Adults stared, children pointed and one man stopped to get his picture taken with a member of local pinup social club The Border Town Betties. In dresses, a headscarf and a pair of roller skates, Michele Halti and Susanna Dreier directed people to a pancake breakfast their club hosted at the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival.
“I’m really thankful for the Betties. I need this,” Dreier said.
The Betties have been in action for a few months, hosting pinup contests, vintage hair and makeup tutorials and gatherings. Their upcoming event is a Pinup Pub Crawl starting at 3 p.m., Sept. 14, at Builder’s Saloon in Superior. Proceeds go to the Center Against Sexual Domestic Abuse.
The group’s mission is to promote body positivity, to empower women, to teach the pinup style and to positively impact the community, said Caroline Routley of Superior.
She’d recently done pinup for the first time. “I decided I better do this because it terrified me," she said. “I don’t have a lot of reasons to totally glam up and go above and beyond with the hair. It was just a lot of fun."
Now, she’s running outreach for the Border Town Betties and taking the lead on the Pinup Pub Crawl.
During the early morning hours of the Dragon Boat Festival, Routley and another group officer, Becky Scherf, were dressed to the nines along with their husbands and a few other Betties, taking tickets and flipping flapjacks.
For Elena Surface of Superior, the group is about the feel-goods. “You want a little bit of escape to more beauty, more kindness. It’s a way to improve my life doing something for the community.”
Surface wore an A-line skirt, red lips and a sunflower headband.
A-line dresses are a pinup staple, along with circle skirts, petticoats, cigarette pants, cardigans, scarves, wing-tip shoes — very blue-collar America.
Surface’s go-tos are Goodwill and Amazon to snag pinup getups.
Makayla LaLonde joined the Betties three weeks ago. She said they’ve given her an avenue to make friends.
And her earliest memories of vintage and pinup: “My grandmother was obsessed with Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe,” said LaLonde, recalling wanting to be like them when she was a kid.
Becky Scherf is “the veteran of the group.”
She’s been dressing and modeling pinup for well over a decade. Her grandmother wore heels and skirts every day; she was never without lipstick. “I was born infatuated with the ’50s,” Scherf said.
She met Betties co-founder Molly Wynne after she launched a pinup contest during Motorhead Madness in March. Wynne is a seamstress who makes her own vintage-style clothing, and she used to travel for pinup contests. The Twin Ports scene was scarce, so the pair wanted to create a social club around pinup, with a focus on giving back.
They soon teamed up with Routley, and it all picked up faster than they thought it would. They have about 20 members, and the pancake breakfast was big for their group, Scherf said.
Routley and Scherf do all of the event planning, sponsor hunting and recruiting. They’re pursuing nonprofit and 501(c)(3) status; they’re establishing a code of conduct. They hope to increase their membership and to help more community organizations.
Some challenges are establishing a common voice in a newly emerging group and in a culture that can have mixed values.
There are different modes of modern pinup culture. Authentic and strict — period accurate, vintage clothes only, no tattoos. Then, there’s rockabilly culture with more exaggerated styles, tattoos. That latter is where Scherf falls.
She appreciates the inclusivity in pinup, which she said is very body-positive. “It’s all shapes, all sizes, all races, all walks of life,” she said.
There can be misconceptions about that, and about the beliefs of those who bear nostalgia for the America of the ’50s, ’60s.
“Obviously, the 1950s were really bad with race relations. As much as we love vintage style, we are not standing behind vintage values,” Scherf said. “We are LGBTQ-friendly, we want women from all walks of life involved.”
“Vintage style, not vintage values," she said. "That’s everything we stand for.”
Scherf was born and raised in Superior, and having moved back here, she noted her hometown is expanding its local stores, events, its arts community. The Betties want to be a part of it and to help contribute and add a space for women to connect.
Standing near the entrance of the Dragon Boat Festival, Dreier said, "We’re all here for each other. It’s a wonderful thing to have.”
Halti said she got involved after she invited the Betties to a July car show she coordinated.
“Lovely ladies and classic cars go really well together,” she said.
While she’s more roller derby than pinup, Halti said she’s a part of this now. “I love these girls.”
If you go
What: Pinup Pub Crawl on Tower Avenue in Superior
When/where: Starts 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at Builder's Saloon in Superior; last stop at 8 p.m. at Top Hat Tavern. Proceeds benefit Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse.
More info: facebook.com/events/1018478108356138/
What: Border Town Betties group meetings
When: 7 p.m. Mondays
Where: Capri Bar, 1224 Tower Ave, Superior
More info: facebook.com/bordertownbetties