Thursday, 24 January 2013

Last-Year Reads: Harriet Love's Guide to Vintage Chic

I've seen quite a few blog posts about Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troys's Cheap Chic recently. For whatever reason, it must be "having a moment": the cheapest version on sale at Abebooks is £162 which is crazy money (though it's an excellent read). Several posts also referenced this book for similar style inspiration, Harriet Love's Guide to Vintage Chic which thankfully you can buy for a lot less than £162. Harriet Love opened possibly the first dedicated vintage shop in the United States in 1965 according to this article, and this guide was published in 1982.

Though published seven years later than  Cheap Chic, there are a lot of similarities (Carol Troy even turns up in it, modelling an ivory satin night dress). But if Milinaire and Troy are all about the inspiration, Love goes big on the practicalities: where to find your clothes, what items and materials to look for from each era, how to wash them and how to make sensible alternations - I'm planning on using her instructions on making shoulders fit you properly on my gorgeous but oversized 40s frock very soon.

What's striking is the type of vintage she references. Because she's writing in the early 80s, she primarily discusses Victorian, Edwardian, 1920s, 30s and 40s fashions, with a smattering of 50s - the eras most of us vintage hunters can only now dream about affording or turning up. I was salivating over some of the printed dresses she describes sweeping up on trips over to Britain in the late 60s (sadly it's all in black and white so you have to imagine the colour). "Finding old clothes isn't the cheap thrill it used to be in the sixties", she bemoans - presumably the result of thousands of Milinaire and Troy devotees - though it's hard to find much sympathy when she describes expecting to pay just $75 to $100 for a 1950s Dior ball dress. That's the equivalent of about $240 at the top end now, or £150. Imagine!

It's also fascinating to see how the vintage 'trends' of each era filtered into mainstream fashion. The Princess Di pie-crust collar is exactly like the Edwardian blouses that Love illustrates, while the brightly patterns Hawaiian shirts of the 50s and the padded shoulders of the 30s and 40s she features were echoed by two big looks of the 80s. And it's interesting to see how what's 'normal' in clothing style gradually shifts: at one point she has to implore readers to give 3/4 sleeves, typical of 50s sweaters a go, despite not being the clothing fashion. I think the majority of my high street sleeves are 3/4 length now, it's funny to think this might have ever been an issue.

It's not just trends of the future that are hinted at in this book, it's stars too. The eagle eyed may have spotted that's Geena Davis wearing the dress on the left in the dresses spread, and looking sultry on the cover. On p.126 there's also, an as then unnamed but soon-to-be mega star, Madonna looking effortlessly cool in an Adrian jacket (an Adrian jacket! Let's imagine again...).

Though bound to evoke huge quantities of jealous, there's lots in this book that remains invaluable for serious vintage collectors. Just make sure you buy it now, before the price for this book shoots through the roof too.

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

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