Madi Summers fell into the world of vintage clothing by accident.
About two years ago, Summers worked at a job that required her to dress more modestly than she was used to. Though she had always loved the look of the long vintage skirts of the 1950s, she did not own any and saw this as an opportunity to acquire some.
“I got into this because I had to dress for work but I found out that I really loved it and plus there’s a huge vintage, pinup community on Instagram,” Summers said. “A lot of the time we share our outfits, or if there’s a good deal on a skirt, we’ll share it; but we all build each other up and it’s such a breath of fresh air because Instagram can usually be so competitive.”
As her collection of vintage clothing grew and she started to post her outfits on social media, she began to get more attention and currently has more than 7,000 followers. Soon brands began to reach out to her to model their clothing. Summers describes her transition from dressing for fun into modeling as a very organic process that happened because she knew how to use the proper hashtags and how to take a good photo.
As a vintage pinup model, Summers believes her job is to honor history through the kinds of clothes that she wears and the way that she poses.
“I look at pinups from the era and find a way to add my own twist,” she said. “That gives it a kind of substance for me because I feel like I’m honoring the people who came before me.”
On top of modeling vintage Americana, Summers was also hired by the British corset company True Corset as a contract model to wear, model and make YouTube videos of their products.
“I love corsets because I think they’re comfortable and since I suffer from anxiety they make they make me feel kept together and very secure,” she said. “Even though I get dirty looks because I dress like this all the time now and people think I’m trying too hard or am overdressed, I love what I do enough to drown out all the hate.”
Kait Lavo is one of Summers’ closest photography collaborators and credits the model for reigniting her interest in photography. Summers first contacted her to do a shoot for Miss Santa Clarita and the two have collaborated on about 15 shoots since.
“Everything that we photograph, like her pinup and her corset modeling, is very natural because it’s her life and things that she’s very knowledgeable about,” Lavo said. “Everyone has their aesthetic and Madi is authentically the ’50s pinup girl. She’s very pro-body image, so it’s great to see a refreshing twist on the classic look.”
Lavo said Summers is her No. 1 supporter and always praises her work. Lavo also said she views Summers’ success as a validation of her own ability to take photographs because if her photos were not good, then Summers would not return to her time after time and the photos would hinder rather than help the model’s career.
Though she enjoys her modeling career, Summers feels it is a double-edged sword. Last year, Summers fell ill and lost 50 pounds, and it was only then that companies approached her to wear their clothing.
“I’m in a weird spot because if I want to recover even if that’s going to mean gaining the weight back, but I’m also worried to lose the opportunities that I’ve been given,” she said. “That makes me feel bad because they should want to work with me no matter what I look like. I don’t know whether they wanted to work with me because I just so happened to lose the weight when I started to really step up my engagement or if they’re connected.”
One of the less desirable results of being so public and open about her vintage is that people will often make assumptions about Summers’ core values. The 1950s are often associated with the subjugation of women and confinement to the domestic sphere of the home, which does not represent her views at all.
“People see the way I dress and automatically assume, ‘Oh vintage clothes, vintage values,’ or that since I dress like I’m from the era I must be a racist,” she said. “No, I’m all about vintage clothes and modern values. Feminism. Equality.”
Outside of her modeling work, Summers is a makeup artist for film and television and most recently worked on the game show “America Says.” Her knowledge and skills in makeup make her a much more valuable player in the industry because she is able to come with her hair and face already done so the photographers don’t have to waste time waiting for someone to do those tasks for her. Additionally she is able to do the hair and makeup for other models on the shoots, which leads to more job prospects.
“Madi is very passionate about what she does and having her as a friend and coworker is very easy and rewarding,” Lavo said. “With her modeling and makeup, she’s all about positive body image and enhancing the beauty that’s already there.”
To view Summers’ work, visit her Instagram page at @miss_madra_rua and @lavo_photography to view Lavo’s photographs.