The Ideabook: Vintage Fashion and Feminism

| 4/16/2013 4:36:32 PM

Vintage Fashion and Feminism
When Katie Haegele finds a 1970s Ideabook at a yard sale, it unveils a world of meaning behind her own fashion choices and those of women in the past. 

Vintage clothing is a Post-Modern genre, "a highly visible way of acknowledging that its wearer’s identity has been shaped by decades of representational activity, and that no cultural project can ever 'start from zero.'"—Kaja Silverman, 'Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse'

One time at a yard sale I found this weird book called Ideabook. A child of the 1970s, I was drawn to this outrageous-looking thing like a moth to a lava lamp. On the cover was a photo of a smiling woman in full seventies regalia: long shining hair and big, round, yellow-tinted sunglasses, her head tilted glamorously to one side. She’s raking that healthy hair back from her face with one hand and smiling with all her teeth. In the background is her little brood, a rugged lumberjack-poet dude with a kid on his shoulders. The family is standing in a grassy field, but the photo’s color wash is so weirdly golden it looks like the Serengeti. I find this scene hideous and appealing to almost exactly the same degree, and if I could climb inside the book and inhabit it I would. Since I couldn’t do that I bought it, as I have bought so many old things that can no longer be used for their intended purpose.

Ideabook’s intended purpose was as a catalog, from which you could order S&H Green Stamps items. I didn’t know what Green Stamps were so I asked my mom. She told me that in the seventies (and for forty years or so before that) you could get these stamps when you bought certain foods at the grocery store. You then pasted the stamps into a booklet, and when you’d collected enough of them you could redeem them for household items and clothing. When she got married, my mom told me, her new mother-in-law gave her a stamp book with some of the stamps already in it, to put toward a vacuum cleaner.

My Ideabook, published in 1971, has tons of great-looking photos in it, all of them full to the brim with goofy “vintage” charm. There’s a picture of a few young guys playing guitars under a tree; you could order the guitars as well as any of the clothes the guys were wearing. There are pictures of little girls in knee socks, women lounging catlike on the floor to talk on phones, and the family from the cover walking toward a picnic lunch on the Serengeti, which was being served in clear Thermalene casserole dishes. You could order space-age table lamps, shaggy rugs, stereos and refrigerators, all of them pictured in super ugly rooms done in beige, orange, and avocado green. To my mother, though, the things in Ideabook do not look ugly or funny; she got a little misty, looking at them. To her I think they still represent a lush lifestyle that she and my dad could not afford in 1971, the year they got married.

So why do I love this stuff so much? And how about you, reader of a blog post about old catalogs and ladies’ fashion from the seventies? What do old things mean to you? I can tell you that I first learned to dress myself as a young teenager at the Salvation Army, where the few bucks I had in my pocket could buy me a whole outfit. It really opens up your imagination, looking at clothing from so many different decades. The thrift store was where I first learned to envision myself as one of many possible things: a tough girl in a leather jacket, a summertime hippie in a long skirt, a party girl in party dresses. Back then, in the nineties, my friends and I mostly came across polyester tops and bell bottoms from the seventies, but we sometimes found older things too, like the bead-encrusted cardigans from the fifties that had held up beautifully, even if the yellowed lining under the buttons showed the garment’s age. These were gorgeous, but they were funny too. We weren’t fifties ladies! We listened to Hole and gave people the finger! Sometimes we even found (and bought and wore) secondhand men’s clothes, like the gas station attendants’ jackets you used to be able to find with the employee’s name embroidered in cursive on the breast. Does anyone still wear those? Gosh they looked good.

1/13/2015 3:47:29 AM

nice blog

6/4/2014 2:33:01 AM

I think the world of fashion has fallen in love with the vintage look all over again. People enjoy wearing vintage dresses these days. I found some really cool vintage fashion accessories and clothes at You can have a look there if you wish to design one for you or buy.

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