Patt Morrison, the revered Los Angeles Times writer and columnist and Emmy and Golden Mike-winning public television and radio broadcaster, is known for her intelligence, love of history, wide-ranging interests – and for her spectacular wardrobe, always complete with millinery. “Patt the Hat” is a public figure, in demand on panels and conferences, and her outfits are invariably unique and eye-catching. As former California governor Pat Brown said of Morrison: “She has more style than anyone else in town.”
What makes her style even more special is that nearly everything she wears is thrifted.
In her more than two decades of thrifting, Morrison has unearthed her share of memorable finds. It started with an astounding moss green pebble crepe 1930s evening gown, cut on the bias with lilies of the valley hand embroidered on it that she found at a DAV store when she was a student at Occidental College. It cost about $50, which seemed a fortune at the time. The label was Tappé, from American designer Herman Tappé, who died in 1954. Through thrifting she discovered the French designer Sonia Rykiel and the georgette patterned dresses from the 1980s of designer Diane Freis. The Icon brand “Andy Warhol” oxfords (below) were a Goodwill find for about $30, Morrison recalled.
Other items that stand out in her shopping memory are a multicolor Chanel scarf she found for $6, an orange coat by American sportswear genius Bonnie Cashin, a sweater from Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester, a bright green silk Gucci tabard (sleeveless coat) for $8 that she wears with tights, a Chanel multi-strand pearl torsade necklace from the 1970s that she snagged for $50, a Missoni sweater (not the Target version) and a blue and black heavy brocade 1950s swing coat with a portrait collar and satin lining that she suspects was a couture item from France.
Recent finds include a vicuna coat for $9, and – on the day we spoke – a hammered gold Gripoix cross with pearls at Salvation Army for $5.99 that was signed Chanel and that she hopes is genuine.
“I never want to wear what everyone’s wearing,” she said. “You go to department stores and everyone’s wearing the same thing. Thrift stores allow you to become more confident in your taste.”
Her taste was developed as an adult, because growing up in a tiny central Ohio town, she had never seen a fashion magazine. “I read history,” she said. “I had not cultivated the fashion eye.” While reading, she came across fashion references in history books such as “samite cloth” and “Roman-emperor purple” and “a liripipe hood.” “They sounded so rare and mouth-wateringly beautiful that I was first hooked on fashion from centuries ago!” she said.
Now that she has educated herself on fashion labels and what silhouettes and fabrics she favors, she looks at her regular thrifting forays as a chance to exercise her creative right brain side. “I spend the whole day in my left brain, reading,” she said. “Taking a half hour a couple times a week in a thrift store is like a vacation for the brain. Go look for cashmere!”
Vintage shoes are of particular interest to her because as a vegetarian, she doesn’t buy new leather, so as not to contribute to a demand for animal products. Finds over the years include shoes from French designers Roger Vivier and Christian Louboutin (three pair of Louboutins!), and shoes from design houses Chanel and Prada.
Favorite thrifted boots include tall Italian Aquatalia boots in the style called Rhumba favored by the Duchess of Cambridge (see below). These retail in the vicinity of $700, but Morrison paid a fraction of that — about $15 — for hers.
She shuns buying real fur to wear, but will buy old furs and donate them to animal shelters for bedding. She also thrifts secondhand towels for the same purpose.
Surprisingly, one item she rarely buys secondhand is hats. “It’s so hard to thrift hats,” she said. “They get treated so poorly.”
Beyond style points, thrifting makes ecological and social sense to Morrison.
“Making new clothes involves issues of energy, water, land and child labor, and this country is stuffed to the gills with stuff,” she observed. At thrift stores, “you can make mistakes at very little cost. If you buy something that doesn’t work, you can give it to your sister or give it back to Goodwill.”
Other Morrison tips:
- If the outside of a garment is not in good condition, consider wearing it turned inside out. She has a coat that she wears that way, with the kimono fabric lining facing out.
- To keep your closet manageable, look for upgrades of favorite items and then donate the lesser-quality pieces. For example, she might start with a black pencil skirt from Target, later upgrade to a Banana Republic version, and keep looking for a couture example.
“I keep dreaming of finding a Fortuny gown for $10,” she said. “Then I will retire from thrifting because how can you top that?”