A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff
Nov 13, 2013 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
A multi-layered romance novel that will pull at your heart strings
When we first cracked open the pages of this novel we weren’t sure what was in store. Upon checking out the other reviews, we were anticipating a well-crafted and heartwarming tale. While that is exactly what Ms. Wolff delivered, she surprised us with the range of emotion portrayed by her characters. Some moments are so delicate and low, you have to break your eyes away from the pages and digest. We were asking questions we didn’t expect to consider – after all, this is supposed to be a tale about vintage. Vintage resides in such a happy part of our hearts, at first we struggled with the sad moments. Yet as the back cover closed, we were grateful for her brave portrayal of the spectrum of human experience. The emotional valleys made the characters real and the struggle authentic.
Have you ever struggled to forgive yourself? Maybe you hurt a friend’s feelings or disappointed a loved one?? It’s easy to feel alone in these moments, but as our author reminds us – reaching out and talking to people shows us that none of us are alone. We’ve all had to deal with those moments when you’re not exactly proud of your actions or the words coming out of your mouth. Hey, we’re all human. While this may not sound like a premise for a romance novel, especially one involving a cheerful subject like vintage clothes, Ms. Wolff deftly balances a deeply emotional core with happier subjects. This book about vintage offers so much more than expected. As we follow our protagonist Phoebe, we find ourselves touched by her story. A complex character, dealing with insurmountable heartache while focusing on her newly opened vintage shop, she reminds us of the importance of letting go of pain, finding peace, enjoying friendship, and seeking happiness.
We found ourselves excitedly turning the pages, desperate to take in the next words. Like finding Bakelite in a bargain bin at a flea market, we anxiously sifted through each word – each development. It is rare to have a story challenge you in such a way.
Woven throughout the story are informative threads. Ms. Wolff provides us with a treasure trove of vintage fashion designer names: Pierre Balmain, Hardy Amies, Ossie Clark, Biba, Emilio Pucci, Jean Muir, Vivienne Westwood, and Mary Quant (to name a few). Dig into each designer’s history and learn more along the way! She also demonstrates, through Phoebe’s passion, the expertise of shop owners. This is one of the best parts of vintage shopping after all, talking with the shop owners and getting personalized fashion advice. Phoebe’s advice provides a great take away: “Be prepared to spend time looking, and know what suits you. If you’re curvy, then don’t go for the twenties or sixties, as the boxy style won’t flatter you; choose the more fitted silhouette of the forties and fifties. If you like the thirties, be aware that those figure-skimming designs are unforgiving on a round tummy or large bust.” (Wolff 154, 155).
The fun moments are also captured. She perfectly describes the love you feel when you find the dress. Whether you are a teenage girl going to a swanky party, a grown woman trying to overcome an unexpected challenge, or a young lady feeling out her independence – fashion can transform and transcend your predicament. As one of Phoebe’s shoppers exclaims “I’ve no idea where I’m going to wear it… I only knew that I had to have it. Once I tried it on, well… the dress claimed me.” (Wolff 161).
Phoebe’s love for vintage helps her bridge the gaps when she is feeling low and that is an understandable feeling. But the real thing that helps her turn the corner isn’t a thing at all – it’s an unexpected friendship with an elderly patron. Mrs. Bell has been holding on to a personal pain for much longer than Phoebe and shares her story. Our author expresses this simple act of relaying history in such a way that we found ourselves taking the characters with us long after we were done with the book.
Simply put, this is a story about the things that people carry with them; the things that survive us and tell our story when we’re gone. And that is the wonder of vintage – nothing tells a great story like great vintage fashion!
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Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Isabel Wolff and the wonderful people who post their imagery on Wikipedia Commons without restriction.
For our readers:
Have you ever received a vintage item steeped in history?
Do you have a vintage dress that turns your frown upside down?
Have you read this book? Tell us what you think!