My daughter Victoria called me to the television to show me a replay of a television show in which a young British man of Chinese heritage travelled to mainland China to search for his roots. It is a continuing series and in this one he was put to a severe mental test.
The young chap is a fashion designer and is funny and articulate – in this episode he visited a reproduction of an English town set up in China as a film and wedding venue – a vast and perfectly formed set for the visiting Chinese tourists to experience the UK. I have been in England and the thing was eerily authentic – exterior and interior – like a vast Disney World but with close attention to detail and the sort of money and space spent on it to give it the correct proportion. The fashion designer chap was spooked and showed it – he freely admitted to not knowing what to think at all. He IS English, and IS Chinese, but the combo was nearly impossible to reconcile.
I’ve seen lots of theme towns, parks, and areas – from Barkerville in the Cariboo ( Real ) to Pioneer World in Armadale ( Fake ) to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat ( Fake but who cares…). I was shown the street that leads to Disneyland but not allowed to go down it. That is a separate story…I don’t mind these things, as long as they are approximately right in approximately the right place. When they are perfect in form and in absolutely the wrong place it is another matter.
I am starting to feel the same way about the current run of 50’s and 60’s nostalgia and retro recreation. All the way from “Happy Days” forward I have been uneasy about how other people think that they can approximate how someone else remembers the era. In so may ways they are charming and so many ways they are wrong. Of course there shortcuts, coded messages, and themes in every theatrical performance that we accept – I watch the episodes of Agatha Christie’s M. Poirot with pleasure even though some part of me knows that the 1920-30’s were not all that way – I accept the screen story. But when I see some of the pinup and retro representations…
Start off – where are the kids clothes? We all had ’em – it was rare to be sent to school in Calgary in 1953 stark naked. You might be that way in the bath at home, but generally you were covered in the street. In the winter you were COVERED. The winter garments of the era had bulk, and needed it.
Where are the conservative suits? And sports jackets? And slacks? Not every man went about in a rockabilly outfit, even on stage. My dad wore khakis for most of his working life during some time each week. And where are the hats? Not just pork pies and trilbys – real hats. Here in Australia we can still get Akubra Squatter and Drover hats that approximate the proper style, but you have to remember to wear them all the time.
I applaud the wearing of Pendleton jackets and Eisenhower jackets – they are authentic.
Now as far as the ladies – the sun suits, dresses, pedal pushers, frocks, and hats are all very well…but when they are combined with a big red, green, and blue sleeve tattoo you are straying a long way from the era. Never mind what the weird magazines might suggest – women were not visibly tattooed unless they were in the circus. Not saying you can’t be, but it isn’t retro, it’s now.
I won’t criticise the hot rods or customs – they can be every bit as authentic now as they were then. There were as many odd combinations of engine then as now, and apart from the low-profile tyre and wheel look of some modern rods, they are pretty good. Rare to see the right white-walls, but when you do you know it is a good touch.
Hairdo’s? Men can be rockers if they want to, but most men were not. There were a lot of military haircuts around and we all used Brylcream. No-one had hair that stuck up in spikes, unless they were in the process of being electrocuted.
Feet? DB’s perhaps or US Keds. No sand shoes unless you were some sort of preppy from the east. Or a British PT instructor. Penny loafers, brown or back lace-up oxfords. No-one apart from a Mexican zoot-suiter would have worn co-respondent shoes and we didn’t get Mexicans that far north. Kids did wear moccasins after Davy Crockett came in but men didn’t. Lots of men wore boots.
If you feel you must let yourself go, splurge on string ties. They were vile, colourful, touristy, and omnipresent. Also bow ties, and you could use a clip-on without shame.
If all else fails, get a brown suit and an overcoat. True 50’s.