Aesthetic Detective: Roller Girl

Jenessa Williams 9 June 2022

In a new series, Jenessa Williams unravels the aesthetics trends emerging on social media. This month: Roller Girl, the summer loving throwback to the 1970s

Where does this trend come from?

Scotch & Soda Bomber Jacket, Boogie Nights DVD, Cult & Gai Bikini Top, Carmex Lip balm, Mui Mui Shorts, Monki Socks, River Island earrings, Urban Outfitters Cassette Walkman, Impala Roller-skates 

An all-American sporting past-time since the 18th century, roller-skating has boasted a strong aesthetic since the 1970s, part of the enormous boom of fun-loving, carefree disco music. The four-wheeled variety has long been of particular importance to the black community; shunned by mainstream radio and television, numerous rappers such as Queen Latifah and Dr Dre started out with roller-rink showcases, precursing decades of activism to preserve these sacred recreation spaces.  

"Roller life is as a much a state of mind as it is a skill to be mastered"

In 2022, this political undertone lives on in the fierceness with which roller-fashion has been re-popularised, a carefree mode of self-expression in a world that often conspires to feel quite serious indeed. Quad skates tend to be the focus rather than inline blades, but it’s less about the skating itself and more about the sense of outdoor adventure and style, looking after mind, body and soul without expensive gyms or equipment.  

Roller life is as a much a state of mind as it is a skill to be mastered, but if you do happen to be good at the actual skating, there might be an online audience waiting for you. During the pandemic, numerous skaters developed huge followings on TikTok, setting their tricks to upbeat soundtracks. As the world opens up, the popularity of skating endures, a great hobby to pick up in time for summer. 

What does it look like?

Silk Sonic "An evening with Silk Sonic" album, Abercrombie & Fitch Halter Top, Emmanuelle Khanh Sunglasses, Stradivarius Trousers, Amika Hairspray, House of Holland Phone Lanyard, White Stuff Denim Jacket, Quirky Crate Etsy Roller boot Pin Badge, Little Nell Hair slides, Nike Cortez Trainers 

Skaters dress for practicality of movement, but also for style. Heavy with 1970s reference, think of the wardrobe of the typical retro-California girl: halter tops, hip-hugging flares, muscle tees thrown over bikini tops. When it comes to hair and make-up, you want to think big; the silhouette of Farah Fawcett or Brenda Sykes, set with abundant hairspray.  

"Don’t forget your cassette player; without music, this trend is only halfway there"

Given the crossover with disco and soul music, you might also see some bold medallion necklaces and bomber jackets, or the classic gym-shorts-and knee-socks combination that is often used to advertise roller-rinks. Hard-wearing denim may be useful if you fall down, but colour and glitter are both heartily encouraged, customised to show individuality or to pledge allegiance to your chosen roller team. Just don’t forget your cassette player; without music, this trend is only halfway there.  

How can I embody it for myself?

Triple 8 Helmet, Whip It DVD, Ripped Knees Skates, Official Band T-Shirt, Hollister Denim Shorts, L’Oréal Eyeliner, Daft Punk "Random Access Memories" album, Good Dye Young Temporary Hair dye, Pull & Bear Socks, Triple 8 Kneepad Set 

When in doubt, the soundtrack of 1970s disco, funk or soul (or modern artists inspired by it; see Silk Sonic’s "Skate") will help to get you in mood. It’s impossible not to pick up on some of those feel-good vibes, or to start moving along in much the same way that a pro-skater grooves. Electronic records such as Daft Punk’s "Random Access Memories" also offer a similar feel, streamlining 1970s inspiration but adding in a more futuristic edge. Beyonce’s 2014 music video for "Blow" is also a great embodiment of the retro roller-rink aesthetic, though her shorter-than-short hotpants might not be for the faint of heart.  

"Roller-fashion is a carefree mode of self-expression in a world that often conspires to feel quite serious indeed"

There is plenty of cinematic inspiration out there for the roller girl look, but the 1997 Paul Thomas-Anderson film Boogie Nights is a particularly frequent source of citation, forever connoting skating with sex appeal. If grungy Roller Derby imagery is more your thing, try Whip It, or check out the 2018 documentary, United Skates, tracing back over the illustrious history of the movement and its importance to African American culture. With so many different takes on the look, there is surely nothing stopping you from breaking out the kneepads and hitting your nearest flat surface. Just remember, practice makes perfect!

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