the day. I think today, it was more clear to my peers what time period I was repping. Ms. Wood even told me that I looked like a little ghost from the past. That sounds like success to me.

Overall, I was pretty happy with today’s look even if it was far more formal than I’m used to wearing.

Once again, I cannot stress this enough, the night routine of putting in hair curlers is ridiculous. Not one person has the time or patience for this. Contributing factors might be that I have thick curly hair, adding another layer of stubbornness and difficulty, but I feel like that’s no excuse.

Day 3

Today’s look consisted of a white shirt that buttoned in the back, a pink high waisted skirt, and a locket, originally made for a baby. All items today are actually from the ’50s.

I felt like a 5-year-old today. My outfit was made up of a loose-fitting white shirt that buttons up the back and a high-waisted, pink flowy skirt, both items being authentically from the ‘50s as well. Along with my oxford saddle shoes and my locket necklace, I was giving off strong stereotypical “teacher’s pet” vibes, a “goody two shoes” feel. Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about it. It’s strange that this outfit was seen as casual back then, whereas now it’s completely socially acceptable to straight up wear your pajamas to school.

My grandma was in town, which is perfect because she knows more about ‘50s American fashion than anyone I know, considering she was alive during that period of time. She approved of my look, saying that I would have been seen as “a cool girl” back in the day. Haha, as if I’m not already.

Back on campus, the reaction to my look has not really changed at all. I went into this week not knowing what to expect and hoping I wouldn’t get too much attention, and that’s exactly what I got. Although it’s obvious that something has changed about me, it’s more along the lines of getting a really dramatic haircut than transporting in time to another decade.

Tonight I decided to use the biggest curlers I own, in hopes that it would create looser curlers and take less time.

Newsflash: it didn’t.

Day 4

Another simplistic outfit, with a mock necked white shirt, high-waisted blue jeans, diamond earrings, and a blue checked blazer. Once again, all actually clothes made in the ’50s.

I went for a simpler look today with a mock-necked white shirt and some high waisted loose fitting jeans. Tying it all together, my authentically ‘50s navy-and-white blazer. Business casual to school, you know how it is.

I was feeling bored and frustrated with the short pinned-up curls I’ve been doing the past few days so I decided to part it differently. Went a little crazy, I must say.

I ended up going to work in this look. Neither my co-worker or my boss said anything but I could tell they were thinking about my look. As for reactions from customers, no one really noticed or at least no one said anything to me. Pretty anticlimactic, almost disappointing.

My grandma told me that in the ‘50s, she used to curl her hair at night with socks. That’s right, you read that correctly. Socks. I had to try this, it would be a crime against authenticity not to. So after some research online, I found a method of wrapping your hair around the sock as if it were just a regular curler and then tying it at the top. I looked so dumb, but it was much more comfortable to sleep in than plastic curlers.

Day 5

For my final look, I had an Audrey Hepburn-esque dress, with an enormous petticoat underneath, rhinestone earrings and necklace, and a big red leather belt tying it all together.

The final day is upon us. Everything has been leading up to this moment and I had to finish in the most dramatic way possible.

Today I wore a black dress with a giant petticoat underneath, Audrey Hepburn style. I also threw on a chunky red leather belt, tights because it was cold and my diamond necklace (not real diamonds, I wish). This was a bold and obnoxious look, but I think it worked as an appropriately emphatic conclusion to the week.

The sock method came through in the end. My curls were much longer than they were in the previous days. I was impressed.

People’s reactions were probably the strongest today. Everyone was asking, “Why so fancy?” I worked up the nerve to show up at the pep rally. The others around me looked at me weird, which is understandable considering everyone looked normal and then there’s me looking like I’m on my way to cotillion. I ended my day relieved that this experiment was over and I could return back to the way I used to look and dress.

After going to school in ‘50s attire for a week, I have gained so much appreciation for our culture today. People living in the 1950s, especially women, were expected to look their best at every moment, which according to the narrow beauty standards at the time, is no simple task to pull off. I will never do this again, at least not for days on end. But for anyone who wants to study and try to replicate the look of another time period, you definitely should. You end up learning a lot about two time periods: the one you’re visiting for the week and the one where you live every day.