Q & A with The Strawberry Bombshell

I’ve been drawn to the pin up style since I saw Grease when I was a kid.  I started adding stripes and polka dots to my closet when I was 14 but the fear of looking even just a little bit costume-y held me back.  I know a lot of girls interested in this look would like to start off by simply adding some key pieces to their outfits to give a tiny hint of pinup and eventually work their way up.  It’s what I did and it made the transition from emo / goth kid to beautiful pin up a lot easier.

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Not knowing how to incorporate the pin up look to my modern, yet boring outfit for a job interview, I went where fashion inspiration is easily found—Instagram!  I came across The Strawberry Bombshell’s page after a few hashtag searches.  I noticed she’s familiar with the color palette and knows how to mix colors I’ve never had the courage to wear at the same time.  With pieces from Pinup Girl Clothing, Old Navy and Charlotte Russe, The Strawberry Bombshell has one of the most versatile and affordable wardrobes I’ve seen.

If you’re looking to get ideas for a special occasion outfit or for your everyday look, The Strawberry Bombshell will spark your creativity.  She agreed to do a Q & A and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.  She’s been through highs and lows when it comes to confidence and tells us how pin up helped her feel comfortable in her own skin.

1. Have you always been into vintage-inspired clothing?  When did you start adding retro pieces to your closet?

My love for vintage aesthetic was a natural extension of my affinity for vintage music and that era of history. I grew up around swing music my great uncle and aunt played, and always had a pretty keen interest in World War II as a kid. I can remember being excited about swing revival in the mid-90s and early 2000’s, even though I was still pretty young; it was exciting to hear a fresh take on sounds I’d grown up with. Around that time I can remember really taking notice of vintage styles and lusting after Kate Beckinsale’s wardrobe in Pearl Harbor (2001). Unfortunately my self esteem was a bit lagging, and I tried to fit into trendy stuff in high school and university which usually made my self esteem worse. The first repro-style dress I bought was a cheaply made polka dot wiggle dress from the mall. I didn’t really dive in until I found Pinup Girl Clothing’s website in 2011. It’s been a full fledged love affair ever since!

2.  What is your go-to article of clothing that makes you feel confident?

Pencil skirt or wiggle dress. I used to try to hide my curves but always loved the look of a pencil skirt. To this day I wear them a good 3 or 4 days a week. My specific ‘dress-to-kill’ look? PUG’s Masuimi or Erin dresses. They are my go-to if I want to look like a bombshell but feel like I’m dressed in PJs! They’re so comfortable and sexy.

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3.  What are your favorite brands and why?

I think anybody that follows me close enough has noticed that I wear Pinup Girl Clothing almost everyday. This is a result of my support of their ethos and practice as company; their superior quality in product and service; and my embarrassing tunnel-vision when it comes to online shopping. I stick with what I know. I’ve written pretty extensively on why I love them so much, so I’ll just invite you to visit those blog posts and won’t bore you with the gory details again. I’ll be a life long customer, they impress me to no end. They’re life changers and very passionate about what they do.

I also wear a lot of Joe Fresh because their pieces are classic, simple, versatile and affordable. A lot of my favourite staple pieces are Joe Fresh; I was buying them on sale at a time when I couldn’t afford to online shop. My only gripe with them is that they don’t have the best track record with production and labour practices.

4.  Who is your style icon and why?

It’s a toss up between the entire pinup community and Jeanette Scott of J’s Everyday Fashion. Pinups from all over the world have inspired me to dress in a style I love and find comfort in. I started reading Jeanette’s blog in 2013 when I was unemployed, broke and unable to shop – and she completely blew my mind. She teaches her readers to take what they have in their closet and use inspiration photos to stretch the possibilities in her wardrobe. She is very much focused on a  ‘look for less’ approach, and she encourages everyone to plan their budgets, experiment with new looks, and take inspiration from everywhere. My style confidence increased a lot after reading her blog. I no longer wonder what I can pair certain items with – I can usually find 10-20 different ways to wear something because I’ve studied her approach. That, to me, is fashion practicality!  I highly recommend her blog to anybody; it makes fashion accessible and demystified.

5.  “When accessorizing always take off the last thing you put on.” – Coco Chanel.  Do you agree?  Do you follow other rules when accessorizing?  If so, what are they?

I think that people should wear as much or as little as they want; it has no effect on my life if they chose to over-accessorize. But for me, personally? I don’t have ‘rules’ per se, but I think I sort of have an internal compass which errs on the side of conservative, clean styling. You won’t find a lot of really blingy, trendy things or tons of accessorizing in my style. I’m pretty boring, and it always takes me a long time to come around to anything ‘trendy’ (I started wearing statement necklaces 3 years after everyone else). I always reach for my go-tos: pearl necklace/earrings, gold hoops and chains, cognac-coloured belts and shoes. If I do wear a statement piece, like a necklace or cocktail ring, I try to minimize other accessories and let it speak for itself.

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6.  Solids or prints?

In the last few years I’ve stuck to solids quite a bit out of habit, as I wanted to learn about colour palettes and experiment with mixing them. I am slowly (slowly!) coming around to prints. Again, it takes me a while to come around with experimentation. I push my boundaries slowly and stubbornly, but I do push them. I didn’t dare try print-mixing until this past year! Though I never used to wear leopard at all, I now use it a lot because it goes with literally everything – find me a colour that doesn’t go with leopard! It pairs nicely with polka dots, stripes, and the odd floral as well. In fact, I’m a bit of a fiend for those four prints because they are versatile and easy to style.

7.  What’s your take on how women are portrayed in media?  

Oh man, I could go on about this. Overall I think there’s still a pretty paternalistic treatment of women in mass media. Comments on women’s fashion choices and body shape instead of their accomplishments, job performance, or character are still sickeningly pervasive. There was an article I read a little while ago about an Australian newscaster who wore the same suit for a year straight without comment from his producers or audience; he wanted to prove that the heinous double standard needs to go. I think that the Dove ad campaigns (‘love the skin you’re in’) and recent uproar over Calvin Klein’s poor choice of ‘plus size’ model show that the conversations are changing in favour of body positivity, but I think we’ve got a long way to go in refining the dialogue. I think that a lot of curvy gals who felt sidelined by the status quo for decades feel the logical reaction is to bash thin women as ‘not real’, not realizing this prejudice is as hurtful as any that’s been leveled against curvy women. I’d really like to see the conversation turn towards ‘all women are real women’ to foster an inclusive mentality.

The good news is that the internet is nothing if not the largest peanut gallery in the world, and the bright side of churning out more university grads is that feminist discourse from the institution makes its way into the media and challenges sexism in weird and wonderful ways.  I’ve seen a lot of good blogs, tweets, memes, and articles which lampoon sexist remarks in the media. I’ve seen women put misogynists on blast and shame them quite publicly for their shitty attitudes, and it’s beautiful to watch. In addition, it provides communities of support for women who feel sidelined and alienated by what the status quo is turning out. Pinup is one such community, and you’ll find some of the fiercest defenders of feminism here.

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8.  A couple of months ago, Hollaback!, a movement started by a network of activists around the world working to end street harassment uploaded a video to YouTube of a woman being constantly harassed while walking around New York City.  Have you ever been harassed while walking down the street?  How do you deal with it?  What can women do to put an end to street harassment?

I’ve definitely been harassed while walking down the street, or in bars. My response isn’t usually very ladylike – I’ll flip them off or tell them to get fucked, that kind of thing. I don’t find it’s terribly productive to try to get into a dialogue with catcallers. I think that if you’re getting lewd comments from males in certain defined settings (i.e. ‘friends’ or acquaintances at a party, trolls on your social media page), it’s definitely a bit easier to get a dialogue going and call them out on their behavior and try to deconstruct their shitty attitude. It’s a bit more difficult to get into a conversation about why they’re a misogynist jerk if they’re at a stoplight in their car, or across a busy street, so I limit my conversation to crude retorts in those circumstances.

I think that the best response, if you have a chance, is to publically call out a catcaller for their poor behaviour. Let it be known that not only are you not going to accept the behaviour, you’re going to rip it to shreds rhetorically. If you’re quick on your feet, you can do that on the spot, but sometimes it takes a bit more time and effort for introverts or people who get flustered. I once wrote a letter and posted it on the door of my apartment building after I overheard some idiots making comments outside my window. I’ve seen some bloggers take screen shots of sexist comments on their Instagram and blast them. I also saw a brilliant – BRILLIANT – response to one woman’s catcaller blow up online. The gal totally lambasted this guy in a ‘Missed Connections’ ad. I’m not sure where the original post is now, but there are several articles written about it, this Huffington Post article being one of them.

As much as possible, try to engage the issues that inform the catcaller’s behaviour or attitude, rather than focus on attacking them as a person. Ad hominem attacks and aimless name calling usually fall on deaf ears and don’t accomplish much.

It’s difficult to get over the initial sting of the comment, but if you can harness that anger into a controlled and eloquent response then the payoff is wonderful. You’ll feel like King Kong and hopefully that guy will rethink his poor attitude. At the very least, hopefully he’ll stop catcalling!

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9.  We all go through moments of low self-esteem.  Do you remember a particular moment you didn’t feel so good about yourself?  If so, tell us how you got your confidence back.

I’ve spent a good deal of my life being uncomfortable in my own skin, and I know now that I’m not alone. Women of all shapes and sizes go through it! I didn’t really feel comfortable with my curves and size until I started dressing in pinup clothing on a regular basis. Some of my worst moments of self esteem in the last few years, however, were when I was sick and lost a lot of weight. My weight yoyo’d after a couple of bad bouts of ulcerative colitis and I remember crying myself to sleep because I’d lost my healthy curves that I loved so much and had become so proud of. It was a big turning point for me – to realize that I identified with my curves and size as something healthy and positive for the first time in my life. Sometimes we have to lose what we have to realize how much we miss it. I’m grateful that I had pinup clothing and communities in my life at the time, because even though I’d lost the weight and felt self-conscious after being sick, I knew that I could be beautiful at any weight in this clothing. A lot of pieces I own have fit me beautifully with 30-40 pound weight differences. That’s amazing peace of mind when you’re getting out of the hospital and learning to love your body again!

10.  Other than documenting your adorable outfits, what do you do for a living?  

I’m working in investment banking. I actually began documenting these outfits for myself as a creative outlet during some grueling professional exams last year, while I was trying to gain my licensure for securities trading. My style of dress is a little on the eclectic side for a business environment, so I’m lucky that our office is laid back about fashion choices. I’ve been in banking about 8 years now, and though it’s been an interesting study in people (more so than in numbers!), writing and literature are my first loves. I’m currently trying to figure out how to make my way back to them for a career.

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11.  Any advice to young girls on finding their personal style?

Don’t be afraid to experiment, even if it’s a little at a time. Stick with what works, ditch what doesn’t. If you’re not sure ‘how’ to wear something, or what to wear with it, do a Pinterest search to see that outfit in context. Study the styles of others, and use their inspiration. Emulate other outfit ideas until you find what you’re comfortable in. Fashion is an ongoing conversation, and your mode of dress is your voice in that conversation. It tells people who you are before you even open your mouth, so make sure you’re dressing true to yourself.

12.  As someone who practices practical pin up, what is your definition of a pin up girl?

Anybody who wants practice it. I was quite deliberate in my choice of diction for that phrase; most ‘practices’ do not come naturally, but as the result of habitual repetition. You practice until you make ‘perfect’, or at least become deft at it. The ‘practical’ in practical pinup is an expression of its accessibility. I see a lot of comments from women pinup sites saying ‘I wish I could pull that look off, but I don’t have the [body, time, patience, skill, money, etc] for it.’ They see it as being an unachievable ideal. What I’m trying to demonstrate is that you can pull it off to whatever extent you feel comfortable. It’s not something that is achievable for some and not for others. You can start as simply as incorporating a pencil skirt into your work outfit or going full-bore with glamorous pin-curls, red lips and corseting. You can buy expensive vintage pieces, budget-friendly vintage repro, or thrifted items which are retro-inspired. What matters is that you practice, and practice often.

For myself, I’ve decided my look is equal parts pinup, professional, and preppy. I buy vintage repro and thrifted items, and I incorporate current trends where I want. This is what I’m comfortable in, and that doesn’t have to look the same for everybody. It’s open to interpretation, and we don’t do any favours by having limiting ideas of what pinup should and shouldn’t be. You can do as much or as little of it as you please. The fringe benefits of practicing it are enormous: increased self esteem and body positivity; exposure to supportive communities and media; better understanding of feminism. A pin up girl is somebody who adores her body, respects the bodies of others, owns her sexuality, and dresses accordingly – that is channeling the spirit of pin up, and that can be for anybody. I’d encourage all women to give it a shot.

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For everyday inspiration, follow The Strawberry Bombshell on Instagram and check out her blog!

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