Adrian designed this for Garbo’s film, “Camille.”
There have been times in my life I’ve had a special someone ask the inevitable question so popular this time of year: “So, what do you want for Christmas/ Hanukkah/ New Year/ Your Birthday?” And as the years march on, something practical and huge like “a new kitchen,” would be my knee-jerk reaction. Beyond that, it’s usually: “a fabulous vintage wardrobe.” Clearly, this is a highly individual call which would be nearly impossible for anyone to figure out without my input, measurements and a fitting room.
My really thoughtful sister Debbie is so smart, she always thinks to pluck something fabulous and vintage related (well, that’s mostly what’s there) off my amazon wish list–and happy I am that she does. If you don’t have an amazon wish list yet, you should get one– it makes gift giving individual and thoughtful without all the fretting. You look like a pro, even if they eventually figure out you raided the wish list. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. And since I prefer second-hand copies of just about everything, it’s even more affordable for people shopping for me. So, what better time to share 11 book recommendations for the vintage lover in your life?
The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping– For someone newer to vintage, or who wants to get an overview about fabrics, measurements, basic silhouettes of an era, cleaning tips, labels, dating, etc.- this little book packs a lot of great tips into a colorful and accessible package. Travels light, too.
Another good general reference for a vintage beginner to have in your library is Shopping For Vintage– some of the material is greatly outdated–like the list of vintage shops by geographic location. Some shops have lasted through the years, but like with any industry, the mom & pop shops sadly don’t always stand the test of time. The most useful part of this one, however, is having a quick alphabetized list of designers–I do wish there were more of the older/ lesser known brands represented, but this is a good start for a beginner and will make the current fashionista feel in-the-know since there are a number of more recent designers noted here as well. A used copy would probably be worth it if you dabble in vintage at all and want to improve your skills.
Got a sister, niece or daughter who observes the “oohs,” “aahs,” and other utterances as you peruse vintage? The perfect starter kit for a young lady not inclined towards the modern clothes which some of us disdain? How about some paper dolls featuring a few favorites of the Forties for a start? Tom Tierney does an amazing assortment of renderings for Dover Publications, and no matter how old I get, I cannot help but thumb through these when I find them on a shelf. Dreamy girl escapism. Yes. Please.
Two of my favorites are just page after page of vintage fabric prints and I’d recommend them because A. I love the colors, B. I love the patterns, C. These may help you identify the era of some vintage clothing items! Forties Fabrics:
and Fun Fabrics of the 50’s:
Large coffee table books on both general couture and some of the most notable designers of eras past seem to be proliferating faster than you can say “Make it Work.” Of those I’ve checked out from the library (they do tend to be fairly expensive, but you might score a deal on a used one) I love:
The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 – If you have a thing for this era, prepare your hanky–you will undoubtedly need to dab the corners of your eyes frequently. Merely reading the chapter titles makes me misty eyed: “Dior’s Golden Age,” “Inside Paris Haute Couture,” “Perfect Harmony: Textile Manufacturers and Haute Couture 1947-57,” “Dior and Balenciaga: A Different Approach to the Body,” and there is more, darlings. Scrumptious throughout.
And featuring specific designers that I covet:
Gowns By Adrian: The MGM Years 1928-1941 – Wow. The copy is a fascinating account of Adrian Adolph Greenburg, son of a milliner and furrier who would eventually assume the office of Erte’ after his failed attempt to head up the costume department of MGM. Adrian had me at ‘Garbo.’ Swoon. Not only was he well known for being Greta Garbo’s favorite designer, but he was also beloved by and dressed Joan Crawford for many years. Throw in the “Wizard of Oz,” and everyone should know and love some creation of Adrian’s. In Indianapolis, William H. Block and Company were the exclusive purveyors of Adrian costumes and clothes available via department store. I’m going to have to really save up for my own copy of this one, however.
Christian Dior – This offers Vogue shots as well as some remarkable close-up shots not typically afforded without a visit to a museum’s textile exhibit. Every lover of vintage, or fashion in general, should be familiar with “The New Look,” and the innovations introduced by Dior after the end of World War II. He emphasized and exaggerated the hourglass and reveled in the ability to use copious amounts of fabric again, with the cessation of rationing materials.
Elsa Schiaparelli – Designer specific, but a petite, rather than coffee table book, with some career highlights, the best part of this book is some of the close-ups of bead work, art work and sketches. A Schiaparelli suit was featured in the very first “That Ayres Look” advert, which ran in Vogue in March 1936. Wearable artistic confections at their zenith.
If you already sew, but want to take your skills up a ‘notch,’ check out The Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques. The book is spiral bound so that it will lay flat as you refer to it, and has lots of photographs and ways you can refine and polish your sewing prowess. (Thanks again to my sister, Debbie for rescuing this one from favorites list limbo last year!)
And for the history and biography lover who enjoys the story behind all the photos, Always in Vogue, written by Edna Woolman Chase and her daughter (and onetime actress) Ilka Chase, tell the story of Vogue magazine’s longest running editor (1914-1952). Though Chase started in the “circulation department” at Vogue in 1895 (and not for any great love of fashion), she would eventually become a well-respected editor-in-chief, working directly for Conde’ Nast, himself. I became fascinated with Chase and the formative years of Vogue as I would later find out that the subject of my pet research project (former Indianapolis artist, Virginia Keep Clark) was a close friend of Chase for many years. I even have a photo of them together, attending an opening or gala of some sort.
Vintage clothing and the dressing habits of the past are a fascinating way to explore our history. I like it best when I can bring some of it back to the present. Share this present of the past with someone you know who loves fashion; they will be indebted to and inspired by you…that’s my future prediction.