With Classic Cheesecake
By Bridget Hall
Bernie’s modeling work evokes the timeless poses of pinups from the post-WWII era heyday. “I have always loved the ’40s and ’50s pinups,” she admits. “During the war, it was a fact that women really worked at being appealing to men; they always had their lipstick, nails and hair done. It was a reminder for the military men [what] they were fighting for and inspiration to get home.”
“I am a rockabilly girl who lives the rockabilly lifestyle,” says pinup model Bernie Dexter. She adds, “I just love anything ’40s and ’50s. Vintage lingerie is my poison. I spend my extra time sifting through thrift stores and vintage shops for that next cute pinup outfit.”
Committed to Her Craft
In a constant effort to create new original work, Bernie’s modeling traverses similar ground as the pinups of the past, most notably Bettie Page, but Bernie refuses to simply mimic icons of a bygone era.
“I really take [pinup modeling] seriously,” she says. “I try to make something that will last for people and always be interesting. It is a form of expression for me. Art, if you will…it has become a part of my lifestyle.”
An avid collector of vintage clothes and other retro ephemera, Bernie never has trouble conceiving new and exciting sets to build, often in the comfort of her own home. “I am always on the prowl for props and costumes,” Bernie explains. “I am a mad collector of stuff, so I seem to have almost everything I need.”
After getting her start on the beauty pageant circuit as a youngster, Bernie made her first big splash when she won the Miss Teen San Diego County title at age 18. She chased the acting bug around the same time, but found little success.
Says Bernie, “I was doing auditions all the time, but [was] always rejected; [I was] tagged ‘too glamorous.'”
At 21, Bernie decided to put that glamour to work. She emerged on the Hollywood modeling scene with an agent, but once again, she found “tons of auditions [but] no work. So, I gave up.”
Thrust into the Limelight
It wasn’t until 2002, when, on a whim, Bernie found herself returning to the front of the camera from behind the scenes, where she had been doing the hair and makeup for other models.
“There was some real magic in the room. I submitted the photos to a pinup contest on the web and got a lot of great feedback,” writes Bernie on her own website, www.berniedexter.com.
“I am inspired by many women,” says Bernie Dexter. “My mom, [modern pinup maven] Kate Donovan, Bette Davis, Lana turner, Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, Ann Miller, and many others.”
All this work has kept Bernie in the public eye — both in rockabilly circles and the mainstream media — and an approving one at that.
“Most people have emailed wonderful comments to me,” says Bernie. “I have to admit, I am quite surprised at how many emails I do get from the ‘mainstream’ public, men and women alike. Most men comment on how [my pinup style] takes them back to their youth and women seem to like the fact that it is still possible to be sexy and alluring without being nude or raunchy.”
All in the Family
Although Bernie admits that she pays homage to classic pinup icons, such as Bettie Page and burlesque dancer Tempest Storm, her first and foremost source of inspiration comes from her mother.
“She was always so glamorous to me,” recalls Bernie. “The first time I saw a pack of Bettie Page trading cards at a yard sale, I was like, ‘Hey! She’s like my mom!’ I had not seen anyone like [my mom] before till I found those cards.”
Glamour wasn’t all Bernie inherited from her mother. “My mom is the one I learned how to do my makeup from,” she says. “She still did things like the ’40s and ’50s, so I got a lot of great beauty secrets from her.”
Her inspiration also comes from behind the camera, specifically from her husband and rockabilly rocker, Levi Dexter.
“He has been a collector of pinups for years. When I moved in, I did a lingerie fashion show for him he lit up like a firefly,” laughs Bernie. “[It was then that] we realized, hey, this is a match made in heaven. We have so much fun shooting together.”
As her principal photographer, Levi offers Bernie the support that even a mother can’t provide. “Rockabilly has always been a way of life for me and when I met Levi, it was even more complete,” Bernie explains. “Now this is a fun way for us to spend time together. The most important thing is Levi and I like what we are doing and that reflects in [our] work.”
With her hard work steadily paying off and more projects on the horizon, Bernie likes to retreat to the beach for relaxation: “I love spending time [there],” she says. “I love walking [along] the bay and sticking my toes in the sand.”
Spoken like a true California girl.