Thrifting 101 Part 23: My favorite books on thrifting and vintage

Aside from shopping, talking about shopping, daydreaming about what I'd buy if I was shopping, and planning road trips revolving around shopping, my favorite activity is reading. I love to read. I love the weight of a book in my hands. I love the way the pages smell - fresh, clean, and sweet, with a hint of glue (if it's a new book;) or slightly dusty, a little musty, with the faint aroma of sunlight and the inside of someone's old purse (if the book is used.)  Without a doubt, my favorite part of the day is sinking into bed with a new book. No matter if it's fiction or non-fiction, a biography or mystery, chick-lit or an encyclopedic volume of Romantic poetry, delving into a new book is a gloriously simple moment of pleasure.

So when it occurred to me that I had yet to write a post regarding my favorite books about thrifting and vintage, I felt kind of ridiculous. I have a steady library I consult when researching a post for my Thrifting 101 series. Some I found used, in Goodwill (how ironic) or Half Priced Books; others I discovered on Amazon; and a few came recommended to me by vintage store owners. Here are my top picks:

 New York Fashion - The Evolution of American Style by Caroline Rennolds Milbank (Hary N. Abrams, 1989)

This is a stunning visual documentary of American fashion. Spanning the early 19th century to the 1980's, this book provides a historical survey of both the garment industry in New York as well as the conditions that influenced designers. It focuses on the great American designers who were the foundation of the early New York fashion scene, including Mainbocher, Norrell and McCardell. Glossy color and black-and-white photos, some spanning a full page, are helpful in comparing fashion eras from one decade to the next. I am fascinated with the historical elements behind fashion, and this book is a great resource if you need an in-depth education of American style.

Shopping for Vintage: The Definitive Guide to Fashion by Funmi Odulate (St. Martins Griffin, New York)

This thick little book covers every major designer and trend from the 1880's onward, including Missoni, Rochas, Karl Lagerfeld and Halston. Descriptions are brief, but do a great job with providing a basic history. Color portraits of signature looks are included. The book also includes tips on collecting vintage and has a huge guide to vintage stores that spans the globe (though I'm not sure how accurate it is, given that this book was published in 2008) However, I would recommend this book as a great beginner's guide if you're interested in learning about designers.

Fashion Since 1900, Second Edition by Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye (Thames & Hudson, 2010)  

A pocket-sized book full of great photos that a clear overview up to and including the current period (make sure you buy the second edition).  The tone can be kind of academic, but the writing is clear and concise.

Survey of Historic Costume, Fourth Edition by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank (Fairchild Publications, 1998)

I dug up this massive college textbook on historic costume in Half Price books. For ten bucks, it's a dazzling resource covering the development of every theme in fashion. Not for the faint of heart, this book examines dress from the ancient Middle Easter period (c. 36500-600 B.B) to the New Millennium. If you enjoy reading about history, this is the book to get.

Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970: Identification and Values, Second Edition by Susan Langley (Collector's Book, 2009)

Containing over 200 color photos of existing hats and bonnets, this book explores millinery beginning in the eighteenth century and progressing through the golden age to the 1970s. I've recently become interested in collecting vintage hats, and this book has been a great resource for researching the history and styles of milliners. 

The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta (Fairchild Publishers; 2003)

(From The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, 3rd Edition defines more than 15,000 fashion terms, including apparel, accessories, and their components; historical and textile terms that relate to contemporary fashion; and the language of the fashion business. Fifty-one broad categories, such as activewear, blouses and tops, clothing, construction details, footwear, headwear, jewelry, laces, necklines, shirts, skirts, and waistlines are included. Alphabetical listings make it easy to search for a specific item, and the book helpfully includes pronunciation guides for foreign words.

(Missed any previous parts of my Thrifting 101 series? Up to this point, the series has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments, and tips for shopping for vintage online. I also discussed influential periods in fashion - the 1920's through the 1950's; the 1960's; the 1970's; the 1980's; and the 1990's.)
Do you have any books on thrifting, vintage, or fashion that you'd like to recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!


  1. Love this series. Let's go thrifting.

  2. Very nice collection! Definitely some I'd like to add to my stash. Thanks for sharing.

  3. great collection - a few i think i need to add to mine...
    i think it is always much more fun when they are found at thrift stores and such...but i'm not sure i can wait that long =)

  4. I just bought the book "Resew-turning thrift-store finds into fabulous designs" from Amazon, and I am really enjoying it. Not everything in there is something I would wear, but everything is very creative, and I can see how my choices in the thrift store would translate into my style after refashioning. Anyway, just wanted to share. ( And I just found your blog today, and wanted to tell you that I LOVE your hair! And your happy to find a fashion blog for someone over 21.)

  5. These are great! I don't own many fashion books, maybe only one or two but these sound like great options to add to my library.

    I love to read and welcome and chance I get. I specially love it when I find a good book worth staying up until 4 am simply because I can't bear not to know what happens next.


  6. I think we would be very good friends if we ever met because my two most favorite things to do in the world are shopping and reading. Seriously. LOVE LOVE to shop (especially thrifting, but I'm not a *professional* like you) and I LOVE LOVE to read. Your writing is so great! Thanks!


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