Playing dress up isn’t just for kids.
Bri Gibson, General Manager at The Flying Joe, does it every time she becomes Stella Swoon, her pinup alter ego. What started as a fascination with vintage fashion quickly became a passion when Gibson started modeling and entering pinup competitions a few years ago. Now, playing dress up is more than just a hobby.
When she dons curve-hugging, retro clothes, flawless vintage hairstyles and impeccable makeup— complete with wingtips and red lips— the 28-year-old turns into a walking time capsule. This might be dress up, but it’s no child’s play.
Your personal style, as a song lyric:
“You’re cussin’ a storm in a cocktail dress your mother wore when she was young.
Red sun saint around your neck,
Wet martini in a paper cup.
You’re a wasp nest.”
– “Wasp Nest” by The National
What do most people notice about your style?
Usually my hair or makeup. I have older male customers who admire the precision of my red lipstick, which always makes me laugh. I didn’t know people paid so much attention! Older generations tend to appreciate it a bit more, which makes me happy. I use old techniques to master a good hairstyle. Wet-sets and finger waves aren’t easy!
What first inspired your style?
My grandma gave me my first vintage outfit. She wore it on her first day to high school— a brown three piece set from the 60s. It doesn’t fit me anymore, but I love it. I think a lot of people now find inspiration in their elders, I sure do.
Since you love vintage shopping, can you tell us a little about your all-time favorite find?
I bought this deep green velvet dress with a lighter green tulle cutout in the front at the REO town Thrift Gala last year. It looks like a 50s prom dress, so I’ve never had the opportunity to give it some good use. I wore it once, for the Miss Fabulous Flora completion at Handmade Toledo last spring.
Do you focus on any specific designers or time periods when collecting vintage?
I don’t focus much on specific designers, most of the time it’s a challenge just to find something that’s intact and in your size! I tend to focus more on time period, usually the 40s and 50s.
Favorite local shops?
I shop a lot at the Maumee Antique Mall (I always have the best luck there. I once bought an entire rack of vintage dresses because they fit).
Consider your most prized pieces. What three words best describe their similarities?
Authentic (not reproduction). Elegant. Classic.
Whose closet would you love to raid?
Dita Von Teese. Her style ranges from vintage to modern reproduction, and always with such taste. From what you can see, to what you can’t.
Is pinup style or fashion? What’s the difference?
I think fashion is a standard put in place by the fashion industry, style is a standard you put in place for yourself. Pinup is more of a fashion. It’s usually more reproduction clothing or retro accessories. Retro is a term used more often for new things that look old or emulate vintage artifacts. Hairstyles and makeup tend to be modern takes on older styles as opposed to actual execution of wet sets and body waves. I think of myself as more of a vintage lover. I love period pieces that have history.
How often do you dress in full pinup attire?
Right now? Not as often. Before I got pregnant, it was a daily thing. A little baby bump feels awful big in those curve-hugging dresses! Oliver is seven weeks old and I’m still a dress size bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. I have the clearance from the doctor to get back to the gym next week. So hopefully it’ll be an everyday thing again, soon.
What inspired you to start pinup modeling?
I was invited to a pinup contest at Ye Olde Durty Bird a few years ago. I didn’t compete, but I watched from the crowd, and of course, I dressed up. At the time, I didn’t know much about Pinup modeling. After dancing the night away with the gals following the competition, I made fast friends with Paige (Ada Vice) and Gabbey (Lana Lenore) and ended up modeling, thanks to their encouragement and support.
Has modeling changed the way you see yourself?
Yes and no. No, because I have always been proud of my physical self. I had Ulcerative Colitis for years, and then major surgeries to keep it under control. They left some serious scars, but I’ve always been proud to say my body made it through all of that. I think that experience has given me a good sense of body positivity, and has helped me be able to empathize with people who struggle with body image. Yes, because when you know you have the potential to be a bombshell, you can relax a little on a daily basis.
How has modeling affected the amount of attention you give to your daily appearance?
I don’t think too much about the makeup and clothes, but I put a lot more effort into self care. Working out, having a strict skincare regimen, and eating healthy keep me fresh from the inside out. It doesn’t matter how well you know how to apply makeup, if you don’t take care of yourself it shows.
What do you feel best when wearing? Describe that feeling.
A good, dependable pair of high-waisted trouser pants, usually from the 40s. I feel like I could do anything in them. A good pair of slacks looks like it hugs your curves, but gives you enough room to breathe and move.
How has motherhood affected your style?
Everything grew. My bust and hip sizes keep me out of my favorite garments, for now. It’s a great excuse to get back out and shop, though. Other than that, it just takes me a bit longer to get ready, and I do it less often.
In general, less or more?
Less. I like my look to feel effortless and graceful. Adding more sometimes becomes cumbersome, and isn’t appropriate for day-to-day.
Animal prints: gaudy or glamorous?
Gaudy on me, glamorous on others.
Best advice on striking a balance?
Do what feels natural. Any time I’ve tried to force myself into an outfit or style that wasn’t comfortable, I ended up looking ridiculous. I don’t need false lashes when I go to work, it makes my style seem forced. I want people to still see me, as beautiful as some of my vintage pieces are.
Soundtrack for getting dressed?
“Zou Bisou Bisou” by Gillian Hills
“I’m Feeling Good” by Julie London
“Blue Velvet” by Lana Del Rey
“Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James