Living Life Like in the 1950s – America’s Rockabilly Community

At first glance, you would be tempted to think that these pictures were clicked sometime in the 1950s, but you would be mistaken. These are actually members of America’s Rockabilly community – people who dress, drive and decorate their homes just like in the fifties.

Jennifer Greenburg, a 36-year-old assistant professor of photography at Indiana University Northwest, has been photographing the Rockabillies for a decade now. “There are people out there who very legitimately want to imitate the 1950s,” she said. “They move to the suburbs, have two kids and live behind a white picket fence.”

‘Rockabilly’ refers to a genre of popular music in the fifties that mashed rock ’n roll with other types of music. Now, it is a group of people who want to surround themselves with as many things from the 1950s as possible. “At first I thought the culture was about fashion,” Greenburg said. “Then I realized it was much, much more than that. I realized that this was a culture of people who functioned as a community.” At the heart of the Rockabilly community lies a great love for quality and design. The fifties were a time when consumer products in America were made by industrial designers who took care of functioning as well as aesthetics.

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

“We did not have a disposable ‘Made in China’ culture like we do now,” Greenburg said. When you bought a toaster, it worked for decades, and it looked good just as long. If it broke, you had it repaired. You did not simply toss it into a landfill and head out to a big box store to buy another one. Yes, even the toaster was joyous in its design.” I wholeheartedly agree with Greenburg, being a fan of the fifties’ designs myself. There is something so delicious about the colors, the textures and the eye for detail in even the most mundane objects. You just don’t get such stuff these days.

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

Coming back to the Rockabillies, they aren’t restricted to a particular city or group of people in America. Greenburg has photographed bankers, laborers, teachers, and doctors. According to her, “there is not just one type of person who joins the Rockabilly community.” But she said that the culture appeals to many union members with blue-collar jobs, because such work was highly respected in the 1950s.

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

“Some participants make their living inside the culture, but most have the same gamut of jobs that all people have. There is no trend,” she added. “Some dress at work to blend into the general culture, some do not. Some have a hybrid way of dressing that is toned down and not necessarily identifiable as 1950s.”

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

This is possible, says Greenburg, because fashion has not radically changed in the last five or six decades. “A pencil skirt now is the same as a pencil skirt from the 1950s. They only difference is the one you buy now was probably made in China, and won’t last three washings.”

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

Members of the Rockabilly community don’t just drive perfectly preserved Cadillacs, they know how to fix them too. In fact, they can repair and restore almost everything they own, right from re-wiring a lamp to re-sewing the seams of a fifties cocktail dress. “The Rockabillies take preservation into account as they sculpt their existence. And the culture existed long before it was commonplace to recycle.”

Interestingly, the Rockabilly children seem to love their eccentric lifestyle. “They usually don’t like Justin Bieber, which actually, gives them a lot of cache among their peers,” she said.

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

Greenburg has been collecting vintage clothing and jewelry since she was a child. She started this project because she is “as much of a participant in this culture as in any culture.” It took her ten years to work it on because she wanted to create trust and mutual understanding between herself and her subjects. This was crucial to the project’s success. And along the way, she has made incredible friends.

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Photo: Jennifer Greenburg

“I have a friend in every city in America that I can call today and go visit tomorrow. That friend will open up his door to me, and, help me with anything that I need – a laugh, a drink of water, a shoulder to cry on – just like only the best of friends do.”

via Wired


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Feedback (4 Comments)

  • Arthur Fonzarelli Posted on January 24, 2014

    These people are just desperately clinging onto a time when America was on top. Right after the War, when the rest of the world was devastated. A time when a woman’s place was in the kitchen, and negroes knew their place in society. Lucky for the rest of the world, the time has past. No more America to push their way around the world trying to keep other countries from ascending.

  • Reg Pinder Posted on January 26, 2014

    Wow! Who knew that Arthur Fonzarelli was such a douche bag?

  • Tony O'Rourke Posted on January 27, 2014

    I agree with Reg,

    What’s wrong with people living how they want to ?
    I admire their ethos of repair, their attention to detail in their décor and dress.
    I doubt any of these people will appear in “People of Walmart” style photos.
    Live and let live Fonz, you used to be cool.

  • Karen Posted on February 18, 2014

    I personally think this is great. I too have a love for the fifties. I love that men and women knew their roles and it wasn’t muddled like it is today. The morals and values were all there too. When taking up this lifestyle, the racism of the era is usually ignored, which I think is for the best. People feel like this about the fifties all around the world, even here in New Zealand.

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