Emily Watson stood before the bathroom mirror in a red robe, pink foam rollers in her hair, a glass of white wine on the counter. • Time to bring out her inner pinup girl. • Smoky eye shadow, black liquid liner, China red lipstick. She shook out the rollers and shimmied into a reproduction of a deep purple wiggle dress from the 1940s. • She stood back. Checked the mirror. • "Hot, huh?" • Emily lives alone with a cat named Tiger. She recently sent her second child off to college. She works behind a mediation counter at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. She will turn 50 next year. • On her dresser was a loose photo from about 10 years ago. In it, she is standing next to her son, who is holding a football trophy. She's wearing the long jumper and Keds. Her face looks expressionless, tired. • "I was so frumpy," she said. • She put on a pair of gold cat-eye glasses, stepped into a pair of 60-year-old black suede heels with pointed brass toes. • Miss January was ready.
Ten years ago, Emily went to see a therapist.
"Where are you?" the therapist asked. "You're invisible."
Yes, she was.
She'd recently divorced a man she met in college. Halfway through the 14-year marriage, she'd found out he was gay.
She'd spent so much time trying to keep it all together, she'd forgotten about herself.
Emily didn't wear makeup. She wore oversized "mommy frocks" that buttoned down the front and tied in the back. She didn't even know how to use a curling iron.
"I didn't have any feminine woman identity," she said. "I didn't know where to find it. I didn't even know if I had it."
I met Emily about five years ago. By then, the frumpy jumpers were gone. She'd started dating. She seemed to select her outfits carefully. Sexy but simple. She liked vintage clothes.
About a year ago, Emily was browsing in Buffalo Gal Vintage, a dress shop in St. Petersburg, when the store owner told her that she had the perfect figure for pinup. Would she be interested in modeling in some fashion shows?
Emily is 5 feet 2 and curvy, with a tiny waist and large hips.
"I said, 'Isn't that something?' Because I was always afraid of my hips, and she thought they were marvelous."
Pinup style reaches back to 1940s and 1950s glam. In its modern version, it is rooted in car shows, rockabilly concerts and burlesque performances. Today's pinup girls wear 50- and 60-year-old dresses and have tattoos. Guys smooth on Pomade hair grease and don Western-style button-down shirts or T-shirts with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves. Some dress up every now and then, while others actually follow the pinup era lifestyle in their homes — complete with rabbit ear TVs and lima-bean-green Formica.
The pinup culture, found mostly in places like California and Las Vegas, has been showing up in different ways in Tampa Bay. A magazine called Pinup America will distribute its first edition in December. At least three pinup calendars are in the works or on sale. And a burlesque troupe called Le Teaze now calls Tampa home.
"Pinup is about confidence," said April Catalano, co-owner of Pinup America Inc. "The whole movement is about paying our respects to history but adding a modern-day twist."
Emily had changed quite a bit since her divorce. But when she tried on her first wiggle dress, she was overwhelmed.
"It was like, 'Oh, my God,' I didn't realize I had all this," she said. "I felt invigorated and alive."
She started dressing up for fashion shows. She met lots of women with Bettie Page bangs. She went to a car show "and it felt like the '57 Chevys were calling my name." She donned a 1950s calf-length floral print dress and went to a Pinups for Pitbulls calendar party. She turned up at the Rocky Horror Picture Show in a black corset with black tap pants and a crinoline petticoat.
Then she was asked to do her first calendar.
She wore a pirate costume and pinned another model with a sword.
In the calendar, she represents Tampa's Gasparilla Invasion.
Talk about finding yourself.
• • •
Emily wiggled along the sidewalk, heading to her first calendar launch party at a nightclub called Aja Channelside.
Inside the club, techno music blasted from a DJ booth and colored lights splashed the walls. She found the pinup calendar group sitting on a circular couch. A woman who called herself Bodacious Betty, the calendar's photographer, approached her and gave her a hug.
"May is here, August is here, I'm February and June is supposed to be here," she said, handing Emily one of the calendars.
"Ooh, I'm a calendar girl," Emily said excitedly. "There I am."
Amidst the 20-somethings with their leotard-tight dresses that barely skimmed their thighs, the pinup girls stood out like snapdragons. Miss June wore a gold satin dress with a matching pillbox hat. Miss February had styled her dark hair in twin victory rolls and wore a black sleeveless wiggle dress and red leopard stilettos.
Miss August sauntered up in a long navy sailor dress with gold trim. Her pinup name was Judy Pop. But her real name was Christina Frasciello. She had glossy black hair with cropped bangs and two colorful skull tattoos on her back.
Like Emily, she'd only recently started doing pinup. She'd dressed up for a Lady Gaga concert and caught the eye of a some photographers taking pictures of fans. Then she was selected from dozens of applicants to appear in another calendar being produced by Pinup America.
I asked her if she'd changed her look at all since going pinup.
"Yes," she responded, "not because I felt I needed to, but because I had the confidence to."
One of Emily's friends, a 39-year-old hairdresser named Tori Kloss, showed up. She wore a boucle evening coat over a black and white check pencil skirt and black flats. She had short black bangs and bright red lips.
"The pinup lifestyle goes hand in hand with the car culture," she said, taking a sip of a cosmopolitan. "It's how you carry yourself, your mannerisms. There's a formality that goes with it, how you dress, your makeup. There can be a Bettie Page style on the outside but there can even be inside core values. Family was huge. You stick together. You don't get up and divorce someone. "
Tori professed to live a pure '50s lifestyle, to the best of her ability. She watched only old movies on her vintage TV.
"The '30s, '40s and '50s, even the '60s, that's when people were well groomed and they took pride in themselves," she said. "Then we got into the '70s and people got lazy. . . . It's just loose."
"Anything goes," Emily chimed in.
As she spoke, a pair of girls walked by in dresses that barely covered their underwear. Tori scrunched her face into a frown.
One of Emily's friends walked up with a calendar and asked her to sign it. Emily dug out a Sharpie.
My # 1 fan
She signed it with her pinup name
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at (727) 893-8640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.