The Time-Traveling Fashionista


By Bianca Turetsky

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What if a beautiful vintage dress could take you back in time?

Louise Lambert has always dreamed of movie starlets and exquisite gowns and longs for the day when she can fill the closet of her normal suburban home with stylish treasures. But when she receives a mysterious invitation to a vintage fashion sale in the mail, her once painfully average life is magically transformed into a time-travel adventure.

Suddenly onboard a luxurious cruise ship a hundred years ago, Louise relishes the glamorous life of this opulent era and slips into a life of secrets, drama, and decadence. . . .

Dreamy and imaginative, The Time-Traveling Fashionista features thirty full-color fashion illustrations to show gorgeous dresses and styles throughout history.


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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

The invitation arrived on an ordinary Thursday. When Louise Lambert came home from swim practice that April afternoon, as she did every Thursday afternoon, it was lying on top of a pile of mail on the antique, oak hall table. She grabbed the lavender envelope on her way upstairs.

Louise dropped her purple backpack haphazardly in the middle of her room and flopped down on her full-size canopy bed to examine the letter. The envelope was addressed with her name.

To: Ms. Louise Lambert

Her name was written in a beautiful, sweeping script. There was no street address, no return address, and no stamp. She turned over the envelope; it was sealed with bloodred wax, a strange and old-fashioned touch.

Louise rarely received any mail aside from her monthly Teen Vogue, Anthropologie catalog, and an occasional Hallmark card, with a twenty-dollar bill enclosed, from Grandpa Leo in Florida. She took an extra moment opening this one, feeling the weight and texture of the paper, examining the seal like a scientist. It seemed to be a monogram of the letters MG, intertwined like vines. Her impatience and curiosity prevailed, and she ripped open the envelope, breaking the thick seal.

Cool! And what perfect timing. Maybe she would find a fabulous dress for the seventh-grade semiformal next Friday. Her first dance. Louise twirled around her room with an imaginary partner as though dancing in a fancy ballroom, stopping abruptly in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the back of her door.

The mirror was covered in taped-up photographs of fashion models she'd ripped out of Teen Vogue, overlapped with pictures of Old Hollywood movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor she had printed from the Internet.

Growing up in England, Louise's mom always loved Old Hollywood movies, and said that was the reason she moved to the States as a young woman. She thought life in America must be like a classic movie, as magical as The Wizard of Oz and as romantic as Casablanca. Louise had inherited her mom's love of the Golden Age of Cinema, and some of her favorite memories involved curling up on the couch with her mom and a bowl of microwave popcorn, watching black-and-white classics with Cary Grant, the George Clooney of his day, or Audrey Hepburn on the television screen.

Louise studied her reflection and was once again disappointed. She was still short, still had braces, and, she saw as she turned to the side, was still flat as a board. Her shoulder-length, curly brown hair, damp from swim practice, was pulled into a tight little bun at the nape of her neck, with a few frizzies escaping around her face.

She picked up her antique Polaroid camera, pressed the automatic timer, and waited. Five… four… three… two… FLASH. The camera spit out an underdeveloped picture, and Louise labeled it April 14 with a ballpoint pen. She placed it with all the others, in the top drawer of her dresser under her balled-up socks and underwear, not waiting for it to come into focus. One day she was sure she would see a change. Something. She was waiting for something to be different.

Louise had almost thirty minutes until dinner. Bored, she restlessly pushed open her closet door and stepped into the musty annex. Her closet was huge—about half the size of her bedroom. But because of the house's steep gabled roof, the ceiling slanted sharply and rendered half the space useless. One bare bulb illuminated the room with a dim, shadowy glow. Her vast walk-in closet was by far her favorite hideout in the huge, drafty house. It was the only place left where she still felt the nervous anticipation that extraordinary and magical things could happen if she let her imagination go wild. She wasn't a kid anymore, though, so she couldn't help feeling a little self-conscious now at her excitement over a closet.

When Louise was younger, she liked building forts in here; it was cozy and dark and somehow made her feel safe. She spent hours reading with a flashlight in the nest of blankets she would arrange for just this purpose. Over the past year, as her interest in fashion grew exponentially from the J.Crew catalog to Rodarte (the only dress she owned by them was made for Target, but still, an actual designer label), she realized how lucky she was to have such a great storage area entirely for her clothing. It was one of the lucky breaks of being an only child.

Her enthusiasm was sparked by a visit about a year ago to a thrift store on the Lower East Side of New York City with her best friend, Brooke. Louise bought an amazing, one-of-a-kind, colorful knit dress that, according to the salesgirl, looked like a classic Missoni piece from the 1970s. She wore it to Caroline Epstein's bat mitzvah. The dress got her a million compliments and cost her only $13.50. She was hooked.

A suspended wooden bar spanning the length of the closet hung from the highest point of the sloped ceiling. Her father, in a surprising burst of do-it-yourself fervor, had constructed it for her last year out of some rope and dowels to house what she had hoped would be an increasingly expansive collection. At this moment, her vintage acquisitions weren't much of a collection at all. They were more like three random pieces. But she was hoping that soon things would change.

Now she loved vintage fashion. If she couldn't live in an old movie, at least she could dress the part. That was where she and her mom differed. Her mom thought films should be old, but clothes should be new and donated to, not purchased at, places like the Salvation Army.

When Louise wasn't scouring the two local thrift stores, she was online researching different designers and eras. A well-worn copy of Shopping for Vintage: The Definitive Guide to Fashion, a surprisingly perfect birthday gift from Grandpa Leo, was conveniently placed on her bedside table, so that if she dreamed of a particular outfit, which Louise often did, she could look it up before it disappeared from her mind's eye. The book also gave her lots of tips for collecting vintage, and a directory of all of the best vintage stores throughout the world. She would read through the shop listings on nights when she couldn't fall asleep. Names like Decades, The Diva's Closet, and Polka Dots and Moonbeams. They all sounded so alluring! It was much more effective than counting sheep.

Louise now considered herself somewhat of an expert on vintage clothing. She could easily tell a Balenciaga from a Givenchy. She knew that the term "vintage" referred to clothing up until the early 1980s, and everything past that would just be considered secondhand. She could tell a Coco Chanel suit from a Karl Lagerfeld suit for Chanel. (Current Chanel designer Karl's skirt would fall above the knee—House of Chanel founder Coco would have found that indecent.) She knew that zippers were rarely used before the 1940s. And she also knew that just because something was old, it wasn't necessarily valuable.

Louise pulled out a royal blue, knee-length flapper dress with a drop waist, sequins, and ostrich-feather trim, from her 1920s section (presently rather limited to this one piece). It wasn't a genuine Madeleine Vionnet, the French fashion designer of the twenties and thirties who basically invented the bias cut, but on her current allowance, it was about as close as she was going to get. Noting that a matching sapphire boa and T-strap heels would perfectly complete the look, Louise remembered the invitation to the Traveling Fashionista Vintage Sale.

That would be a great place to look, she thought, excited about the prospect of adding to her collection. At this point, she had completely exhausted the local Salvation Army and Goodwill stores.

Hugging the flapper dress to her body, Louise closed her eyes and stopped for a moment to lose herself in the fantasy of the outfit. It almost felt real. She was dancing in a speakeasy. It was loud and sweaty, and she swayed to the imaginary jazz music playing in her head and twirled an invisible string of pearls between her fingers.

"Louise! Supper is ready!" Her mother's shrill voice permeated her consciousness.

What an exciting life the woman who owned this dress must have led! Going to parties wearing this fabulous sparkling garment—Louise guessed it was most likely a life of dancing in secret backroom joints, gambling, and gangsters. She had read about the Roaring Twenties in history last year. The farthest Louise had gone dressed in this outfit was in front of her bedroom mirror. She was excited for the dance because now she actually had an opportunity to dress up for something besides her own fashion shoots with her Polaroid.

"Louise! I mean it!"

Well, for one thing, she bet this woman's life hadn't involved a nagging mother who freaked out if she was five minutes late for dinner.

The Lamberts always ate dinner in the formal dining room. They lived in a large, rambling Tudor home, with lots of rooms that always needed dusting, a back staircase, dumbwaiter, and two guest bedrooms whose doors remained closed. For a family of three, it was enormous, but Louise knew every inch of it by heart—every squeaky floorboard and reading nook, and all the best spots for hide-and-seek. It was the kind of place that felt like there had to be a secret passageway somewhere, and Louise was still determined to find it.

Often it was only she and her mother sitting around the long mahogany table. Dark and shadowy oil portraits of Louise's ancestors hung gloomily on the Venetian red walls. Her father rarely made it home for supper, often working late hours at his law firm. Dinnertime was when she most wished she had brothers and sisters to talk to. Sometimes she would imagine that her two-dimensional painted relatives climbed out of their canvas backgrounds and sat around the long table with Louise and her mom, filling the room with laughter and lively conversations about her family's history.

Mrs. Lambert was already at the head of the table when Louise came down. "Dahling, what were you doing up there? The meat is getting cold," she said in her faintly accented English, unfolding the white linen napkin and placing it on her lap.

"Sorry, Mom, I guess I got a little distracted," Louise said, plunking down into the uncomfortable high-back chair.

"Hmm." Mrs. Lambert sighed. "Why am I not surprised?" she asked, daintily cutting up a gray piece of mystery meat.

Before moving to Connecticut, her mother had grown up in a wealthy family in London and, unfortunately for Louise, after a lifetime of maid service, Mrs. Lambert never really learned to cook. Boiled sausages, boiled potatoes, boiled peas and carrots. It was always some variation of this bland, overcooked food that her mother drenched in malt vinegar. Mrs. Lambert insisted that dousing every bite in vinegar was a typically English way to eat, which may have been the case, but it still tasted pretty awful. She wished they could eat a normal dinner like macaroni and cheese at the kitchen counter or pepperoni pizza in front of the television like everyone else got to. Whenever a friend came over for supper, Louise couldn't help but be a little embarrassed by their formality.

"Did you see that letter for you on the hall table?" Mrs. Lambert asked.

Louise nodded, her mouth full of mush.

"What was it? Another bat mitzvah?"

"No, an invitation to a vintage sale this Saturday. It looks cool. I thought I could get a dress for the dance," Louise said eagerly.

"Used clothes? Personally, dahling, I don't know why you can't buy a new dress. We can go shopping together this weekend if you'd like. The owners of those clothes are probably dead by now. Their belongings sold off in an estate sale," Mrs. Lambert said. She gave a dramatic shudder, clearly not pleased with Louise's new shopping habits.

"Mom, they're just vintage clothes! And they're special, one-of-a-kind," she explained. Louise didn't understand why her mom didn't get it.

"Do as you like, dear. I'm just saying that I'll be more than happy to give you money for a new dress. Isn't that what the other girls will be wearing?"

Louise and Mrs. Lambert returned to eating their boiled mush in silence. The only sound was the clinking of the silver cutlery against the china.

"Mom, tell me again about Aunt Alice?" Louise asked, staring up at the portrait of her great-aunt hanging on the wall behind her mother's head.

Mrs. Lambert had flown to London last week for Alice's daughter's funeral. Louise had wanted to go. She looked for any excuse to travel, even the funeral of a distant second cousin who she had met only once before. Her mother never liked her to miss school, so Louise stayed home with her dad.

She loved hearing stories about her mother's family. Her mom was naturally a bit dramatic and therefore was a gifted storyteller.

"Well, dahling, when my aunt Alice was younger, she was a great beauty, and a talented actress," Mrs. Lambert started.

Louise looked up again at the old lady with a face like a French poodle suspended in the dusty, ornate frame.

"Really?" Louise asked, incredulous. She had heard bits of this story before, but it was still difficult to reconcile that image in the painting with anyone under the age of ninety. She would have to take her mom's word for that.

"Yes, it's true. She was quite famous back in her day."

"She sounds so cool. I wish I'd met her."

"She was certainly a character," Mrs. Lambert said with a sigh. "Her life definitely could have been made into a movie. Even I didn't know the whole truth until last week."

"What do you mean?" Louise asked, curious that someone in her family had lived a film-worthy life. Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of a distant, ringing phone line from her bedroom.

Mrs. Lambert stared off into space, lost in her own thoughts. She had that dreamer's ability to completely lose herself in her own head, much like Louise. "That, my dear, will have to wait until you are a bit older."

"Well, may I be excused, then?" Louise asked, shrugging off that her mother didn't think she was old enough to hear about her own family. "That was probably Brooke calling. We have a ton of math homework tonight."

Louise cleared the table and ran up to her room to call her best friend so they could finish their assignment together over the phone. Mrs. Lambert washed the dishes.

It seemed to be just an ordinary Thursday.

"I'm afraid Kip isn't going to ask! What is he waiting for?" Brooke said with a groan from the other end of the phone line. "I mean the dance is in, like, less than a week."

Louise could picture Brooke in her bedroom, painting her toenails while watching television and balancing her math book on her lap. She always had to be doing at least three things at once. Louise heard sitcom laughter in the background.

"He'll ask," Louise assured her. "But what about me? At least you have two prospects." She twirled the tangled, red phone cord around her index and middle fingers.

Mrs. Lambert was convinced that talking on a cell phone would immediately result in brain cancer, so her parents had a private phone line installed in Louise's room. Her phone was shaped like an oversized pair of lips, a replica of something she had seen in a cheesy eighties movie that she had bought on eBay.

"I bet Todd Berkowitz will ask you," Brooke teased.

Louise rolled her eyes. Todd was, well, Todd. First of all, he was as tall as Louise, in other words, not very tall. Kind of pimply, although this year Louise noticed he seemed to find the right dose of Proactiv. He was always wearing a hoodie and jeans that were ten sizes too big, and he rode his beloved skateboard constantly, even in the school hallways, much to the annoyance of the teachers. Louise was pretty sure Todd had a major crush on her for the past year and that everyone knew it. She was both kind of excited and totally embarrassed at the same time, since he was the first guy she knew of who liked her. She supposed he was slightly cute, at least compared to the other guys at her middle school. But compared with the movie stars she idolized, Todd fell pretty short—literally.

He wasn't at all who Louise dreamed would be her date to the dance or her first kiss. In the movies in her head, she imagined someone taller, with broader shoulders, more classically handsome and rugged, and, well, kind of in black-and-white. Like James Dean in the old film Rebel Without a Cause. The reality of her life was totally disappointing in comparison.

She walked over to her goldfish, Marlon, and dropped a few orange flakes into the glass bowl. That was about as close as she was going to get to Marlon Brando, perhaps the greatest movie actor of all time, star of such classics as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. A goldfish. When she thought about it, she realized the films she watched with her mom sometimes seemed more real to her than her actual life.

"Can we please change the subject?" Louise asked in response. "It's too disturbing."

"Lou, you are so dramatic. Wait, what am I going to do about Kip?"

Louise shook her head. Talk about drama. "So do you know the answer to number six?"

That night Louise dreamed she was at the dance. She knew it was the seventh-grade semiformal, but nothing looked quite right. The gymnasium had turned into a grand ballroom, and all the faces of the people dancing were weirdly familiar but also strangely different at the same time. They kind of looked like her friends, but they weren't. Suddenly Louise realized she must be at the wrong party. Just then she saw a guy in a black hooded sweatshirt ride past her on a skateboard. She ran after him, calling Todd's name, thinking he'd be able to show her where to go, but he didn't turn around. It was like she wasn't even there.

Louise bolted upright in bed. She looked over at her clock radio: the red glowing lights spelled out 2:20 AM. Why was she having so much anxiety about this dance? Who was she kidding? All she could think about was the dance! She tossed and turned for the rest of the night. Louise had slept for only five hours when her alarm woke her at 7:17 that morning for another school day.

Louise rolled out of bed. She changed out of her soft, cotton, oversized Gap nightshirt into her favorite, vintage, lavender cashmere sweater, with only one tiny moth hole on the elbow, her perfectly broken-in Levi's, and neon pink Converse sneakers. She pulled her hair tightly back in an elastic-secured bun, not letting any curls escape.

She snapped another Polaroid, labeled it April 15, and watched the gray film slowly dissolve into focus. Nothing. No changes, except for two dark rings under her eyes that gave her face a haunted expression. The day had hardly begun, and she was already exhausted.

Like every morning, she ripped off a page on her daily Virgo horoscope calendar hoping for some exciting predictions: "You will embark on an interesting voyage. Stay true to yourself and enjoy the adventure!"—maybe she'd get asked out on her voyage to school? The bus would be arriving in twenty minutes.

"Good morning, dear," Mrs. Lambert cheerfully greeted Louise, in a tone that was remarkably chipper for that time of day.

Louise's mom insisted that her daughter eat breakfast each morning, and she was vigorously stirring a clad-iron pot on the stove with a wooden spoon when Louise shuffled into the stately old kitchen. Louise was never hungry at 7:30 AM, and each bite of oatmeal was its own special torture.

"Morning," she mumbled as she took her seat at the breakfast nook and began to absentmindedly poke at her fruit plate with a fork. Her father was already at the table, dressed in his pressed Brooks Brothers suit and striped tie, drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. If you looked up "lawyer" in the dictionary, there was probably a picture of Robert Lambert, with his neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He just looked the part.

"Good morning, chicken," he said, glancing up briefly from his paper. Louise had no idea how that nickname started, but somehow, to her bewilderment, it stuck.

"Eating breakfast every day is good for your memory," Mrs. Lambert explained yet again as she noticed Louise gagging on a piece of cantaloupe. "They've done studies." Mrs. Lambert liked to justify all her unjustified rules with "they've done studies." Who "they" were Louise had no idea, and she was pretty sure her mother didn't, either.

"I know, I know," Louise said. "With all the breakfasts I've eaten by now, I'll be remembering things that have never even happened." She moaned audibly, not sure how she was going to manage another bite.

"Don't be smart with me, young lady," Mrs. Lambert retorted, a little smile cracking through her tough façade. "Okay, good enough," she decided, wiping her hands on her apron. "Go get your books. You don't want to miss the bus again."

Louise sat at the table for another moment, too full and sleepy to move.

"And if your memory is so sharp," her mother continued, "you will recall my taxi rates have gone up. I now charge ten dollars for a school drop."

Her daughter bolted from the kitchen.


On Sale
Apr 5, 2011
Page Count
272 pages

Bianca Turetsky

About the Author

Bianca Turetsky is the author of the stylish Time-Traveling Fashionista series, which has been translated into nine languages. A graduate of Tufts University, Bianca managed the studio of artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel for the last ten years. She lives in a cozy studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York, that houses her very extensive and much-loved vintage collection.

Learn more about this author