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Photo by Jack GouldShould you ever have the opportunity to meet Daniela Turudich in person, DO NOT DO IT OVER LUNCH.
There you'll be, idly munching on some nondescript crunchy thing in your salad while she tells you that women used to put crushed insect bodies all over their lips, but "they couldn't wear it for long because it would start to sting and decay." Then, as you debate what to do with the nugget of increasingly bug-like salad in your mouth, she'll tell you that carmine—crushed bugs—is still used as a red coloring in high-end lipsticks and also that "the difference between makeup back then and now is that back then, they just cared about how to make it stick so it wouldn't rot or bleed." Yummers!
But it isn't just the disgusting cosmetic habits of the first half of the 20th century that interests Turudich, it's everything: the hair, the clothes, the music, the mindset, the decorations—so much so that she has written a string of vintage how-to books, including the upcoming 1940s Hairstyles, Vintage Face and Vintage Weddings, all of which she's putting out through her own Long Beach-based publishing company, Streamline Press.
And she's only 24, which makes her part historian, part writer, part publisher, part entrepreneur and part whippersnapper.
But what I want to know is this: it's perfectly acceptable, hip and cool to crib from the 1950s and '40s, and a little more unusual but still stylish from the '30s and '20s, but dip any deeper, and pretty soon you're just a big, fat, cape-wearing, sword-carrying, small-pewter-figurine-collecting, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons-playing, Renaissance Faire-going goober who carries his pet rat on his shoulder and challenges his friends to duels. Which is not to say that I think they're goobers (although I kind of do), but rather that society at large is unkind to those who wear capes.
Why is that? Why is cape-wearing really any different from rolling your hair into a bunch of pin curls and shopping at vintage-clothing stores? Or tweezing your eyebrows until they're pencil-thin à la Jean Harlow? Or listening to swing? Or, to reference an even more familiar style, slicking back your pompadour with Murray's and rolling your white T-shirt back over half-sleeve tattoos and driving a flame-covered Kustom Kar? Or dyeing your hair black and cutting the front into thick Betty Page-style bangs and wearing a leopard-print halter top?
It's all retro. It's all been done before. It's all "vintage." But I'm just as fallen as the rest of you, for though I intellectually realize that it's all the same—that retro is retro is retro—I could probably find myself attracted to a greaser but not to a man who carries a rat on his shoulder and dips his own candles. I might wear '50s-style eyeliner, but I'll never wear pantaloons underneath a hoop skirt.
I don't get it. And Turudich—who graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in film and went on to work as a "grunt" in the film industry, doing research for a couple of period pictures before deciding she'd rather keep her own hours—doesn't get it either. But she has some ideas. "I think if women were out there wearing bustles," Turudich says, "they wouldn't be accepted the same way as people wearing styles from the '20s, '30s and '40s because the '20s, '30s and '40s are seen as less extreme. There's a certain nostalgia for that time, for whatever reason. Maybe it's that people's grandparents or great-grandparents dressed this way," Turudich says. "Plus, it's more comfortable than bustles or hoop skirts or Victorian corsets. We're talking about wearable clothing. Also, this is when you start having the whole star icon. It's people emulating people they find beautiful."
Turudich has seen a pattern in the retro-worship of those around her. "I'm going to generalize, but usually people move from punk rock to rockabilly and then they go to swing," she says. "That's the progression. They like the whole underground culture of punk rock, and then they slow down in their 20s and 30s and like hot rods, and then they realize there's something else besides the 1950s, so they start doing the '40s and then the '30s and the '20s. That's what I've seen."
Turudich—who on this day is dressed like a normal, 21st-century girl in black pants, a red shirt and a black cardigan and with very little makeup on her delicate features—says she's not obsessed with the past. "I don't dress vintage every day," she says. "There are some girls who don't leave the house without having the hair and makeup done, and I'm not like that. I do it for special occasions. I'm too lazy to do it every day."
And so I begin to wonder whether this vintage stuff is a passion for her or if she's just a smart woman who recognizes a viable market.
"It's probably half and half," she says. "I'm not obsessed with vintage culture, but I definitely like it. I wouldn't be able to spend years researching topics that I wasn't interested in. It just so happens that the topics I'm researching are going to sell, and other people want to know about this stuff, too."