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BY DESIGN : Many Happy Returns : Think you have to spend hundreds for a designer's take on the '40s? Hardly. The real thing is hanging around resale shops

February 02, 1995|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe it has to do with the economy or the elections--people yearning for better times. Or perhaps designers have just run out of new ideas. Whatever the reason, the '40s are back again, bigger than ever.

At the fall shows, Valentino, Chanel, Prada, Donna Karan and Richard Tyler, to name a few, paid homage to the '40s. Fitted skinny-belted suits, printed rayon dresses, twin sets, pinup-girl swimsuits, veiled hats perched at precarious angles, tiny handbags, gloves, silk flower corsages, and sparkly brooches and bracelets were everywhere. The last time bump-toe platforms looked so good was in "Casablanca." (OK, they looked pretty swell during a brief '70s visit too).

Unfortunately, those designer styles come with '90s prices. To get the same looks for less, why not hit one of the area's resale stores?

"It's a lot less expensive to shop at a vintage clothing store and you've got damn good quality, too," says Chris Vickerman, who manages La Rue in North Hollywood. "They just don't make things like that nowadays, unless you buy top designer."

La Rue deals in vintage dresses made from rayon prints and silky velvets, tailored suits with designer labels from the past, hats in all shapes and sizes, and snoods--those stretchy hair pouches. "People have been walking in and saying, 'It's '40s this year,' " Vickerman says. "They've been reading the magazines."

Annet Peairs, a Studio City publicist who likes to supplement her wardrobe with vintage clothing and accessories, can't forget the Galliano suit on the cover of December's W magazine. "It was all curvy with a skinny belt and the whole shot. I'd buy the suit in a minute, but I can't afford it." Instead, she plans to scout her favorite shops for a Galliano look-alike.

For Peairs, the hunt is part of the fun. "I've found some great vintage pieces at garage sales," she says. "I just paid $3 for a '40s red leather purse that looked brand new."

Larry Craig, co-owner of Locals Only in Laguna Beach, says the demand for '40s styles in good condition is incredible. Aviator glasses, Hawaiian shirts, cashmere twin sets and gabardine anything fly out the door. "We just can't find enough," he says. "One week we have a lot of stuff, the next week we're empty."

It's still out there, though. All you need is a good eye, imagination and a sense of adventure. "You don't have to go to Neiman's and all those other department stores and pay high prices," Craig says. "Most people do because it's easier. It's all there, one in each size, perfectly merchandised."

Finding that perfect Lilli Ann suit or Size 9 suede ankle-strap platforms may take hours of searching at garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales and specialty shows. Wanda Soileau relishes every minute of the hunt. Not long ago, the San Fernando Valley dealer, who sells via the Cranberry House antique mall in Studio City and the Rose Bowl and Pasadena City College flea markets, bought out 1,000 pairs of shoes from the '40s--all in the original boxes. She is reselling the all-leather men's oxfords for $85 to $125; women's platform pumps go for $48 to $60.

"They are just wonderful," Soileau says. "I don't wear new heels anymore because they are too uncomfortable, yet I can wear a pair of sexy '40s ankle straps all day. They just seem to be balanced better. You don't feel as if you are standing on the balls of your feet all day."

At designer Tyler's recent open house party, Soileau noticed a lot of women in vintage '40s jackets. "Tyler does a variation on that look, and his handwork is incredible," she says. "But if you really shop and pay attention to detail, you can find those beautiful tailored jackets." And for considerably less--$40 to $125--than a $2,000 new one by Tyler.

*

Savvy retro-dressers like to mix it up: a '40s rayon blouse with a '90s power suit; a beaded sweater with jeans; a loud printed rayon dress with Doc Martens.

At Polka Dots & Moon Beams in Los Angeles, new jewelry is made to look old. "Most old earrings were either clip or screw-backs, which are uncomfortable to wear," says the store's Sandy Weiss. "So we carry new pieces that have that vintage look but are made for pierced ears."

Repeat Performance on La Brea Avenue is stocked with Bakelite and rhinestone jewelry, white church gloves, platform shoes and structured handbags. "There's this whole '70s/'40s thing going on," says employee Sarah Seacrest.

"Fashion is cyclical," agrees Venancio Verrocoso, who works at Meow in Long Beach. "It's partly about fashion and partly about the fact that people are starting to realize they can buy a cashmere sweater here for $60 or go to a retail store and pay $600."

Gabardine cowboy shirts, tweed overcoats, old sneakers, alligator handbags, sunglasses, cigarette cases (perfect for carrying business cards), cuff links, barrettes and hand-painted neckties fill the 9-year-old shop.

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