Currently Reading: Harriet Love’s Guide to Vintage Chic

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.


Filed under Currently Reading

28 responses to “Currently Reading: Harriet Love’s Guide to Vintage Chic

  1. Olivia Outlaw

    Oh I’m in. I’ve loved vintage clothing since high school (1979) I am an avid collector and just love to read about the history of the makers.


  2. Candace Crawford

    Living in New Orleans in apartments carved out of 19th century, it was a natural progression from living in furnished places with great old four posters and canopies left over from the house’s glory days to starting to acquired own furniture of similar vintage, and because it’s New Orleans really amazing pieces turn up in estate sales and consignments shops before aisle man marks it up.. Vintage clothing is a more recent adventure.. Couldn’t help but notice that my new cashmere sweaters from china pilled etc within month while my father was still wearing sweaters he bought in England in the sixties, thus I started lolling for vintage Scottish and Italian cashmere sweaters, then started thinking about my $200 jeans wearing thru in matter off the… And fount age vintage American made Levi’s…. And then vintage doc martens made in England, now I want a cooper or schott vintage bomber jacket… Sorta want to venture further afield and a book on buying vintage would be great!


  3. Lizzie your blog is a constant source of learning and sharing! i just love it to bits, and you, too! xoxo


  4. joulesstar

    Oh, you know I’m in, Lizzie!
    It’s really hard to remember not being into vintage clothing.
    I guess maybe it was a vintage paisley apron, that I found at a Goodwill? (Still have it, of course.)
    I got sucked into the vintage vortex!


  5. Elyse

    I’m in! How could I not already know about this book? I’m really surprised! Anyway, some of my first vintage finds back in the early 70s came from the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Those were the days. You could find fabulous stuff for less than a dollar! I haven’t been there in a long time so I don’t know if they’re still any good. I sold a bunch of my better things to a dealer at some point in the early 80s and have regretted it ever since. I still absolutely adore vintage clothing and the vintage-inspired look.


  6. Teresa

    Congrats on reaching 300 blog subscribers Lizzie! I always enjoy reading your posts and I would love to own a copy of this book. I would also love to have quite a few of those $100 1950s Dior ball gowns! Golly!

    I think my love for vintage was sparked in two ways. One, was from my mother who gave me pieces from her old wardrobe which I wore as a child and during high school. The other is from the first vintage store owner in Canberra who I met in my later high school years. I use to spend to a lot of my free time in that store, chatting to him. 🙂


  7. Maria

    I been collecting vintage clothing since the 1980s, I started when my son was at a Children Memorial Hospital when he was six months old, i use to take a break and run across the street where a White Elephant Resale Shop was, and have not stop since. I have my own resale shop now, i had to open one since i was running out storage for my vintage clothing at home. Count me in, and Congrats on reaching 300 blog subscribers Lizzie!


  8. I have never wanted a book so much! You did a spectacular job describing it and if I don’t win I will hunt another copy down. I have a few family pieces.- 30s lounging robes from great aunties, my baby clothes from the 50s/60s (many made by my mom ( I am a twin so there are 2 of each)) , and textiles.
    I started selling books on line, but they were scarce in thriift stores, and I began looking through the clothes. I have been hooked on the treasure hunt ever since!
    Thanks for your blog, it combines the best of a personal and academic approach to a subject.Cheers, Juliet (sixcatsfun)


  9. Nancy Wallace

    Knowledge and Intuition thanks for the blog


  10. Rebecca

    Thanks for the offer to part with your extra copy. It beckons for a chilly day with a blanket and lots of time to pour over the pages. I think my love for vintage clothing began when, after my grandmother’s passing, my aunts asked me to try on a dress that had belonged to her (an embellished sheath and matching jacket from the 60’s). It was a perfect fit and one of my most prized possessions. I would never part with it! Your postings are a favorite little way I treat myself after a long day at work. Thank you for this labor of love you share with all of us!


  11. I’m in! I’m really interested in this book, because am a huge 80s fan and vintage lover.


  12. It looks like a fascinating book. I bought vintage in the 80s as a teenager and still buy vintage now.


  13. I have always made my own clothing in order to have a unique look. I shop the vintage and thrift stores to continue this love of my own unique look. I love reading your blog.


  14. Thank you so much for your email. I’m so happy to have connected with you. I know that your posts take a lot of work as well and having 300 blog subscribers who appreciate them is praise-worthy!
    I’m definitely in. As a child in the 60s, my clothes were either home sewn or purchased from thrift stores. So, I didn’t know much different by the time I was looking to express my individuality in my teens in the 70s. My brother bought vintage as well. I remember ‘borrowing’ his vests and ties for an Annie Hall look in the late 70s. When I was in college and grad school, vintage (back when it was cheap) was all I could afford. By the time I was employed as a professional (with a very low salary) in 1983, I remember pulling an early 60s brocade ‘wiggle’ dress out of a box that said “anything in this box, 50 cents” and buying it to wear to a fancy work dinner in NYC with rich donors. My boss looked at me oddly — but it was the only way I knew how to shop and dress!
    I had to travel to the UK for work in the late 80s and 90s and used to buy Victorian men’s nightshirts at street markets for a few pounds. Some of my best 30s and 40s dresses came from those trips.


  15. Ruth

    I’ve been studying fashion and the way clothing is made since I was a little girl in the 50’s (what a fashion era to live in). But I didn’t get into vintage until about twenty years ago when I saw it being worn more and more in public, not just museums. I’ve shopped thrift for over thirty years because putting clothes on four kids on a tight budget made it a necessity, but now I can do it with an eye towards fashion more. Sometimes I look for just beautiful things that are vintage, other times for things that can be reused. The modern mentality of cheap clothes that can be tossed is so stupid when you can see the things that were worn and loved in earlier days being reused and loved again.


  16. Definitely in! I remember writing a report in the 7th or 8th grade on fashion history and I thought it was such an interesting topic that always stuck with me. I didn’t, however, start collecting vintage clothing until I was in my 20s. That started with an awesome coat I scored at a great little vintage boutique. I did some research and found that I paid a very reasonable price and went back to purchase more. Soon enough, my coat collection was ridiculous and I moved on to dresses, skirts, accessories, etc. I love imagining–and in some cases getting–the stories behind some of the articles of clothing from years past and of the women who most likely wore them. Perhaps what I love most is researching the era, labels, etc. It’s a growing passion of mine and your blog has definitely been an inspiration. Thank you! And congratulations on your 300 blog subscribers!


  17. Lindsay Henderson

    This book looks amazing! Thanks so much for the giveaway…I’m definitely in! I have always loved vintage fashion, something about it just drew me in. As a young girl, I loved to watch period films and was in awe over the clothes and style of times gone by. However, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I finally decided to collect vintage clothing. My first piece was a 50s orange gingham shirtwaist dress and it just snow balled from there. The style and quality of vintage pieces just cannot be found in modern clothes. I also love the idea of wearing something with a past.


  18. Gay Maise

    I’m an heirloom sewer and have been copying vintage clothes for years. I’ve always loved fashion, especially Coco Chanel and other vintage designers. The quality and handwork make them works of art in my book. I’ve saved all your columns since my friend suggested that I’d love your postings. She was so right! Count me in for your give away. The book sounds amazing.
    Thanks for being my guide to things l love.


  19. ourdailydress

    Those prices are so interesting. I have a vintage 1970s dress, new with tags, that a coworker gave me. It was her mother’s and she bought it for a wedding but never wore it. It’s very plain and I thought no that lovely – but she paid several hundred dollars for it. You would pick a similar dress up at a Gap or similar for about $20 these days.


  20. Lisa

    Now this is a book I would love to have! (I opted out of the last giveaway contest). I remember going to Greenwich Village when I was 17 (1978) and buying a 1940s murky purple gabardine swing coat with giant bakelite buttons… in a vintage store, $7. I never looked back.


  21. Sounds like a great book! Ironically, I got into vintage clothing in large part because I hated what the stores were offering in the 80’s. I wanted something more reflective of my personal style (and cheaper – which they used to be!).


  22. What a great book, I’m in! And it’s so cool to read everyone else’s comments. I stumbled upon the vintage traveler while buying a vintage sewing pattern on Etsy, and how lucky I am to have discovered it! My interest in vintage clothing has been developing over the past few years, and now I love it so much I’m hoping to make a career out of it!


  23. Thanks for all the wonderful comments. This contest is now closed, and the winner of the drawing will be announced soon.


  24. Liz E. French

    I have a copy of my own, but I wanted to add my 2¢: started “thrifting” in the 70s, Indianapolis, IN, on the weirdo/gay/artists side of town. Got a beautiful beaded and sequined rayon party dress, circa the 40s, which I still have. I was in love with this book when I got it but sorely disappointed when I got to NYC in the mid- to late 80s and Harriet Love wasn’t vintage anymore. Plus they were horribly snooty!


    • Cindy (Old Hat Vintage Clothing)

      Just had to comment-Your story of finding this book and starting into vintage and that beginnings’ influence on what you buy…mirrors my start in vintage! Same two books, read over and over, still have my copies, still collect hats, hawaiian shirts, western,petticoats…..!!


  25. janlorraine

    I used to go to Harriet Love’s shop in Manhattan back in the early 70s when she was on 13th Street and 6th Avenue. I still have some of the things I bought from her.


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