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Costume Party: How To Channel The Retro Swim Style Of ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’

Fashion

Be the perky teen you want to see in the world

The beach party movie is one of cinema's sillier traditions. In the 1960s, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon drew teen viewers as they frolicked through beaches and inevitably found themselves in madcap situations. The first film, aptly titled Beach Party, was released in 1963, and the series went on to include films like Muscle Beach Party (1964) and the excellently titled How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). The best-known film in the illustrious series is Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). In celebration of summer, it seems fitting to explore this beachy tale from a more innocent time.

While Beach Blanket Bingo is technically the fifth film in the series, one need not dive into the canon to get the gist of the beach party genre. There are perky teens, wily bad guys, and chaste romances. Beach Blanket Bingo's plot involves skydiving, a biker gang, a mermaid, and silent film icon Buster Keaton. The story may not make a whole lot of sense, but it's fascinating as a document of '60s kitsch, and there are some suitably fun clothes.

Bikinis are obviously of the utmost importance. The end credits even have a special "Swimsuits by" credit (shout out to DeWeese Designs of California!) The loveliness of DeWeese's designs really comes through in group shots. The bikinis are candy colored and look like the kind of thing you could buy from ModCloth today. They all have the same cut—structured top and low-cut yet full-coverage bottom—and with the slight variations in color and pattern, the spectacle recalls a contemporary girl group in their coordinated outfits.

Surprisingly, the star wears the most conservative swimsuit. Funicello's pink one-piece is closer in form to a romper than a swimsuit, and the waist-cinching belt makes it look like a real pain to put on. While it's still a cute suit, especially with the hindsight of retro fashion, it's not as carefree as expected.

The most outré swimsuit, a rigidly structured, revealing concoction with a strange mix of furry and shiny materials (which probably wouldn't be very practical for actual swimming), is worn by a dancer whose sole role is to act as a foil to Keaton's stone-faced, oversized-suited presence. The visual contrast is an obvious illustration of the generation gap.

Even if beach party films were targeted to a youth audience, they presented some modest fashions. When the romantic leads, clad in formalwear, walk on the beach, they look like they could be going to a parent-teacher conference.

The nightgowns that the girls wear have a sweetly pin-up look. Outside of lounging, though, there are more long sleeves than expected considering this is, after all, a beach movie.

The non-beach outfits feature bold, visually pleasing swaths of color. One girl even wears a red top with purplish-pink pants—a decidedly difficult combination to pull off, yet it works.

The bad guys in the film, who feel ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon, distinguish themselves with black leather jackets. It's one of the easiest visual cues for deviousness available, and the look also harkens back to youth culture of the prior decade; '50s rebellion is being replaced with the bright palette of the '60s.

The "Rats" insignia on the back of the jackets is a particularly inspired touch. The graphic is downright hipsterish, and it seems some enterprising designer should create a replica.

Of course, in the playful world of Beach Blanket Bingo, swimsuits win out over leather. While the plot is paper-thin, the tableaus of swimsuits, in luscious colors that seemed to only exist in this decade, are an enduring source of fashion inspiration.

She considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth"

Dani Okon, NYLON's associate creative director of video, sat down with her great-aunt, May Okon, to talk about their shared experiences—despite vastly different time frames—living as queer women in New York City. Prior to retirement, May was a journalist for the New York Daily News, having first entered the male-dominated workforce when "the boys were all at war." And, of course, she absolutely killed it. Her only regret? "Retiring at 55," she tells Dani, joking, "Who the hell knew I was gonna live to 100?"

Upon retiring, she moved out to the Hamptons with her partner and bought a home. If she had to do it all over, May says "there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," but she still considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth." Get to know May in the video, above.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Marlene Colburn and Naima Green
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by: Alexandra Hsie
Camera: Gretta Wilson + Katie Sadler
Edited by: Madeline Stedman

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Here's how they're making sure it doesn't happen

Lauren Morelli, the showrunner and executive producer for the new Netflix show Tales of the City, is fostering a space where multiple queer realities can be shown on-screen. She spoke with one of the cast members, trans actor Garcia (who plays Jake Rodriguez on the show), and, in the video above, they explore why it's wrong to treat queer stories as representative of the entire community. Tokenization is something that they both want to avoid at all costs, and they're on the right track.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Gretta Wilson + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson

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"Nothing is truly a binary"

We put non-binary activist Eddie Jarrel Jones and The Phluid Project founder Rob Smith in conversation with each other, and the two spoke some powerful truths about the continued gendering of products like makeup and clothing. Smith recalls that 30 years ago, the only way that he was able to experience the joys of playing with makeup was to work at a beauty counter. Even today, Jones notes that it's hard for non-binary femmes like them, or even trans women, to get that experience in stores.

In the video above, get a sense of why Smith created a genderless store, and see how important it is for people like Jones to have a space where they don't feel criticized for dressing like they want.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Charlotte Prager + Dani Okon
Edited by Gretta Wilson

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We put the two activists in conversation

Marlene Colburn, one of the founders of the Dyke March, and Naima Green, an artist currently working on a project and archive called Pur·suit, which will document queer people of all identities, agree that it's really hard to find lesbian spaces that aren't bars. Just as hard, it seems, is to find lesbian representation that isn't white. In the video above, the two talk about how they are creating space for queer people and what that looks like within two different generations.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Dani Okon + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Charlotte Prager

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