high-style, budget-friendly

September 23, 2015 in good reads by stacey

1970s style bible Cheap Chic celebrates its 40th anniversary with a brand new reissue from Three Rivers Press.


A couple weeks ago, I picked up this paperback book called Cheap Chic at a local church sale. I had never heard of it, but after flipping through and seeing that it was a fashion advice book from the 70s, I knew I had to add it to my collection (for all of $3). What I didn’t know at the time is that Cheap Chic was a sensation when it was published in ’75. Written by fashion journalists Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, it was the ultimate ‘style bible’ for thousands of women looking to maximize their wardrobes on a budget. Apparently, it became a very coveted collector’s item over the past few years, with minty-fresh copies fetching hundreds of dollars. But unless you just have to have an original copy, you don’t need to max out your credit card to get your hands on Cheap Chic. Just this month, Three Rivers Press re-issued a 40th Anniversary edition of the book that you can purchase for about $10 on Amazon.

I haven’t seen the newest version (and admittedly, I’m a little ashamed that I never heard of Cheap Chic before now) but aside from a forward by Tim Gunn, the 2015 model appears to be a page-by-page reprint of the original in all of its 1970s time capsule glory. But amongst the peasant blouses, Peruvian sweaters, and high-waisted jeans (which coincidentally, are exactly what is hot right now) are bits of advice that are relevant today, even if some of the prices are not exactly current. (An Yves Saint Laurent pleated skirt for $60?)

It’s interesting to discover how many of the principles advocated in Cheap Chic have since become fashion gospel. Milinaire and Troy will stress quality over quantity, wearability over fads. When you find a brand that fits, stick with it and buy multiples of your favorite pieces. They explain how simple garments like tees and leotards can be versatile, and how creative layering can add depth a minimalist wardrobe. The authors also point out that shopping in unexpected places — second-hand and army/ navy stores, the sporting goods department, the kid’s section — can enhance your personal style while keeping your budget intact. Cheap Chic is also the book that popularized the ‘cost-per-wear’ theory, Ingeborg Day’s mathematical equation which explained why buying that $60 YSL skirt and wearing it 400 times is more cost effective than wearing a cheap $16 dress only twice. An impressive array of fashion folks were interviewed for the book — Diana Vreeland, Zandra Rhodes, Betsey Johnson, Rudi Gernreich, and the man on the moment, Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions figure prominently throughout Cheap Chic. He stresses that the keys to a successful wardrobe are quality classics and some well-placed confidence. ‘More and more, I believe in well-made, basic clothes with no “fashion” that last many years without transformation’ he opines. ‘A woman can feel very sexy in a chemise, as she can feel sexy in jeans. It depends on the person. If she thinks she isn’t sexy, she will not be sexy.’