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Those who spend a better part of their free time scrolling through the app have probably come across at least one woman done up as if she’s just been teleported from the 1950s. Peruse through the app’s #VintageGirl feed, though, and you’ll unearth dozens of women whose hair, makeup, and wardrobe look like that all the time. To them, victory rolls, powdered complexions, and pearls are just as much a part of the present as they were the past.
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If you’re a beauty fan to any degree, there’s a solid chance you’ve got your own take on the “Old Hollywood” look. There’s an even bigger chance you fall back on that era’s signature winged eyeliner, matte red lips, or bouncy curls for important formal occasions. But to a large community of women on TikTok, that retro look isn’t just a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel cosplay – it’s a lifestyle.
They might share a passion for aesthetics from another time, but TikTok’s self-proclaimed Vintage Girls vary in age and background. There’s Paige Lavoie, for example, a 30-year-old young-adult author in Florida who became obsessed with the Turner Classic Movies network as a teenager. And 18-year-old Kayla Moore, a student from Maryland whose parents exposed her to ’50s music and fashion at an early age. Or Alexandria Prentiss, a 26-year-old stay-at-home mom in Arkansas who’s been dressing in retro garb since landing a job at a local vintage boutique in 2014.
For some of TikTok’s Vintage Girls, the retro lifestyle expands far past appearances. Lavoie lives in a house built in 1955 and says her husband, who’s just as dedicated to the ’50s look as she is, has built them furniture based on the time period. Moore thinks having retro clothing, hair, and makeup has ultimately affected her behavior. “It affects everything, like how you carry yourself and your other mannerisms,” she says. Madeline Montclair, a 20-year-old student in California, is “a living historian” who participates in historical reenactments.
The primary thing they all have in common, of course, is great hair. Unsurprisingly, most of the Vintage Girls we interviewed prefer hair curlers over irons for creating their big, brushed-out finger waves. “I do a wet set – sleeping in curlers after taking a shower – using Conair Soft Curlers and Suavecita Grooming Spray,” says Montclair. “Then in the morning, I use my Mason Pearson Mixed Brushand I smooth everything out with Living Proof Nourishing Oil.”
Samantha Raskin, based in Prague, also sleeps in curlers after priming her wet hair with a setting lotion. Her secret to vintage-level volume is to never underestimate the power of backcombing. “The best tip I ever got is tease, tease, tease,” she says. “It looks wild while you’re doing it, but the end result after some smoothing and hairspray is amazing.”
Though these women make it look like second nature, Prentiss points out that molding hair into finger waves and victory rolls requires a lot of practice. “Vintage hair is not easy and can be super frustrating when you first try, but don’t give up,” she says. “I learned a lot from watching YouTube videos and practicing at night before I went to bed.”
A velvety, matte red lipstick is another must-have on every single Vintage Girl’s shopping list. More likely than not, the lipstick one is wearing in any given TikTok is from Bésame Cosmetics.
“All of their products are incredible if you’re looking to achieve that vintage aesthetic,” says Raskin. Her go-to shade from the brand is American Beauty, a red-toned pink. Meanwhile, Prentiss says the brand’s shade Red Velvet is her absolute favourite, and Montclair favours Red Hot Red.
Contouring had yet to sweep the nation back in the ’50s, so a subtle flush on the apples of the cheeks is an important factor in an accurate retro makeup look. “The most valuable tip I’ve learned is how to apply cream rouge properly using a tri-dot method higher up on the cheekbone,” says Moore, who learned the tip from a YouTube tutorial. Montclair adds that she uses her lipstick as a cream rouge to ensure an exact match.
Another passion TikTok’s Vintage Girls all share? Expelling the idea that a retro wardrobe must come with matching political ideals. It’s plain as day that these vintage communities across the internet are predominantly white. Not surprising at all, given that the ’50s was a period in which racial segregation was still a widespread practice. Not to mention vicious homophobia (see: the Lavender Scare) and strict postwar roles as homemakers for women. TikTok’s Vintage Girls are well aware of the era’s sordid treatment of those communities. They’ve even adopted the slogan “Vintage Style, Not Values,” originally coined by vintage performer Dandy Wellington.
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While all of them are aware of the past and simply compartmentalize their grievances with it, some use the harrowing events of that era as a driving force for change. Montclair’s vintage style always comes with a valuable history lesson during the World War II reenactments she plays a part in.
Raskin is also a member of a community that faced major discrimination in the 1950s, but she still encourages people of all body types, races, and gender identities to adopt the retro aesthetic if they enjoy it. “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and proud feminist, I would never want to go back in time,” she says. “I believe in reclaiming the fashion and enjoying the fun aspects of this style while leaving all of those horrible politics in the past – there’s a reason they’re outdated.”
Trends in appearance are always going to be cyclical, especially when it comes to this era that we consider “classic” and has informed decades’ worth of famous beauty looks. But hopefully, with the help of communities such as this one, we can enjoy ’50s hair, makeup, and fashion while leaving that time’s social politics where they belong: in the past.