There are people who are into vintage. Then there are people who don’t just adopt the look of a different era (or eras) but make it their POV. Lou Peixin, 24, singer and songwriter of what she calls “classic vintage pop” (think swing + doo-wop + modern pop), tells us why she loves the ’40s and ’50s, who inspires her, and where she gets her vintage outfits.
“When I was 17 and in Raffles Junior College, I joined its jazz band. It sparked my love for the music, which led me to discover the period when it was at its best - post-war America. The late ’40s to ’50s was an amazing time; everyone had some money; the women, dressed to the nines in old-Hollywood-glamour style, were elegant and sophisticated; and jazz was very over-the-top with large orchestral string arrangements.
The period was also a time when relationships and things were not tossed away because they were broken. People took time to fix or mend them. That kind of past is worth bringing back.
In the ’90s when tanned skin and blonde hair were big, burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese stood out for me with her porcelain skin, jet-black hair, red lips, and elegance. To this day, she is one of my inspirations.
I continued with jazz during uni with the NUS band and met a lot of musicians there, which got me singing professionally at weddings, events, bars and restaurants. My first single, More Than Just That Bass, will be released on 18th August. My debut EP will be released in September, and it was recorded with Mikal Blue, a producer who has worked with Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, and One Republic. I found him in the album credits of some of my favourite artists, e-mailed his manager, sent him my songs, and he liked them. Then I flew to LA to work with him.
Make one era work in another
To make retro look good today, I’ve learnt to take the best of everything from those periods and combine them with what works now. My everyday hairstyle is a 1940s victory roll and an updo. It sounds difficult, but I’ve had a lot of practice and call it my lazy hairstyle. I curl the front portion and clip the back in 10 minutes. It’s the same for my everyday makeup - winged lined eyes and a red lip, which are very classic yet very striking. Over the years, I’ve added more steps: a bit of shading, contouring, and blusher if I want a more dramatic look.
I find easier ways to get vintage clothes, too. I buy off-the-rack cheongsams and samfoos from Golden Scissor Cheongsam at People’s Park, which alters them to my size if needed.
I am a huge fan of Lee Ming (@leeeeming on Instagram), a stylist based in Malaysia. She successfully works the Hollywood glamour look with her Chinese culture. From her, I learnt that the retro hairdos which work best in our humid weather are updos.
Local burlesque artist, Sukki Singapora, who is half-Indian and looks like a young Jennifer Beals, also inspires me.
Do vintage, not be it
I recently gave away clothes that don’t make me feel 100 per cent comfortable and confident. I don’t want things nipping me in strange places and showing off what I don’t want to show off.
I also want to only have things that I can wear over and over again, because I don’t subscribe to the idea that you only look good if you have a different outfit every day.
I usually don’t spend more than $300 a month on clothes, and $200 on any outfit. So where my vintage wear comes from is important. Etsy, a Brooklyn online store, is a dream come true, offering both handicraft and vintage. Local and overseas thrift stores are also goldmines for stuff that is a few dollars apiece. Wherever I go, I search for vintage stores. Perth and the US have amazing ones.
The only thing I don’t mind spending more on is well-made leather shoes. I like the vintage-style leather flats from Charlie Stone Shoes, a one-woman enterprise from Australia. She makes very cute, very colourful, and comfortable Bettie Page-style shoes.
From vintage wearer to vintage seller
I started an online vintage store with my best friend Maryam (whom I met in secondary school) in January last year. While vintage-shopping in Hong Kong on a grad trip, we turned to each other and said, ‘We are both good at styling, we can both do hair and makeup, and we are obviously quite intelligent people, so why don’t we start a business together? We have what it takes.’ So we launched bajumamavintage.com, and it has since grown a little, and amassed some dedicated customers.
Advice for aspiring vintage girls
If you want to start dressing vintage, I'd suggest to first look up the different eras and see what catches your eye, because everyone has a ‘pet era’ in a sense. My favourite is the ’50s, but for some people it can be the 1920s with the flapper style and short hair.
And you’ve got to find pieces that complement you and make you feel good. If it’s off the rack, don’t beat yourself up about it if it doesn’t fit you right. People in the past used to be able to know how to use sewing machines and all to make sure their clothes fit themselves well. So I would advise finding a seamstress you can trust so you can alter pieces to fit your body better.
Other than that, look up tutorials online. Start off with the easy, beginner level ones. Say, if you want to do a victory roll, just focus on that and practise. Even if it looks bad the first time, that’s okay, it takes time.”
Support Peixin’s debut EP kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/813316538/glamour-vintage-songbird-miss-lous-debut-ep/description
Photography: Frenchescar Lim
Styling: Bryan Goh
Hair: Veronica Ng/Kimage Salon
Makeup: Angel Gwee, using RMK
Location: Kombi Rocks Diner
This story was first published in the August 2017 issue of Her World magazine.