Those of you who have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while might guess that I’m really not a reader of fiction. It’s true, I’d rather read a great book about history than an historical novel, but I have a deep appreciation for a well-written novel, and my name is on the pre-order list for Go Set a Watchman.
That said, I’ve always had a problem with novels that have been written for the niche market, “people who like old clothes.” I get the feeling that the writer did some market research, realized that a lot of people who like old clothes also like to read, and set about crafting a book for that market. So in spite of my misgivings, I knew I had some hand surgery recovery time coming up so I bought the book above at the Goodwill, and I agreed to read another as a possible review. I needed something light that would not be hard to catch up with if it put me to sleep.
A Vintage Affair is about a woman who owns a vintage clothing store. She’s probably the luckiest vintage clothing store owner ever because lovely things just fall into her lap quite easily. The inventory of the store sounds like a who’s who of British fashion and French couture: a 1957 Hardy Amies gown, a Balmain gown from the early 1960s, a Thea Porter kaftan, a Mary Quant dress, a Balenciaga coat, a Jacques Fath coatdress, a Norman Hartnell cocktail dress, and on and on and on. It’s an inventory most museums would envy, and it’s very unlikely that a small store would have all these treasures.
So without going into the story line except to say the main character finds love and resolves her guilt issues, let’s just say that unless you like designer name-dropping and the occasional fashion history lesson (such as, Marilyn Monroe was buried in her favorite Pucci) you probably want to skip this one.
I looked at book sites and realized that there are quite a few chick-lit books about vintage clothing store owners, most of whom double as solvers of mysteries.
The second book, The Dress Thief, actually has quite a bit to offer. The book is set in 1937 Paris, and is concerned with the couture industry. As the title suggests, this book is about the very real problem of fashion design theft that Elizabeth Hawes wrote about in her wonderful Fashion is Spinach in 1938.
The main character works for a fictional designer, and financial worries tempt her into stealing his designs and passing them on to someone who passes them on to a Seventh Avenue manufacturing business in New York. After much hand-wringing, our heroine resolves her guilt issues and finds true love. Unfortunately for her the book ends in 1939 and she is Jewish, but that’s for another book, I suppose.
Evans manages to skillfully merge the real and the imaginary with references to people like Chanel and Vionnet. A person not familiar with fashion history would have a hard time telling who is real and who is not, were it not for the handy author’s note in the back of the book.
There is a disturbing scene where the main character is victim of something very similar to a date rape. It made me squirm, but then I don’t need gratuitous sex in my books.
If you love pre-WWII history and fashion, you will find The Dress Thief to be of interest. It really does help to know a bit about the era in understanding some of the plot lines.
I was given an e-book of The Dress Thief by the publisher.