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Guys and Dolls

Forget that '70s disco stuff. These hipsters want cocktails, big bands, zoot suits and Veronica Lake hairdos.


Sinatra's on the stereo; the olives are loaded into martinis; and party-goers are dressed like Dino in wingtip shoes. Never mind that this is the '90s; there's a new breed of rat packers who swing like it's Vegas in the '50s. Those who weren't even born when Sammy and Frank ruled the Strip have taken to imitating the swingers of the era. They're sipping cocktails, swing dancing, driving old Chevys, playing golf and going bowling--all the things their grandparents did. All the things their parents hated.

"These kids are 20 to 25. Their parents are old hippies. It's the perfect rebellion for them," says Don Miller, 36, a Glendale resident and leader of the Don Miller Orchestra, which plays swing music Monday nights at Birraporetti's in Costa Mesa.

Miller has seen the dance floor on swing night become crowded with hipsters, most dressed to the nines in '50s dinner jackets, hats, Evita-style dresses and other vintage fashions.

"They're mixing up their decades--they're dancing to '30s and '40s music but adopting the style of dress and attitudes of the cocktail movement in the '50s and early '60s," Miller says.

Most swingers don't care if they confuse their music and style trends; they just want an alternative to all the polyester, platforms and '70s retro that Madison Avenue has been hyping to the mainstream.

Jim Zaslaw, a 30-year-old computer consultant from Newport Beach, fits the swinger profile: He likes to golf; he listens to oldies on the radio; he goes swing dancing and hangs out with his bachelor friends.

"It's not just the swing; it's the style," he says.

Last year's movie "Swingers" chronicled that style. The film followed a group of guys on the make in Los Angeles, prowling for "babies," speaking swinger lingo, wearing cool rat-pack clothes, dancing to swing bands and hanging out in bachelor pads.

"It didn't seem that far off from the life of me and my friends," Zaslaw says. 'We're just like those guys, going to the Lava Lounge and the Dresden in Hollywood and saying stuff like 'You're so money.'

"It's the same attitude--going to parties, talking about girls, all the way down to playing Sega hockey before they go out to drink beers. We did that Friday and Saturday night. And look how old we are."

In Los Angeles, swingers head to places such as the Derby, where they can hear pioneers of the swing revival such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Orange County swingers frequent the Rhino Room in Huntington Beach or Twin Palms in Newport Beach, which have swing nights every Wednesday. A swing band plays Sundays at the Red Lion Hotel in Costa Mesa.

"When we go out, a lot of my friends wear knee-length skirts, little blouses and scarves," Vanessa Schram, 21, of Costa Mesa says. "The girls do their hair in '40s styles, like Veronica Lake. They wear red lips and pastel makeup."

To find a retro dress or suit that's "money," swingers shop at vintage clothing stores such as Rebecca's Dream, a Pasadena boutique that carries items from the '20s through '50s.

"They're going back in time," says Donald Katona Sr., owner of Rebecca's Dream. Many buy clothes to wear dancing at the Derby, including '40s-era pin-striped suits (for both men and women), wingtip shoes, purses, gloves, costume jewelry, hankies and cuff links. Women like full-skirted vintage dresses for dancing because "they're getting picked up and thrown around" on the dance floor, Katona says.

The swingers look is so popular, the shop is all out of zoot suits.

"I wish I had a thousand of those," Katona says.

Natalie Tass, owner of the Front End vintage store in Newport Beach, says the swingers who shop there "all have their own look. The girls get the swing dresses, and the guys are in gabardine shirts and '50s jackets."

Swingers aren't just making a fashion statement. Many like the styles of the past because it helps them forget present-day pressures. They want to go back to simpler times, before drugs, AIDS and guns became commonplace.

For Zaslaw, simpler pleasures take his mind off of work.

"It's a great stress release to step out from the music and entertainment of today," he says. "It gives you a happy, warm feeling of a time when things were pretty simple and everyone enjoyed themselves, although we probably have fonder memories of it than the way it really was."

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