"There's a whole row of vintage shops and antique shops," he says. "The first was Meow, then others followed. It's kind of like one-stop shopping. You can get a haircut with that '40s-'50s look, then you can get your vintage wardrobe, then shop for some vintage furnishings." And when Big Sandy drives, it's in his '58 Caddy or his '56 Chevy Bel-Aire.
About '50s style, he says, "It's just become like a way of life."
Besides 'retro row,' as Long Beach's vintage district is called, Southern California has other bastions of vintage chic. One favorite shop is Elsewhere Vintage Clothing in the city of Orange's antiques-filled Old Towne.
San Francisco, too, attracts lovers of cool clothing, with fans flocking to Decades of Fashion in the Haight, among other spots.
But dressing for the '50s isn't just about what you wear. It's about how you wear it. Charles Phoenix, who owns thousands of family slides from the 1950s, suggests one easy trick for stepping back into time: "Dressing alike."
"Back in the '50s, you'd see whole families—the husband, the wife, and the kids—wearing matching ensembles," he says. "If you're a stay-at-home mom, get a bolt of fabric and make some outfits for the whole family."
Phoenix even has a testimonial from a housewife of today. This particular woman had it all, he says, but seemed bored with her family life. Make matching clothes for the family, Phoenix suggested. "She did—and they had a great camera-ready family moment. Now she's going to be dressing them in matching clothes every year.
"To me it's practically the cutest thing a family can do."
• Meow (2210 East Fourth St., Long Beach): meowvintage.com
When Heather David dreams about reliving the '50s, it often involves "Sunday drives with the family." Roads were open then, traffic more a nuisance than a terror, and gas cost 20 cents a gallon. Virtually every car, from the 'dazzling, spectacular' Cadillac Le Mans to the cool-as-a-kitten MG, was bold, romantic, svelte—and super sexy.
A car had to be special indeed to stand out at Randy's Donuts! Or to gas up beneath the aerodynamic space-age hoods of Sacramento's Orbit gas stations.
A gent in Maryland recently offered his powder-blue 1955 Chevrolet Belair for $25,000. If that's a bit steep, David has a suggestion. "Tuesday nights are classic-car nights at the Burger Barn in San Jose," she says. You can't drive off in a vintage hot rod, but you sure can ogle.
In Sacramento, Gretchen Steinberg reminds us, the California Automobile Museum has one of the best collections anywhere—and it sponsors the occasional cruise. In the East Bay, the Blackhawk Museum has a permanent collection of 90 cars it considers 'rolling sculptures,' plus touring shows as well.
In Southern California, Adriene Biondo suggests you "spend an afternoon checking out '50s hot rods and historical vehicles, like Mickey Thompson's that broke land speed records," at the NHRA Motorsports Museum.
And if you're kicking yourself about $3.40 gas, consider this: "Admission's free at the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar," Biondo says. "A whole room of classic '50s hot rods, plus a real Tucker!"
• Burger Barn (2485 Forest Ave., San Jose)
• California Automobile Museum (2200 Front St., Sacramento): calautomuseum.org
• Blackhawk Museum (3750 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville): blackhawkmuseum.org
• NHRA Motorsports Museum (1101 West McKinley Ave., Pomona): museum.nhra.com
• Nethercutt Collection (15200 Bledsoe St., Sylmar): nethercuttcollection.org
'Marjorie Morningstar,' 'Peyton Place,' 'No Time for Sergeants.' You've heard of these books, all best sellers during the 1950s, maybe seen the movies. But have you read them?
Nothing captures the '50s better than curling up with a Scotch and water and a good book. Something like Sloan Wilson's 'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,' a best seller in 1955, a film starring Gregory Peck in 1956, then forgotten—until it was reissued in 2002.