December 7, 2015

BOOK REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy

Perhaps because it was the decade that proceed the one in which I was born, I've always had an interesting relationship of sorts with the 1970s. That was the era in which my parents came of age and when I burst onto the scene in the eighties, there were still many vestiges of that decade to be had in everyday life, food, popular culture and even, to a degree, fashion (albeit more so at the start of the decade).

The seventies - like the eighties - often get a bad and largely unjustified rap in my opinion. They were a heady decade indeed and one comprised of many, many different worlds overlapping and at times colliding with one another, but they were also passionate, inventive, fun, and very individualistic and it is into all these points that the massive classic that is 1975's Cheap Chic taps.

Written by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, this title was hugely popular back in the day, remaining such amongst many in the fashion know in the years that followed. This past September it was rereleased to celebrate its 40th anniversary, complete with a forward by none other than Tim Gunn.

I'd long heard of this book, but yet read it, so when the fine folks at Penguin Random House kindly offered me a review copy of my own and not one, but three, copies to giveaway here on my blog, I jumped at the chance.

Yes, my blog focuses primarily on mid-century fashion (et al), but sometimes it's not only enjoyable, but deeply worthwhile to study and learn from the looks of other eras as well. I'd already seen some (21st century) reviews of this book and had noticed that it seemed to draw a very mixed reaction from folks. I pushed those voices out of my head and dove into it over the course of a weekend.

To begin with, this is not a fashion book of the more standard format that many have followed in recent decades. That is to say, it doesn't (for all intents) set out a list of items that you should buy, spend chapters suggesting styling tips for various body types, or tell you what not to wear to the point of beating a dead horse to death.

Instead this good sized soft cover book is a collection of personal accounts and fashion tips from a wide range of stylish folks back in the seventies, along with general fashion advice from the authors. There are familiar names - Diana Vreeland, for example - and others that, for most folks at least, have long since vanish from the trend setting scene. It many ways it feels like, and genuinely was, an early form of sharing street style with the masses long before the first such blog every took shape.

To a degree, this book is hard to succinctly summarize because while there are general common themes throughout - such as where to shop for good deals, how to style existing pieces creatively, what to splurge and what to save on - most of the views shared in it vary a good deal from one another, speaking greatly to the individuality, as touched on above, of the seventies themselves.

In general the fashions and ideas presented in this book are of a relatively casual nature - at least compared to those of earlier 20th century decades - but not entirely – glamour is still discussed here and there throughout the book – and, very fascinatingly to those in our circle, wearing vintage (chiefly Victorian - 1940s garments) is discussed in various capacities (as is upcycling, long before that term had even been coined).

It is easy to get a sense of the milieu of the decade - including the fact that many folks were no where near as PC back then as most are today – from Cheap Chic, just as it is the recessions, the post-Vietnam war climate, second wave feminism, the influence of music on fashion, and a tapestry of bohemia and Cape Cod power dressing mingled into one. All of this and more is to be had amongst the B&W photos and words of the 224 pages that comprise Cheap Chic.

Chip Chic is not, to my mind at least, a book that will necessarily tell you how to dress like you just walked out of 1975, because at the time it was first written, it was a look at current fashion and how one could mold such to create their own highly personal look, and not a vintage style how-to of the sort that now exist for various decades.

Some people - particularly those who enjoy a more minimalistic/streamlined wardrobe - see this book as a style guide for the ages, and indeed there are some timeless tips and inventive ideas to be had amongst its pages, but what Cheap Chic was most of all to me was an incredible slice-of-life look at how everyday folks, artists, fashion insiders, celebrities, and a slew of others were dressing and viewing the art of fashion during the seventies. In that sense, it strikes me as both a history book and a fashion manual, as well as a thoroughly fascinating look into the minds and closets of some of the decade's biggest tastemakers.

Though you may not find yourself rushing to don the clothes suggested within, it is hard to read this book and not appreciate the sense of passion that those who contributed to it had for their wardrobes and the many ingenious little hacks and clever ideas they brought to their daily attire, be it cheap, chic, or both. It is a fascinating, sometimes eyebrow raising, occasionally eccentric, always entertaining take on style that any historical fashion fan, regardless of if their closet ever steps foot near 1970s looks, would likely enjoy reading.

And indeed, if you'd like to enter for a chance to do just that, please read on for further information.


The publisher is providing three copies of the book Cheap Chic to the winners of this giveaway. Each winner will receive one copy per person of the book. This giveaway, as per the request Penguin Random House, is open to Canadian and American participants only (you're welcome to comment on this post if you live elsewhere, but your comment will not be counted as an entry).

The giveaway will run from between December 7 and December 14, 2015. With the randomly selected winner being drawn and contacted shortly thereafter.

Excitingly, for the first time ever here on Chronically Vintage, I've opted to use the widely beloved Rafflecopter for this giveaway, which should streamline the entry process and make things even easier for everyone involved. Please feel to enter this giveaway via however many of the following options you would like.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for generously sending me a copy of Cheap Chic to review and for providing three copies to give away to a trio of lucky Chronically Vintage readers. I sincerely appreciate it, as I did the chance to finally dive into this highly lauded 1970s fashion guidebook.

It made for a thoroughly intriguing read and one that sparked some fresh thoughts for me about the decade's looks and also in regards to how the wearing of early to mid-century fashion was starting to really gather steam back then.

Best of luck and many thanks to all those who enter this giveaway!


  1. Too funny ... I used to own that book! I remember really liking it, back in the day. That and Vogue's More Dash than Cash were two of my go-to books. I still have that one. :)

  2. Ooh, I would love a copy of this book! It actually looks familiar - maybe I saw it when I was a kid in the 70s? Thanks, Jessica!

  3. My favorite element of the seventies is the development and use of knit fabrics. I remember my mother declaring her personal liberation from ironing.

  4. This looks really great! I was actually thinking about this very thing -- how the 1970s are sort of underappreciated by vintage-lovers -- when I was flipping through my copy of the Vogue Book for Better Sewing, which is a 1975 edition. Despite the fact that, to many a modern eye, a lot of 1970s fashion looks utterly ridiculous, it was designed and made with no less passion and forward-thinking than any era! I think having a copy of the Vogue book also helped me get rid of some of my "fashion prejudices" against it, too, since a lot of the diagrams and photographs are there to discuss the details and design elements in the fashion of the day, which, under the lens of an aspiring seamstress, are of course really interesting and something to strive for!

    That all being said, that's the Vogue Sewing Book, modeling a sewing encyclopedia on fashion houses and haute couture. I would *love* a copy of Cheap Chic for yet another perspective -- probably the 1970s analogue of my own wardrobe choices!

  5. I'd never heard of this book and I am a 70's baby :)
    I've always thought it was a hippie decade -

  6. As a '70s teen, I remember reading a copy of the original book at the public library. I also remember reading a review of it (in Vogue or somesuch) that declared it was written for "skinny girls without jobs." LOL! Don't remember the rest of the review, but that description stuck in my mind.

  7. Oh wow! Awesome giveaway, Jess. I'd love to win a copy. My favorite 70s style... it's the color palette, hands down!
    <3 Jackie @ Let's Go Thrifting

  8. Another great giveaway!
    I'm sure those lucky gals that win this book will enjoy it so much.
    One can never stop learning on where and how to "pitch the pennies", dear Jess. I suppose, that's what life is, a game of saving, the fast-pacing money twister, the bill-paying jobs.. and the time to spend it all wisely :)


  9. What an interesting sounding book! I don't normally dress in 1970's, but I do quite like some of the fashions. I also love how the 70's borrowed inspiration from earlier decades (such as the 1930s) and styled it in new ways. I especially love some of the coats from the 1970's which were obviously inspired by the 1930's with their shape/length and large fur collars.

  10. All of this is so yummy, I 'm gonna try making some Xmas biscuits in a star shape, like when I was a kid ;)

    Love from Paris Jess!

  11. This is a wonderful review!!! I'm a child of the 80's so all the fashion was worn by my parents rather than me so much, but I do remember disliking PUNK as a child!
    I came over to say Hi, you commented on Ally's Bloggy award post saying something nice about me winning and I thought I'd say thank you.xx

  12. Ooh, I'd love a copy! And I love the shape of 1970s fashion (being a petite hourglass, the high waists and flared bottoms do wonders!) so looking into the suggestions will be even more exciting for me.

  13. Looks like it'd be an interesting read for sure! I will have to keep my eyes out for this one.