Carly Ashdown is ready to rock retro threads.
Carly Ashdown is ready to rock retro threads. John Gass

How to dress retro for Cooly Rocks

TEARS of joy come from a woman pouring herself into a full skirt with petticoat.

Or an edgy, tight-fitting rockabilly outfit.

That Shop Coolangatta manager Donna Fleming says though "die-hard" would be the wrong way to describe her interest in retro fashion, this scene is what motivates her.

"Some women walk into the store and say 'There's nothing here that will fit me'.

"When you put a frock on them and they start crying, I'm deep into that," she says.

Mrs Fleming is speaking ahead of the June 1, 2012 Cooly Rocks On festival, which is in its second year.

She says attention to hair and make-up at the festival's stalls or your favourite hairdresser is the first step toward retro stylin'.

"And obviously you've got to get yourself a frock.

"For a rockabilly look, think Grease. Good girls will go Sandy with a button-up top and a loose skirt; and bad girls will think Rizzo - tight pants."

It's the confidence this retro style brings to girls, whether 16 or 70, which makes this 40-year-old rockabilly woman seem not a day over 30.

The 1940s and 1950s styles, she says, will never go out of fashion.

"Because they're already out of fashion.

"Last summer in Vogue there were photos of designs by major designers who all put in pinches of something vintage.

"But that's us every day and every year - our designers live and breathe these eras."

Not that a boutique like That Shop is necessarily "alternative". As Mrs Fleming says, 70-80% of her clientele aren't alternative people.

"What it comes down to is that these cuts are made to fit a woman's body," she says.

"That's what the average customer likes about the designs: a lady that doesn't want to look grungy or rock-and-roll just wants that classic look.

"Diehards are the ones that get the message out there, such as one of the girls who work here.

"Those are the girls that go out into the mainstream and get reactions such as 'Oh wow, she looks amazing'.

"They'll walk into our store and have this memory of this girl they saw."

Fashion is, of course, the exclusive appeal of the phenomenon, Mrs Fleming says, because the '40s and '50s were decades in which women were "expected to look perfect while doing housework".

"Then they'd get changed again before their husband came home.

"This was when electric appliances were coming in and it was assumed you would be spending less time doing housework, so you better look good.

"I certainly don't want to go back to that."

Indeed in the 21st century it's on for young and old, male and female, in the rockabilly world.

Mrs Fleming says she likes when greaser boys' hair has a mohawk at the front or is "slicked-back, with a quiff".

"Boys get equally dressed-up as the girls do," she says.

Cooly Rocks On attracted tens of thousands of people during its inaugural year in 2011 and brought almost 20-million tourist dollars to the Tweed-southern Gold Coast and surrounds.

Mrs Fleming says though there were critics, the festival tapped perfectly into the tourist and left-of-centre culture of the area.

"We go hard for a month before it," she says.

"Kirra Surf, for example, might not do good sales, but we do well and the bakery might do well.

"The owner of the bakery might then go and spend some money at Kirra Surf.

"The benefits can roll forward and, though it might be a weekend of inconvenience for some, the pay-off can be five-fold."

Whether you wish to get your rockabilly on for the festival or make it a full-time obsession, don't be discouraged by people asking if you're on your way to a fancy dress party.

"Fake it the first time," Mrs Fleming advises. "We do a lot of Year 12 formals and it's beautiful a lot of girls have re-embraced that you don't have to show your bum-crack.

"Classically sexy, I call it, and if a woman's starting to feel a bit sexier then her shoulders are back, she's confident, and men love that in a woman.

"Once you get into it it's really hard to go back to tracky dacks and cut-off denim."

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