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The Vintage People 

Long before there was a swing-dancing fad, there were the vintagely correct, who live the 1940s all day, every day, everywhere

Wednesday, Aug 4 1999
Two young women patiently wait for the bus at the corner of Hayes and Gough streets, enduring the typical push and shove of the evening rush-hour commute. The pretty blonde and brunette are caught up in the grumpy, congested madness, yet seem detached from it all. Maybe because they look so fabulous.

Annamarie Firley, the blonde, is dressed in a two-piece indigo blue and black boucle suit, tailored with an hourglass cut to flatter her petite figure. A plumed Robin Hood hat tops her bleached, bobbed hair, and an adornment of netting lies over her eyes. Her brunette friend, Autumn Carey-Adamme, wears a red bengaline circle skirt, accented with black Lucille Ball halo buttons and a white Peter Pan collar. Autumn's long hair is stacked in a French twist.

Sharing a compact mirror, the friends check their makeup. The colors -- bright red lipstick and dark blue eye shadow -- are basic and exaggerated. Autumn's eyebrows are plucked, replaced by new ones hand-drawn with distinct arches. Both women use white powder to set their painted faces and create a more fragile, china-doll look.

A bus approaches, stops, and belches out a stream of passengers. Most of the riders left inside are dressed in the latest black-and-khaki, Banana Republic fashion, which makes them look as worn and drab as the bus shuttling them home from a long workday. Annamarie and Autumn have put in a long day, too, but it's hard to tell. Both could pass as pinup girls from the 1940s.

As they step up into the bus, the women pause to dig for coins in their dainty handbags.

"Wow, where are you two going?" the driver asks, watching the 28-year-old Katharine Hepburn look-alikes plunk quarters into the fare box.

"We're just going home," Autumn says.
"You sure look nice," a passenger sitting near the front door remarks. "I thought you might be going to a party."

"No," Annamarie says. "We always look like this."
Although they belong to the Art Deco Society, Annamarie and Autumn are not hobbyists. They don't play dress up just on weekends, or only for retro events. Even though they are avid swing dancers and big band devotees, they want nothing to do with the twentysomethings who have fueled the current Lindy Hop craze. No, Annamarie and Autumn are part of a passionate group of cross-generationists who, as a matter of daily life, prefer their grandparents' time to their own. Long before there were jump and jive commercials for the Gap or a mainstream craze in swing dancing, Annamarie and Autumn were claiming the '40s as their own with a verisimilitude that no deco event duplicates.

Autumn, for example, has had dark lines tattooed vertically down the backs of her legs, mimicking the seams her World War II counterparts used to draw on the backs of theirs. When wartime rationing made silk stockings (and their rear-facing seams) scarce, women had no choice but to go without, or fake the look. Today, Autumn wants to keep that history alive. "And my seams are always straight," she says.

For people like Annamarie and Autumn -- the "vintagely correct," as they call themselves -- the past is more about lifestyle than fascination. They search vintage stores and relatives' attics for original clothes. They study photos and advertisements in half-century-old copies of Life and Vogue magazines, and watch classic, black-and-white movies to master the look -- and the attitude -- of what they believe was a better, culturally finer time.

In everyday fashion -- at work, home, and out on the town -- they live, dress, drink, even smoke as though it's still the Roosevelt or Truman administration. For them, it's still a matter of common culture and decency for men to don hats, women to wear dresses, Buicks to have carburetors, radios to run on vacuum tubes, and music to play, almost always, to a swinging beat.

In San Francisco, the real swing resurgence began not when rock stations started playing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but almost a decade earlier, when an old gay bar in the Haight closed and reopened as an art deco cocktail lounge. Club DeLuxe quickly became home to a small underground group of young 1940s lifestylists who wanted to create a backlash against the prevailing grunge music of the day, and rebel against the slacker label attached to their Generation X peers.

For the 1940s crowd, dressing up and going high-class was far more rebellious than what the increasingly mainstream "alternative" grunge scene ever hoped to be. It was swingers vs. slackers. And in the end, the swingers won. Grunge died, and the Lindy Hop fad began. But the widespread popularity of swing soon cramped the style of those trying to live the era, and not just dance to it.

The guys who have been hanging out at Club DeLuxe for years, dressing the dress and drinking the drink, resent the Johnny-come-lately dance crowd. Most of the people fueling the swing fad, the Club DeLuxers believe, are hard-core Lindy Hoppers who strip away the culture of the era and focus only on the dance. The Lindy Hoppers don't care about authenticity. They take dance lessons as a form of aerobic exercise. They dance in tennis shoes. They don't care whether swing is live or played by a DJ.

They drink bottled water.
"They don't appreciate the culture. They don't partake in the lifestyle; for them, it's only about the dance. Well, swing is not as one-dimensional as that," says Michael Moss, one of the Club DeLuxe originals. "In fact, the music came first. And from the music, a culture evolved. I don't have anything against dancing, but we should be celebrating the whole culture, not cannibalizing it into one simple element."

Michael and his lifestyle friends feel they've been pushed out of their own scene. They complain that bars can't make money booking real swing bands because Lindy Hoppers will take over the dance floor -- and not buy any drinks. "I mean, Jesus, these people actually refill their own water bottles in the bathroom," Michael complains. "And they don't clap for the bands. They have no etiquette."

About The Author

Joel P. Engardio


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