What is Rockabilly?
First things first – Rockabilly is a music genre from the 1950s. The name comes from a blend of ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ and ‘hillbilly’ or country music. The origins of Rockabilly come predominantly from the Southern United States and encompass influences such as honky tonk, western swing, boogie woogie and rhythm and blues. Of course, it doesn’t take much to work out that the man credited most with the ‘creation’ of Rockabilly is none other than The King himself, Elvis Presley. Other notable rockabilly performers were Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochrane and Buddy Holly.
Rockabilly appealed to teenagers in particular during the 1950s as it promoted an attitude of rebellion and freedom with elements of sexuality and disdain for parents and authority figures; it was also the first sub-genre of rock ‘n’ roll to be performed primarily by white musicians.
Once the music crossed the Atlantic to the UK, the first generation of Rockabilly fans were known as ‘Teddy Boys’ because they wore Edwardian-style frock coats, along with tight black drainpipe trousers and brothel creeper shoes. Later on into the 1960s they became the ‘rockers’ with their ‘greaser’ style quiffs and leather jackets. British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were heavily influenced by this style as well as the music.
Rockabilly has enjoyed several revivals and reincarnations throughout the years including TV shows like Happy Days and the movie American Graffiti in the late 60s / early 70s and then bands like The Cramps and The Meteors who started a new sub-genre ‘Psychobilly’. (See previous article!) Most recently, the Rockabilly style has evolved to include elements which were not necessarily original features. In keeping with a general ‘vintage’ revival and current fashion trends being heavily influenced by the 1950s, Rockabilly style now commonly features a nautical (‘Hello Sailor’) fashion element, pin-up style glamour, Americana and tattoos, particularly on women.
So what does Rockabilly mean to some of our Folksy sellers?
We couldn’t have Rockabilly today without the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran these artists led the way and changed the way music was perceived and gave music to the younger generation. Kat, Silver Tongue Devil http://www.folksy.com/shops/Silvertonguedevil
Rockabilly came out of the birth of rock n roll as a new and exciting mixture of country and rock styles, and has been going strong ever since. It’s a constantly evolving mixture of vintage, gothic, country, kitsch and burlesque styles – as individual as you want it to be! Naomi, Lemur Lady’s Awesome Emporium
Rockabilly makes me think back to USA in the 1950’s, which is when it all began, in the early part of that decade. I think it must have all been about the rise of music such as blue grass and rhythm & blues. Maybe the end of world war two had something to do with it, as people needed to enjoy leisure time again and look towards a new fresh future, full of hope. This was the first time “teenagers” had their own identity. Sue, Talulah Blue
What does it look like?
Current singers like Imelda May are a good example of a Rockabilly look; she rocks a quiff with a blonde streak, leopard print, red lippy and general pin-up girl sex appeal. The girls go for a sexy silhouette with bold colours and plenty of accessories and for the guys think the T-Birds in Grease or anything you could imagine Elvis would wear!
Of course it’s not just clothing and accessories, motifs include guitars, vintage cars, anchors, bluebirds and swallows, cherries and flowers and these can be found on soft furnishings, bags, stationery…you name it!
For the ladies, think gingham, polka dots, leopard print, neat cardigans, colour, capris, and dresses dresses DRESSES! In my humble opinion rockabilly done well looks ladylike but slightly deranged… and it’s a freedom to shove that big flower in your victory rolls and wear that cherry appliqued prom dress with pride because never knowingly under-accessorised, the rockabilly gal can pull off brooches, beads and hair ornaments galore. For the gents, it’s mainly about the hair and the cut of your jeans – quiff up and get your drainpipes on and you’re good to go. Team them with a pair of creepers if you like, and I’ll love you even more. Flo, Flo Nightingale
Pin-up styled, greased back, old school tattooed, hunka burnin’ love! Louise, Lucky Lulu
I’m thinking quiffs, greasers, leather jackets, denim and pin up dresses, cherries, stars, American flags, patches, turn ups, Doc Marten boots, double bass, guitar rock. Nat, O’blue thrashion
The rockabilly look is very stylised, like most style tribes. There’s inspiration from 1950’s icons such as Elvis Presley. Think of the film “Blue Hawaii”, and Hawaiian shirts covered in hibiscus images. It’s a very kitsch (link to kitsch article) look, embracing lots of denim and bright colours, cherry reds, tropical oranges and yellows. Girls will wear polka dots, hair flowers and leopard print, all in the style of a 1950’s screen goddess, with the full make-up and hair to go! Eyeliner and backcombing is a must, with pristine red lipstick. Tattoos are also popular; this look is not for shrinking violets! Sue, Talulah Blue
What do you think makes it so popular?
As with pretty much every other article I have done, it comes back to nostalgia in a way. Particularly with so much debt, depression, unemployment, crime and war in the world at the moment, it seems that people always look back with a fondness at times when people seemed to have better ideas, manners, music, respect, you name it! There also does seem to be a bit of rebellion in the air at times like this!
Furthermore, with the recent economic downturn and decline in high street shopping, young people are increasingly turning to charity and vintage stores for their clothing and accessories. The internet too, allows people not only to source and purchase vintage clothing from much further afield as well as enabling research into Rockabilly stars we might never had heard of without the likes of YouTube. Elvis of course, never goes out of fashion but stars like Wanda Jackson are still touring, she’s got a wide fan base probably in part due to an internet following and Johnny Cash had a huge revival not all that long ago.
At the moment? I think the cultural link can be traced back mostly through Dita Von Teese and the recent burlesque revival. Dita loves her retro and vintage glamour, and very much resembles retro pin-up icon Bettie Page. I think this has caused a lot of interest around related styles. If you want to get technical about the sociology (!), I think some people like it for the same reasons some like Steampunk (link to steampunk article). An era other than the one they were born in seems preferable to them, and of course, we always romanticize the past and cherry-pick the bits we liked about an era when we revive it! Jane, Gaia Noir
Parents play it to their children and dance with them in that style, the children grow up with a first-hand forgotten knowledge when everybody has moved on then up it comes when a record comes on the radio and revives that certain sound in your memory. Jeanette, The Cucumber Sunlight Company
It harks back to a more glamorous time and makes you feel good. Jennifer, Dita Von Cheese
Why do you think Rockabilly as a genre lends itself to crafting?
It’s the uniqueness Rockabilly style promotes which I think lends itself best to crafting and customisation is one of the best ways to achieve a unique or bold look. Of course, if you’re no use at customising yourself, then Folksy’s a good place to look!
I’m a sewing crafter, and for me it’s all about the prints! There are so many vintage rockabilly prints out there – rock and roll skulls, sailor girl tattoo prints, or even hot pink ‘Jetsons’ style hearses like the ones in my shop. It’s also a style that is difficult to find in mainstream shops, so the crafting world fills that niche. Rockabilly fans tend to be very individual and alternative, and the idea of one-offs and custom made items suit that perfectly – where better to find these things than somewhere like Folksy? Naomi, Lemur Lady’s Awesome Emporium
Jewellery is bold and fun, hair ornaments can be taken to the next level (flowers, bows, birds, cherries, netting, you name it) and then there is fabric – gingham, bold florals, kitsch, brights. You can have fun with the look, make it your own and run with it. Viva la rock! Flo, Flo Nightingale
It’s got a broad spectrum of styles, but they’ve all got amazing visual impact. There’s certain iconic things that automatically give something a rockabilly feel (cheesecake pinup cartoons, dice and card suit designs, animal print, Ed Hardy tattoo motifs etc.), but they’ve all got such visual punch that they seem to work equally well as a simple bag or t-shirt design, or rendered in screaming neon punk Psychobilly glamour all over a marvellous fascinator hat! Jane, Gaia Noir
So there you have it! I’m off to put on my Elvis records!
Don’t forget to check out the wares in the shops of the fabulous sellers who made contributions to this article.
Mr Kapow Art – Wanda Jackson
Kitty Pink – Pillbox hat
Lucky lulu – heart brooch
Oh My Honey – 50’s Dress
Lost at sea – Swallow brooch
Konnie Kapow – Owlvis
The Cucumber Sunlight Company – Americana charms
More about our columnist
Konnie Kapow is a superhero card designer on a mission to save the world from dull and namby pamby greeting cards! Her offbeat sense of humour combined with quirky card designs make her shop a popular destination for card shoppers. Konnie lives in Glasgow with her artist husband Mr Kapow! where they can be found collecting rock n’ roll memorabillia and knitting in bed.