What's the attraction of the vintage life?

By Kirsten Warner

Kirsten Warner asks some devotees of vintage and retro about their attraction to the styles of the past, and if there is such a thing as a 'vintage lifestyle'

Rose Jackson at retro shop Rita Sue in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring
Rose Jackson at retro shop Rita Sue in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring

ROSE JACKSON

Rose Jackson is a modern miss. She's university-educated and has travelled and worked in high fashion here and overseas. But her gaze is firmly backwards, as one of three vintage-obsessed friends who publish New Zealand vintage lifestyle magazine Glory Days.

It's a quarterly for a growing number of people with a passion for the past, although there's nothing vintage about the magazine's publication, which is online and only printed on paper as an annual or collector edition.

In terms of "lifestyle" there are few, if any, followers who live without cellphones, computers or contraception. Mostly it's an expression of style through dress, grooming, decor and collectibles.

There are numerous sub-cultures, such as lovers of scooters, tattoo, burlesque, rockabilly or hot rods. People dress up in World War II uniforms. Retro cyclists in tweeds go on rides together.

Everyone's reasons and levels of involvement are different, but common among them is a nostalgia for what we may have lost, such as time, craftsmanship and quality.

There is a dislike of consumerism, although no real desire to go back to narrower social norms and conservatism that the 1960s social revolution overturned. Today's retro is another kind of non-conformity.

"Much about modern life is awful," says Rose, 34, from Avondale. "Exceptionally violent video games, hyper-fast fashion that is worn once and thrown into the nearest tip, cheap furniture that takes about 10 hours to put together."

Nearly everything Rose does has a vintage bent. She is a stylist and hair and makeup artist, bringing "happiness and elegance to women, one victory roll at a time". She hosts pamper parlours at events like Napier's Art Deco Weekend, Whangamata's Beach Hop or Auckland's Very Vintage Day Out, creates up-dos for party girls and bouffants for rockabilly bridesmaids.

Rose's passion grew from fashion. She learned to appreciate fine fabrics, good cutting and elegant design in the workroom of Auckland womenswear label Pearl, which stocks clothes inspired by design aesthetics of the 1920s and 1930s.

"I'm a fabric snob and nasty, stretchy, shiny fabrics weren't even invented back then, thank goodness. It was all beautiful, natural cloth that fell correctly when made into garments.

"There wasn't mass production, things fitted properly, people took time to construct them and there was consideration of how to enhance people's best features and disguise their worst."

Overseas, she trawled the back alleys and markets of London, Morocco and Europe for vintage clothing and accessories, learning to identify each decade and differentiate between what was merely secondhand (used, recently produced items) retro (1960s to 1980s) and vintage (1950s and older).

What is today's style that will be tomorrow's collectible? "I'm a bit out of the loop, to be honest. I don't watch TV, I listen to vinyl records, I shop strictly secondhand or vintage and my spare time is filled with making ladies look like they're from another era.

"It seems that most things these days are derivative, so I'm just waiting for this completely new, never-been-seen-before subculture to come crashing through and give this old stuff a really shiny, laser-pointing finger."


GOETZ NEUGEBAUER

Goetz Neugebauer, 44, from Pt Chevalier may still be a mod at heart but he doesn't particularly dress that way. "I call myself very old school.

"I was brought up by someone from that era, which means I still like to open the door for a girl and repair rather than replace. I'm wearing my vintage on the inside."

At 16, he bought his first motor scooter and was immediately drawn into the mod scene. He loved the cool, classic look, sharp haircut, tailored suit. "People took care of their style, they groomed themselves and they groomed whatever they rolled or drove as well."

He'd found an identity and peer group that came with places to go, people to see and a whole lot of fun. In the next five years, he attended 200 scooter rallies all over Europe from his hometown of Heilbronn in southwest Germany.

After school on Fridays he would ride to Ostend, catch the midnight ferry for a scooter rally in England on Saturday morning, dance Saturday night, ride home on Sunday, then go to school to fall asleep at the back of the classroom.

This was the first retro revival wave of the 1980s. "Somehow, I got stuck on something that is a very nostalgic, vintage or retro item, which is the Vespa."

Today's teens and young 20s are discovering the same buzz. Twenty-seven years later, Geotz's company Scooter é Motion in Newton sells, restores and services classic European scooters like Vespa and Lambretta, style icons of 1950s and 1960s youth-culture. His company logo is a cartoon pin-up girl.


ANDREW MILLAR

DJ and Glory Days columnist Andrew Millar is a rockabilly man about town, a civil engineer and single parent of two bonnie boys. He's a sharp dresser in trademark coiffured hair, brothel creepers or motorcycle boots, draped, pressed dress pants or cuffed dark jeans.

"I tone it down slightly for work, although the hair is a dead give-away," says Andy.

Andy, 48, from Pt Chevalier is pure Scot, and his style is part of his culture. "If you didn't have style you didn't belong, and it was very important not to be run-of-the-mill.

"My parents were in their early 20s during the 1950s, so, from my earliest memories, I was surrounded by music and fashion from the era. For me, it was the 1950s.

"I was already entrenched in rockabilly culture when the mod/rocker revival took seed in the UK in the early 1980s, so I had more than a head start. My friends were either rockers or mods and there was rivalry and badgering that could turn sour, which made it all the more exciting."

The vintage lifestyle is definitely part of him. "I did it such a time ago that it became second nature."

What will be tomorrow's vintage? "It's awkward to think that, in decades to come, people will yearn for skinny chinos with elasticated cuffs or the time that you hung your jeans so low that your bottom was fully out of your pants. Perhaps some contemporary music will make it to vintage status."

Is today's vintage pre-occupation a projection of an idealised past? "I don't doubt for a second that every period had its problems. Social revolution has been a part of every decade since the 1920s, it just became very apparent and more tangible in the 60s."


NATALIE HUGILL

Actor-director Natalie Hugill, aka burlesque queen Lilly Loca, is a pin-up personified. Natalie, 26, produces vivacious cabaret, "putting the va-va-voom into vaudeville!"

Natalie's interest in vintage started five years ago when she started performing classic burlesque from the 1930s American style. "As soon as I saw the costumes and the makeup, I wanted to be a showgirl. I feel like an Amazon when I'm dressed up in gorgeous clothing."

With satire at its roots, burlesque incorporates elements of striptease and can be comedic, new age, classic or have aspects of drag, singing, dance and acting.

Classic burlesque is all about the glitz and glamour of rhinestones, bespoke, fitted garments, and luxurious silk and lace under-garments. "It has become an obsession."

For Natalie, there's everyday, normal life at home in Whitford with husband and family. Then there's performance, when Natalie wriggles into her 50s-style wiggle dress, puts on her "game face" and is in persona.

Dressed to the nines, her seamed stockings hint at what's underneath - vintage foundation garments. "It's so much more satisfying to wear something that may have graced a showgirl. I feel like a goddess when I get dressed up, especially when I put on my stockings and suspenders."

Alter-ego Lilly Loca's signature look is pure 50s vamp, with Bettie Page-style wig, red lipstick, cat's eye pencil and defined eyebrows and cheekbones.

But Natalie has no desire to swap today's freedom for the restrictions of her burlesque idols who were arrested for public nudity. "I'd hate it. I'm far too outspoken and far too rambunctious. If I lived back then I hope I'd be like Lili St Cyr or Gypsy Rose Lee, who really pushed the barriers of social norms."

- Herald on Sunday

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