Rockabilly: How to Rock That Style!

Posted by Rebecca Houston on

My store specialises in what is termed ‘vintage inspired’ clothing – brand spanking new clothes, but made using patterns and prints reminiscent of styles from era’s gone-by.  If you have been following me on Facebook and Instagram, you will have seen me refer to ‘pin-up’, ‘rockabilly’, ‘steampunk’, ‘gothic’ and ‘punk’ in my posts but what do these terms mean exactly? How can they be interpreted in modern day fashion?  How can you style the look and make it personal to you?  I will be exploring more of these terms in upcoming posts, discussing the history behind the style and how to achieve the styles using clothing and accessories available from my store – whether you want to achieve a subtle take on the look or to go all out!

I want to start with Rockabilly – a very wearable and versatile style that anyone can achieve on any budget, regardless of shape or size!  You will have items already in your wardrobe that you can use to start rocking Rockabilly – it’s just a case of adding the final touches!

History of Rockabilly:

Throughout time, fashion choices have been very much influenced by music – and the ‘Rockabilly’ look is a key example! The origins of ‘Rockabilly’ date back to the early 1950’s in the South of the good old US of A.  It refers to one of the earliest styles of classic rock and roll music which evolved from a blend of ‘rock’ and ‘hillbilly’ country style music - creating a heavy rock sound with a distinctive country ‘twang.  The genre was popularised by Johnny Cash, Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, Bob Luman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson and of course, Elvis Presley.  Rockabilly has left a lasting legacy, with influences on modern day rock, metal and punk music. 

The dawn of Rockabilly and its distinctive fashion style, served as a rebellion against the traditional, buttoned-up style of the post-war era.  The wholesomely pretty ‘pin-up’ girl look of the late 40’s/early 50’s gave way to a more racy Bettie Page style as a rise in B movies and pulp fiction novels inspired the American youth to add a touch more edge to their wardrobes.  The spirit of Rockabilly is distinctly American - embodied in greaser style hair-do’s, leather jackets, hot-rods and Sailor Jerry tattoos; and for women it represented being able to express a raw sexuality and freedom of spirit.


 Bettie Page

Traditional Rockabilly Fashion:

The plain colours and A-line styles of the 1940’s started to give way to feminine full skirt dresses and skirts worn with petticoats, flats or low heels and ponytail hair styles (look at me I’m Sandra Dee!).  The tougher Rockabilly girls then emerged - taking their inspiration from B-movies, Bettie Page and Jayne Mansfield.  In came bold colour schemes, teased hair, red lipstick and bright accessories.  You can see regional Western country and swing influences in traditional American Rockabilly  in gingham and fringing details.  

Silhouettes started to get sexier - the first pencil skirt design was launched in 1954 by Christian Dior – and so paved the fashion for form fitting pencil skirts worn with tight sweaters and killer stiletto heels.  Meanwhile the gentlemen favoured two-tone shirts, leathers and heavy work boots such as Doc Martens.  Jeans were a staple item, worn loose with the cuffs rolled.  Women in the 50’s started to embrace form-fitting trousers as a fashion choice and so launched the era of cigarette and capri trousers worn with a high waist.

Jayne Mansfield

The Modern Take on Rockabilly – How to Style it!

First off – yes you can work modern day Rockabilly regardless of your shape, size or age!  Depending on your personal comfort and confidence you can work with the classic swing style in a quirky print – the simple addition of a petticoat takes this style up a notch for special occasions!  Cinch in the waist with a wide belt to show off that hourglass figure and rockabilly style accessories (see below) will add the finishing touch!

Cherry Print Swing Dress (click pic to buy now)

Black Sugar Skull Printed Dress (click pic to buy now)

Cinch in that waist! (click pic to buy now)

Or if you want to embrace the Va-Va-Voom Rockabilly look then go for a high-waisted pencil skirt and fitted top or a wiggle dress!   Alternatively a simple way to start working Rockabily into your wardrobe is to pair your favourite skinny jeans (because who doesn’t own a pair these days?) with an off-the-shoulder top or shirt tied at the waist.  Capris work well in our very brief summers!


 Leopard Print Pencil Skirt (click pic to buy now)


 Cherry Print Wiggle Dress (click pic to buy now)
 Beige 1950's style shirt (click pic to buy now)
Leopard print capri's (click on pic to buy now)


The usual colour palette of the modern Rockabilly gal consists of black, white, navy and red.  Common patterns and prints include polka dots, stripes, checks, tartan and my personal favourite – leopard print!  Classic Rockabilly motifs include anchors, skulls, swallows, cherries, horse shoes, dice, bows and pin-up girls to name a few!

Cherry Print Cardigan (click on pic to buy now)

Atomic Print Dress (click on pic to buy now)


You can find any number of images and tutorials in Rockabilly hair and make-up on google and YouTube to fully style your look and get your ‘Bettie Bangs’ on! So at risk of making this article a tad too long I won’t go into too much detail on hair and make-up here!  I will however tell you that Rockabilly hair is my favourite way to cover up that I’m between washes – dry shampoo, hair spray, a lot of backcombing and a hair band cover all sins!  Stick with the basic make-up staples of bright red lippy and black eyeliner (bonus points if you can get even wings!) – I personally recommend investing in an eyeliner pen if you have an unsteady hand (I use L’Oréal Perfect Slim Superliner).

Excited about Rockabilly style yet?  If you want to start small or you’re on a budget then start with small steps - stick with the basic Rockabilly shapes and add final touches to make it personal for you – try pairing a hair band with your favourite pair of high-waisted denim skinny jeans, a fitted top, a slash of bright red lippy and a pair of heels and you have an instant Rockabilly look! Or incorporate the classic Rockabilly motifs into your accessories – here are a few examples designed by Sam Mercer for the store:


Only a few of the accessories made for the store by Sam Mercer - these are an IN-STORE EXCLUSIVE and are not online!


And a few Rockabilly style hair bands by Be Bop Hair Bands:

Wired, reversible hair bands by Be Bop Hair Bands (click on pic to buy now)


Take inspiration from celebrities and fashionistas who rock the look – Gwen Stefani is my personal inspiration for modern Rockabilly with a punky edge.  Bernie Dexter is another one of my muses for her take on modern Rockabilly style (she is in the last image below). 

To summarise here is a Rockabilly Style Checklist for style tips and ideas!

  •  The shape – swing skirts or pencil skirts, fitted tops, or shirts tied at the waist, swing or wiggle dresses – remember to hike up that waist-line and cinch it all in with a wide belt!
  • Work the ‘hillbilly’ element of the style in denim – your skinny jeans will do the trick, then accessorise to add the final touches!
  • Tie up your hair – get busy with that hair spray and back-combing; add a hair band, bonus points for having ‘Bettie Bangs!’
  • Red lippy and black eyeliner
  • Shoes – high heels for the evening - creeper shoes are a bit more practical for day time!
  • Accessories – work those Rockabilly motifs!

Hope you all enjoyed a view of the Rockabilly world – remember no style rules are hard and fast and everyone can wear this look in their own way!

 R x

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