To call Southern Californian blogger Janey Ellis, 33, an old soul, would be an understatement. Ever since she was a kid, she’s relished everything Victorian, Old Hollywood and mid-century modern, ranging from clothing and home furnishings to music and film.
Through her blog Atomic Redhead, Ellis writes about her take on vintage fashions, offers tips, guides and reviews, plus shares history lessons about “fun and weird” things. With plenty of historic sites to explore in her own backyard (she lives just about a mile from Disneyland), Ellis documents her experiences living the vintage life.
She was born in Oregon to antique dealer parents who encouraged her love of the past and nurtured her eclectic taste. Her style icons growing up included TV sitcom characters Marilyn Munster from “The Munsters” and Jeannie of “I Dream of Jeannie” (particularly the post-harem outfits after Jeannie married Major Nelson).
In middle school, Ellis began wearing her mom’s old clothes. She snagged a pair of groovy bell bottoms from Goodwill in the ’90s, channeling her inner Flower Child. Kids at school, however, didn’t understand Ellis’ devotion to throwback fashions and thrifting.
She spent her childhood saving money to attend the Piccadilly Flea Market in Eugene, Oregon. Ellis moved to California in 2014.
“People just didn’t get it, but my parents were supportive,” Ellis says. “I’d take my lunch to school in a metal lunch box. It was a good bonding experience with my parents.”
She got into recreating “period perfect looks” of the late 1960s and 1970s while in middle school, before transitioning to wearing clothing from the 1940s and 1950s. Now in her 30s, she’s come full circle and most days opts to wear ’60s/’70s jeans and T-shirts (some reproductions), square dance dresses and Gunne Sax dresses.
“I love vintage Western wear, which can straddle all those eras as well,” she notes. “I really like the rocker/groupie Almost Famous vibe.”
A self-described maximalist, Ellis began collecting antique finds as a child, including teddy bears, pencils, vintage charm bracelets, vintage Franciscan Atomic Starburst dishes, Pony Tail and Date Line vinyl pieces (photo albums and record totes) and everything Pan Am.
The vinyl collectibles often depicted girls listening to records or couples dancing.
“I thought it was super cute and really embodied the ’50s/’60s teenager, which I wanted to be so badly,” she reveals.
Her stash of Pan Am collectibles includes: lapel wings, flight attendant bags, swizzle sticks and even airline silverware.
“I liked the golden age of air travel in the ’60s. I thought it was so glamorous. I had mismatched airline silverware in college because I thought it was cool,” Ellis says with a laugh.
Pop culture influences include listening to vinyl albums, watching vintage cartoons and a steady diet of Nick at Nite and TV Land.
“I really didn’t listen to current music. I was listening to the Oldies station and would call in to request ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ or ‘Dead Man’s Curve,’” she says. “My first concert was Jan and Dean at a car show.”
By high school and college, her music tastes shifted to lounge music by Frank Sinatra.
“Records were a really big gateway for me into listening to what I wanted to listen to from the oldies, and not just what the radio station was playing,” she adds.
While she collected teddy bears and pencils as a kid, today she focuses on vintage California souvenirs such as plates, figurines, pennants and nightclub photo folders.
In the early/mid-2000s, she became a blogger on Rotten Tomatoes, reviewing movies. When the site changed its format around 2008, Ellis decided to create her blog. Her husband, then boyfriend at the time, Patrick Arlt, helped her get started. Atomic Redhead was born in 2009. Ellis decided to broaden this blog’s scope to include reviewing all things vintage. What started with offering tips about fashion and shopping evolved into more travel-focused blog posts.
“I wanted it to be a bit more about historic locations and the bigger vintage picture: vintage history as a whole,” she says.
Posts are categorized as: places to explore, amusement parks, history lessons, tips, guides & reviews and lifestyle.
“I like the idea of visiting places and really making the past come to life. I realized that vintage clothing can be part of that,” she says.
Ellis also documents her journey buying and renovating her 1954 dream bought in 2017.
“A lot of the ’50s and ’60s houses we were seeing within our price range had ’90s renovations, so it was a long process (to find a house) that fit our requirements,” she says of keeping the house architecturally authentic.
The bathroom and kitchen counters are original, but major landscaping was required, as well as installing central air conditioning. She and Patrick are only the house’s third owners. The couple takes on one to three large-scale renovation projects on the house every year. Ellis is still trying to find a front door that would better reflect the home’s period design. She seeks a door with a diamond pane upper window.
Ellis enjoys hosting parties, especially when guests can view fireworks from the front yard, courtesy of Disneyland.
She has acquired furniture made by the Heywood-Wakefield Company. She loses herself in the pages of Atomic Ranch magazine when she’s looking for inspiration. Ellis is lucky enough to reside in a part of California that is chock full of funky, vintage boutiques. Bakersfield, Orange, Riverside and Palm Springs have some of the area’s best shopping districts. The 4th Street Corridor, also called Retro Row, is a small business district in Long Beach along 4th Street from Walnut Avenue to Temple Avenue. It offers vintage and kitschy shopping. Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank is known for its one-of-a-kind boutiques.
While she treasures her collectibles, vintage finds and closets filled with stunning retro items, she’s quick to point out she doesn’t wish she could live in the past. As she explains in her blog: “Every time period, no matter how beautiful the clothes or architecture, has its issues and extreme problems. With a degree in history, I recognize the problematic issues of the times in which the things I love so much come from, and do not reflect what are known as ‘vintage values’ such as racism, homophobia and traditional gender roles.”