In 1982, I’d been buying vintage clothing for five years or so, haunting the old Salvation Army store on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville, and spending hours in a delightful little hole-in-the-wall shop on Broadway called Rags. The owner, Ann, was a true original. She knew clothes, and she was generous with her knowledge. Her enthusiasm for old clothes was infectious, and I’d caught the bug from her.
I had also found a book called Cheap Chic, by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. It had a section called “Antiques: Shopping the Thrift Stores” and it was enough to really fuel the vintage fire. Then in 1982, something momentous happened: Harriet Love published her book, Vintage Chic.
As far as I know, it was the very first book written about the buying and collecting of vintage clothing. I was browsing the “fashion” section of my local B. Dalton Books when I spotted it. The $12.50 price tag was not a deterrent to my having that book. I bought it and devoured every word.
It’s really hard for me to grasp the fact that 1982 was 30 years ago! And yet, so much has changed. In the book, Love had to explain what vintage clothing was, and why anyone might be interested in wearing other people’s old clothing. She had opened a shop in New York in 1966, and was by 1982 trying to move beyond the store’s roots as a supplier to hippies and oddballs.
Today, the book is more valuable to me as a look back at the emerging vintage fashion scene than as a book about how to buy old clothes. And yet, some of the advice in the book is still valid. She wrote sections on vintage shopping that still have relevance. For example, she warns people who are traveling to a new market to keep an open mind and to double-check dates before a long trip. She explains how sizing has changed over the years and she gives good advice about how to judge the size of a garment without trying it on. And she explains some of the different places where one might actually find vintage clothing.
There are a lot of photos in the book of models (including Geena Davis and Madonna before they were famous) wearing vintage clothing styled by Love. It really points out how trends happen, even with vintage clothing. She shows a dozen ways to wear Victorian white petticoats and nightgowns. They were very popular at the time, echoing the gathered skirts and romantic looks of designers like Ralph Lauren. And the book is full of 1940s blouses and jackets, showing the emerging 1980s broad shouldered styles. In this way, the book is as much about 1980s fashion as it is about vintage.
It is interesting to see the types of things that Love saw as important – men’s deco print rayon scarves from the 1930s, 1950s beaded sweaters, Hawaiian and cowboy shirts. And looking at it now, I can see how this influenced my buying preferences both during the 1980s and later. I still have a hard time passing up a good 1930s fringed rayon scarf.
Because Love’s store was in New York, at the time I first read the book I thought the prices she mentioned were ridiculously high. Even today, some of them are exactly what I might expect to pay for certain items, but then others are what makes us all want to climb into a time machine and go shopping. A sampling:
White Edwardian blouse: $40 – 175
Edwardian petticoat – $50 – $250
Victorian camisole: $55 – $150
1940s blouse, plain: $50, with beads or sequins: $100 plus
Printed cotton dirndl skirt: $35 – $50
1940s print day dress: $40 – $60
Dior 1950s ball gown: $75 – $100
1920s beaded dress: $200 – $800
Today, it would have to be a very special camisole (or corset cover) in order to justify a $150 price tag, but I’ll take a dozen of those $100 Diors.
About a year ago I found that I had misplaced some of my clothing books, and this one was among the missing. After a through search, I concluded that they must have gotten mixed up with some books I’d boxed up for charity, and that I’d given them away. I missed my old copy of Vintage Chic, so I found one online and ordered it. Several months later, I found my original, in the basement where *someone* had stored some of our books.
So today, in honor of my new status of having 300 blog subscribers, I’m giving the extra copy away. This is open to all readers, worldwide. All you have to do is leave a comment letting me know that you are in. You might tell us how YOU first became interested in vintage clothing or fashion history. I’d love some good stories.
Contest will end at noon, December 26, 2012.