February 3, 2023

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8 Fascinating Books on Fashion History

The history of fashion is full of stories stranger than fiction. The crash between high art and commercial interests tends to lead to ridiculous behavior. The luxurious lifestyle promoted by the fashion industry leads to the excesses of fashion as we know it today, from oversized streetwear looks to bejeweled couture on the runways in various cities during Fashion Week. Fashion history books can focus on anything from the development of a specific item to a global fashion movement. Clothing and accessories have the dual purpose of communicating status and belonging to a community (like bookish fashion) while also being a daily functional part of our lives.

The history of fashion is not all crimes: fashion has a long and complex history because, as Stanley Tucci said in The Devil Wears Prada, “it’s more important than art because that’s how you live your life”. Fashion is at the intersection of art, innovation and everyday life. You can always find an impressive fashion book in a museum that has an exhibition focused on a specific designer, decade, or cultural movement.

Fashion aesthetics also shape the literature and trends in it. We might joke that Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way describes her Hot Topic wardrobe in great detail, but the way characters dress communicates status, time period, and how they wish to be seen. This is why fashion history is so important: it reflects countercultural trends, changing social mores and personal expression.

There are many different angles on fashion, so I’ve tried to include a few different categories: books on specific fashion items, memoirs of fashion personalities, and larger books on the cultural history of fashion.

Peculiarities of fashion

Making a Spectacle: A Fashionable History of Eyewear by Jessica Glasscock

Eyewear is perhaps the ultimate fashion example of a functional and stylish item. Jessica Glasscock is a writer and curator who takes a museum-like, expansive approach to the history of glasses. It showcases the various iconic shapes for eyewear and sunglasses, such as aviator sunglasses and the bug eye, popular in the 1960s. Eyewear fulfills a daily function and designers are always trying to innovate the form so that people can express themselves more fully through their eyewear.

in intimate detail coverage

In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie by Cora Harrington

Cora Harrington is the internet’s leading lingerie expert, and her book is the perfect compendium for fans and people who want to better understand their lingerie. Lingerie is an engaging subject, but it can be intimidating due to the special care that the high-quality fabrics require. Harrington not only breaks down all the different styles of lingerie and lingerie available to people of all budgets, she urges readers to see their lingerie as a tool for confidence and comfort.

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Memoirs of Luminaries

diana vreeland memos the vogue years cover

Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years by Diana Vreeland, edited by Alexander Vreeland

Before Anna Wintour, Diana Vreeland shaped fashion discourse through her direction of American Vogue. Without the work of Diana Vreeland, there would be no Vogue in its current form. Alexander Vreeland has compiled over 250 personal correspondences from Diana, who has worked with art and culture luminaries to found Vogue. Each chapter is filled with texts by editors who reported to Diana. For those who love ephemera, this collection is fascinating because it allows you to see the inner workings of one of the most dominant US fashion publications.

cover the chiffon trenches

André Leon Talley’s chiffon trench coats

For an alternative take on the world of luxury fashion, André Leon Talley is the perfect guide. As one of the very few black people in fashion, Talley always stood out. He really leaves no stone unturned in this memoir, exposing the ugly realities of the fashion industry and his experiences with racism. However, Talley stayed in this world because he believed in the power of fashion and its potential for transformative beauty. His rise in the industry marked an important moment in 20th-century fashion and what it might mean to people.

clad in dream blanket

Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion by Tanisha C. Ford

Throughout fashion history, black communities in the United States have sparked trends and innovative style on a budget. In her memoir, Ford examines the clothing aesthetics that shaped her social groups and how she experimented with different aspects of black culture in her fashion. Her autobiography is also a broader exploration of black fashion in America. Her story is a fashion celebration, from her larger sociocultural history to her way of life on an individual body.

fashion and its accessories

Fashion has a wide cultural reach: portraits from centuries ago, right down to jewelry, can be analyzed to find out a subject’s place, community, and social status. Fashion is still a way for people to express social belonging and show personal preferences. While most of us don’t deal in what would be considered ‘wearable art’ on a daily basis, every garment has a long artistic and cultural history.

If you want to learn more about fashion, there are books on the harm caused by fast fashion, the importance of sustainable fashion and behind-the-scenes stories of models.