My original copy (40 years old!) and my brand-new copy.
What a thrill to have Cheap Chic available again and I wholeheartedly recommend that you buy a copy for yourself. I received my first copy when it was initially published in 1975. In all my various apartments and homes, it has been front and center on my bookshelf ever since, continually providing style inspiration. I first wrote about it here. The book has been out of print for years and used copies were offered online for up to $300. Now, on it’s 40th anniversary, it’s been reissued, preserved in it’s original form with the very appropriate addition of a forward by Tim Gunn. Warm and wise Professor Gunn says "I love this book!"
Written by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, both journalists, photographers and friends of fashion insiders, they didn't waste time documenting the trends. They looked at the heart and soul of style. In the introduction they write, "The basic concept of Cheap Chic for both men and women is to have a few clothes that make you feel good rather than a closet full of mismatched fashions. Find the clothes that suit you best, that make you feel comfortable, confident, sexy, good looking and happy...then hang onto them like old friends." By the photographing and interviewing of people who follow this mantra, the reader realizes that personal style is as varied as the people they present. Style is suddenly seen as very democratic. With some thought, care and creativity, anyone can express their authentic self by how they dress. There is great power in that.
The cover reads "Hundreds of money saving hints to create your own great look," but the practicality of that description belies the mystery and exoticism within. Like opening a book of magic potions, it describes all the ingredients for creating your own great style by using inspiration from around the world, movies, historical eras and most of all, it features people who are proudly, fiercely and resourcefully inventive and original with their style.
In one chapter, Ingeborg Day describes her "Cost Per Wear" method of shopping, a technique that I still use today. If something costs $300, but you wear it 100 times, it's only $3 a wearing. But if you buy something on sale for $20 and only wear it once, it becomes much more expensive than the $300 item. Remembering the CPW factor in the dressing room has stopped me from a number of buying mistakes. She advised wearing a work uniform, black in winter and white in summer. Rather stringent, but the trim all-black outfit with a black T, pearls and Guatemalan bag Day wears in the photo above would be just as chic today. A strange side note, I just looked up Day to learn what she's currently doing and read this disturbing and fascinating story.
What’s magic about Cheap Chic is that it so purely captured the zeitgeist right when a fashion revolution was just bubbling to the surface. Up until then, dressing rules were rigid; wear white only between Easter and Labor Day, no sequins or sparkles until night and no black to weddings. And shocking to remember, but due to strict rules, I wasn't allowed to wear pants to school until 1973! Consequently, in 1975 when I saw these stylish, smart and independent women featured in the book I saw another world of possibility and it was a world I wanted to be a part of.
What was revelatory back then is gratifying today. Forty years later, so many of the looks are still relevant and timeless.
Inspiration for personal style is not limited to fashion magazines and definitely not shopping malls. It can be found everywhere.
I realize that even though my old copy is always within an arm's reach at my desk, I haven't really read it for years. I thumb through, glance at the photos, grab an idea here and there (wide-legged trousers are suddenly looking very appealing again!) and put it back on the shelf. But now I'm re-reading it and it's like the pleasure of running into an old friend and the conversation is like no time has passed. Cheap Chic and I still have lots to say to each other.