Currently Reading: Vintage Inspired Fiction

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.

20 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading

20 responses to “Currently Reading: Vintage Inspired Fiction

  1. I’m glad you mentioned Fashion Is Spinach, because I finally found an inexpensive copy! Good timing. Thanks.

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  2. must read this one! “squirm” . I wonder how many people know what the “Fashion World” is really about!? behind the runways – photographers and glitz…!!!!????

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  3. Pat S.

    I would love both of these books. Do you ever mention the PBS series House of Eliot? Such a wonderful series about designing clothes in 1920s.

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  4. Good to see you back on-line, Lizzie, and thank you for these reviews! Hope all’s going well with your recovery.

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  5. This may sound ridiculous, but as an 11 year old one of my favorite light books was Barbie Solves a Mystery, Volume 1 by Jerry something. I don’t think there was ever a Volume 2, maybe because the first book was too sophisticated and feminist for the market? Barbie is a multi-talented HS student who has an internship with an LA garment manufacturer. Somebody is trying to steal their original designs so she becomes a girl sleuth on the model of Nancy Drew, only 60s mod and groovy instead of wholesome pre-WW2. Ken plays almost no role and she eventually writes articles for the local paper after impressing their (cute, male) reporter. The book had a lot of detail about both journalism and fashion as career choices. LOVED the book.

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  6. I read A Vintage Affair a few years ago and felt the same way you did about it. (I actually had to go back and read a bit more about it to be sure I had read it; it’s not a story that really stuck with me.) As much as I adore vintage clothing, I am unable to really enjoy a film or TV show *just* for its beautiful vintage fashions. I guess I love a really good story more than I love really good vintage.

    I agree with Pat S. about The House of Eliott; that was a very good show with very good fashion!

    I’m putting The Dress Thief on my to read list. Pre WWII history + fashion = my kind of book!

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    • Without a good story, what is the point? And that is what writers miss when trying to gear a book toward a particular interest group.

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    • Have you seen the Australian Miss Fisher mystery series? It was, last I looked, streaming on Netflix and available on DVD through my library system. The acting , plots, sets and above all, CLOTHING are to die for. Set in 1920s in, I think, Melbourne. The books are also fun and more louche. There’s one about a decadent house party with drugs and depravity that is quite the eye opening read.

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      • I tried to watch Miss Fisher–I watched a couple episodes–but I just couldn’t get into it. The clothes were lovely, but I wasn’t enjoying the show enough to keep watching, unfortunately. Perhaps I should check out one of the books.

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        • I have watched Miss Fisher, and I enjoyed it except I found the clothes to be distracting. Unless things were very different in Australia in 1929, Miss Fisher would never have worn slacks on a city street, and certainly not into a public building!

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  7. seweverythingblog

    Thanks for reviewing The Dress Thief. I think I’ll go find it and Fashions is Spinach online. I had read the Vintage affair a long time ago, and agree with your comments.

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  8. The Fashion is Spinach blog is no longer in active use — she’s moved on to other platforms — and the link to her original essay about Fashion is Spinach by Hawes is broken. The book’s rare and precious, too. I did order the DVD set for House of Eliott from my library system and look forward to it. Thanks for the tip. And I want to re-iterate my enthusiasm for the Miss Fisher mysteries, either book or public TV series. Gorgeous sets, costumes and scenery.

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