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A pre-loved penny treat
After reading a review by another dooyooer, I had to get this book. Going with the theme of the book, which is all about pre-loved items, I bought it second-hand from amazon for one shiny penny (with postage of £2.80) although you can buy it new from £2.15. The version I bought was a paperback, published in 2006, but there is also a hardback and a kindle version available.
The book is written by Alison Houtte, with her sister Melissa, and tells of Alison's adventures in vintage clothing!
The book begins as something of a memoir, with Alison recounting her childhood and her mother's and grandmother's shopping habits, and the types of clothes they wore. I found this really interesting but some of this was lost in translation - there are many references to American stores and these were a bit lost on me. This is no criticism of the author of course, but it does make it a little harder to relate to some of the tales she recounts.
Alison then tells of her years working as a model, starting off in Europe. While this is all good stuff, it isn't the point of the book and this part is quite short. Where the story really kicks in is when Alison decides to set up her own business selling vintage clothing. It recounts her story as she opens her first store in Brooklyn, and the ups and downs, and weird and wonderful characters, that follow.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. I love fashion and shopping for clothes, but my interest in vintage is fairly limited, and I did begin to wonder if a story about selling old clothes would really hold my interest for a couple of hundred pages. But actually I found the book really interesting. Each chapter begins with a few pages in italics, which recount a particular story or anecdote. These were my favourite bits in some ways as they always offered insight into a certain type of customer or style. You can also sense how passionate Alison is about the clothes she sells, and although I imagine she is fairly well off she clearly gets a kick out of bagging a bargain - something I can very much relate to! I also felt the odd pang of jealousy when she talked about certain great deals - particularly the beautiful dress she found lying in a puddle at the end of a flea market she'd been to!
There is also a really useful section at the back of the book which gives details of caring for vintage clothes as well as useful books and websites to check out - some of which are UK-based. So if this book gets you thinking about vintage, this section can really help kick start your new hobby - although I did find that a few of the books she recommends were out of print or really expensive to get hold of
The way the book is written really gives an insight into Alison's personality. She comes across as a very strong, independent woman with a great head for business and a fantastic eye for fashion, and I found the story she tells fascinating and inspiring.
Pretty as a picture
I do have one big criticism of this book though, and that is that it desperately needs some photos! There are pretty hand-drawn illustrations throughout - many of which relate directly to items being described - but when Alison gives details of a certain dress or handbag she loves, it would be great to see a photo. The same goes for the shop itself - it would really add to the story to see inside Hooti Couture. I think the book would have benefited a lot from a few photos in the middle, and I think it is a bit of a mistake to have a book on such a visual subject, without any visuals to support it. (I have since looked online and found some photos of a few of the items Alison describes on her own website ... but not nearly as many as I would have liked!)
Alison also likes real furs and crocodile bags, so I wouldn't recommend this book if this is something you may find difficult to read.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be flicking through it again. I really related to Alison's love of fashion and bargains, and it's definitely inspired me to spend time looking at vintage clothing in the future. However, I would only recommend this book to people who are really into clothes - whether vintage or not - as there would be very little here to interest someone with only a passing interest, or indeed complete indifference, to fashion and clothing.
Other info if you need it....
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Avon Books; Reprint edition (Sep 2006)