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Alligators, Old Mink & New Money is a celebration of the clothes that capture our memories and imaginations, that leave their indelible stamp on each of our lives. Alison Houtte—a former fashion model who runs the beloved Brooklyn, New York, boutique Hooti Couture—knows that every article of vintage clothing has a story behind it, and she uses these items as a springboard to explore such universal topics as relationships, self-image, the bond between mothers and daughters, ...
Alligators, Old Mink & New Money is a celebration of the clothes that capture our memories and imaginations, that leave their indelible stamp on each of our lives. Alison Houtte—a former fashion model who runs the beloved Brooklyn, New York, boutique Hooti Couture—knows that every article of vintage clothing has a story behind it, and she uses these items as a springboard to explore such universal topics as relationships, self-image, the bond between mothers and daughters, and that elusive thing called style.
Whether you're a flea market veteran who savors the thrill of the hunt, a couture shopper with a Vogue budget, or are simply drawn to the de rigueur world of vintage, Alligators, Old Mink & New Money offers a shopping adventure—through auctions, estate sales, flea markets, and clothing racks all over the world—to be savored, and inspired by!
Back in the mid-nineties, while I was visiting my parents in Miami, I was desperate for something to wear to lunch at the newly opened Delano Hotel, the place to be seen on South Beach at that moment. I was meeting an old girlfriend from my modeling days, a woman who now moves with a crowd in Manhattan a few notches above my social circle. I wanted to look good, and I wanted to be cool, literally. It was a ninety-eight-degree day.
Tucked in a drawer in my mother's dresser, which was jammed to overflowing with odd remnants like a monogrammed linen handkerchief and a single baby's shoe, I found an old navy blue slip whose fabric felt like rose petals in my hands. I knew that my mother had tucked away hundreds of such items throughout our house -- from her youth, from the childhoods of my four sisters and brother and me -- but I didn't know that this had belonged to my grandmother, Mom's mother, until I asked if I could borrow it.
Navy is not my best color, but I was in a bind, and I figured that if Madonna could wear a slip out in public, so could I. I put it on, and it fit beautifully, hitting just below the knee. It wasn't sheer, so nothing significant was exposed -- no nipples, no panties. I cinched the waist with an inexpensive black stretch belt and completed the outfit with sexy, strappy black sandals and a python-patchwork clutch.
As I prepared to leave the house, my father was baffled. "Where's your dress?" he asked.
"This is my dress," I told him, and because I am his youngest daughter, my dad has seen it all and knows when to stop asking questions. He shook his head and laughed.
As I walked onto the Delano's terrace -- a seductive sea of overstuffed wicker sofas draped with tanned bodies sporting Dior sunglasses, perfectly pressed Italian linens and rhinestoned Manolos -- I was a bit nervous, though I knew I looked good and could hold my own with this crowd. My self-confidence kicked into high gear the minute I spotted my friend and her lightning-quick head-to-toe appraisal of my outfit confirmed my gamble. We exchanged an air kiss, and her first question was, "Where did you get that dress?" She was smiling the smile of a woman who always buys the best -- or the most expensive, and equates that with "best" -- and who also appreciates a great find. When I told her the source, she immediately responded, "Is there another one in that drawer?"
Lucky for me, my mother had style even when our family didn't have much money. Of course, when I was a little girl growing up in Miami, I didn't know this. My mother was simply an embarrassment to me and my siblings because of:
How she dressed -- Roman sandals and loud prints, sometimes going braless.
Where she shopped -- Goodwill and church rummage sales.
Her choice of deodorant for herself and her family -- baking soda.
And what she expected us to wear -- secondhand clothes, usually with "good" labels.
None of our friends had a mother quite like ours -- Mom was a strong-willed, hot-tempered feminist, though I never heard that word used in our house. She hated -- and still avoids -- any kind of housekeeping, yet she would spend time almost every week carefully ironing our organdy and cotton dresses so we would be presentable for church. She was, and still is, a woman whose life can be marked, at least in part, by the clothes she wore -- new and used -- for minor and major moments in her family's life.
Mom got her sense of what was "good" from her own mother, Marie Neylon, a woman whose hair was always pulled into a bun, stray gray strands held in place by tortoiseshell combs, a woman whose "old country" (Bohemia-Hungary) way of doing things was an embarrassment to her only daughter, Jacqueline. Grandma cooked potato pancakes and beef stew with fluffy dumplings, boiled her bedsheets with bluing in copper pots after they came out of the wringer washer and braided her own rugs using upholstery fabric remnants. She was a woman who could sit in the basement for hours on end "picking" feathers, emerging with a halo of fluff on her head after separating the down -- the softest, finest feathers -- from larger, sharper feathers, so she could make the best down-filled pillows.
None of this sat well with Mom, who will be the first to admit she was a spoiled, unappreciative child when she was growing up on the south side of Chicago. Mom wanted a modern mother, someone who went to the beauty salon, served "American" food and aspired to own wall-to-wall carpeting, rather than sneering at it.
But Grandma Neylon did embrace at least one pastime the two of them could share: She loved to shop, and she patronized only the nicest stores, even though there was very little extra spending money for a family of five living on a policeman's salary. While my grandfather might be wearing a secondhand camel-hair coat -- my mother remembers a man more interested in good books than clothes, as long as his uniform passed inspection -- his two sons were dressed in Belgian linen suits, and his daughter never wore a hand-me-down.
In the thirties, Grandma Neylon's idea of a pleasant day away from her household duties was to take Mom to Marshall Field, which filled a twelve-story granite building covering a whole city block in downtown Chicago. Once inside this elegant store, Grandma would charge a half pound of fancy mixed nuts, freshly scooped into a box and still warm. Then, pecans and cashews in hand, she and my mother would munch their way from department to department, admiring all the nicest merchandise, lingering in the vast furniture department because that was my grandmother's favorite and shopping for clothes for my mother whenever she needed them. Invariably, at the end of the day, my grandfather would be circling the block in the family car, because they were always late getting back to their prearranged pickup spot.
Excerpted from Alligators, Old Mink and New Money by Alison Houtte Copyright © 2005 by Alison Houtte. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 16, 2009
This "vacation read" never hit the nightstand, I couldn't put it down!
If you've ever though of running a consignment store, Ms. Houtte outlines the praise and pitfalls. Or, if you're in it like me, for the thrill of the hunt, the stories won't let you down. I swear I could smell that great "paper stuffed in handbags" smell as I read her adventures on the great score, the purse that got away or bidding on auction lots for her store. The back of the book is an easy carry reference for the next flea market. I hope to visit the store for an autograph of my NBB (new best book).
Posted April 11, 2006
I found the book a very entertaining and easy read. As a vintage clothing lover, I could picture the clothing as it was being described. I think I even learned a few things! I even found myself chuckling out loud as Alison described her childhood and modeling adventures. As an ex-model myself, I can relate to some of the stories. This book was wonderfully written. I had a hard time putting it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2006
Allison went from being a gawky teenager to a supermodel. That's a story in itself. But then she elaborates on relationships with her family members and demonstrates how old clothes that were owned by them have incalculable sentimental value. She and Melissa bring a compelling human component to what would otherwise be just a bunch of fabric and accessories. With that passion as the motivator, Allison opens a vintage clothing store named Hooti Couture. One appeal of this book is the inclusion of everyday people associated with Hooti Couture. The customers who find personal treasures that let them express their unique individuality and Henry the homeless man who finally feels some pride when he gets to wear a tuxedo. There are a range of emotional experiences that will tug at your heart. The Judith Lieber necklace that got away, the theft of Allison's car, and of course we are all rooting for her to find the right guy to share her life with. After reading this book, vintage shopping will be a whole new experience!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2005
Alison Houtte¿s passion is vintage clothes. From her early years, she has been surrounded by people who appreciate great style and amazing deals, which influenced her career choices. After spending a few years in Europe as a model and her big adventure with high fashion, Alison comes back and opens up a vintage store called Hooti Couture. This captivating memoir puts vintage in a completely new light. Houtte¿s vintage is exciting, colorful, full of new ideas. Each piece of clothing has a different, interesting story. Each day is different both for Hooti¿s customers who never know what great piece they can find, and Alison, who meets a wide variety of people. Reading Alligators , Old Mink and New Money is an exciting journey in the world of vintage fashion. It gets your attention from the very first pages. It simply pulls you in and makes you want to get up and go to the nearest vintage store and just enjoy new and amazing finds.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2009
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Posted November 6, 2011
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