Books, like fashion, can have the power to shape who you are. Both can be inspiring works of art, and both can be full of amazing stories. We certainly thought this when reading some of the great fashion books that have been published this year. From Emilio Pucci’s days as an Olympic skier to how Nike Air Jordans changed the world, there are endless fascinating stories to be found in this amazing industry.
Here, we’ve rounded up 12 of the best books on fashion that are both inspiring and joyful to read – whether or not you’re a fashion fiend. (And if you’re not an enthusiastic reader either, then you’ll be glad to know that most fashion books are full of pictures.) These must-read books cover fashion business inspiration, hilarious fiction based on the industry, and the incredible biographies of famous designers, photographers, and models.
Reading will never go out of style, so put up your Blahnik-clad feet and sink into these very à la mode stories that will change the way you think and, possibly, dress.
[Hero image: Issues, Phaidon Press. Feature image: Marc Jacobs Illustrated, Phaidon Press.]
1. Legendary Artists and the Clothes They Wore
By Terry Newman
In her first book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore, Terry Newman looked at the wardrobes of famous writers. Now joining together the closer friends – art and fashion – she turns to the signature accessories and style legacies of over 40 artists. Newman explores how Egon Schiele’s intense love for suits stems from a class insecurity; how Frida Kahlo’s early cross-dressing, Mexican aesthetic, and creative use of prosthetics, were bold statements of her gender, heritage, and disability. It’s definitely an important book to read in an age that’s very much concerned with the relationship between image and authenticity.
2. Marc Jacobs Illustrated
By Marc Jacobs, Grace Coddington, and Sofia Coppola
In 1992, Marc Jacobs bought a $2 flannel shirt from a street vendor in New York. That shirt provided him the inspiration for his iconic “Grunge Collection” for Perry Ellis – the same collection that got him fired from the company. It was also the shirt that established his name as the groundbreaking new force in fashion. That’s just the beginning of all the amazing stories that have come out of Marc Jacobs‘ funky career in fashion. This commentary across Jacobs’s phenomenal 50 collections for his eponymous label is accompanied by fun illustrations by former Vogue Editor Grace Coddington, as well as a preface by film director, friend, and muse, Sofia Coppola.
3. Wilhelmina: Defining Beauty
By Eric Wilson
Every three minutes, a model is booked on a job somewhere in the world through Wilhelmina Models agency. Here is a narrative
of how Gertrude Behmenburg, a butcher’s daughter, became Wilhelmina: supermodel and founder of Wilhelmina Models. Her agency now represents names (and faces) we all know today, from Cindy Crawford to Kendall Jenner. The incredible life story runs alongside explorations of some interesting, and very relevant, issues on beauty: What separates a successful model from a supermodel? How have beauty ideals been shaped by politics? When millions are poured into model endorsements and the “influencer” industry every day, this book offers some insight as to why.
4. Get a Life! The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood
By Vivienne Westwood
Britain’s punk dame fashion designer started sharing her thoughts and experiences on an online blog in 2010 called ‘Get A Life’. Now exclusively in book form, complete with her own illustrations, we see what a life she really got. One week she’s supporting tribal communities in the Amazon Rainforest. The next, she’s driving up to the UK Prime Minister’s house, then hopping over to India for Naomi Campbell’s birthday party. Vivienne Westwood, always saying exactly what she believes, makes for a provocative and unpredictable read.
5. The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion
By Megan Hess
Take a twirl through history with Megan Hess’s superbly illustrated recount of the most iconic dresses of all time. From Lady Di’s never-ending wedding dress to Lady Gaga’s meat gown, these frocks capture a moment in history, the spirit of a generation, and the unique energy of a fashion icon. Hess takes you through with intriguing facts and anecdotes about each dress, opening our eyes to the most significant moments in which fashion has voiced our world.
6. Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour
By Valerie Steel
As we live under the rule of ‘Millennial Pink’, Valerie Steele’s book about fashion’s favourite colour is especially eye-opening. Tranforming and shifting through feminist waves, punk waves, and barbie waves, the colour pink has had a strikingly tumultuous history. Its meaning has changed over the centuries and across the globe. Its connotations have been influenced by art, films, music, and more. This book studies significant pink moments – from Aerosmith’s punk-y anthem to the colour of Elle Woods’s entire wardrobe in Legally Blonde – narrating the colour’s incredible history.
7. Point of View
By Tonne Goodman
Tonne Goodman might not be as well known as her contemporaries at US Vogue, but she probably had the most influence. When she was hired by Anna Wintour in 1999, her brief was to “capture the modern woman, with a special emphasis on covers”. And here they are: the 150 covers and lots more photoshoots styled by Goodman are gathered in this autobiography. One of fashion’s most esteemed stylists, Goodman is best celebrated for her understated looks. Plain white T-shirts and baggy jeans are simply transformed with her unique vision and energy. Her earliest looks still look fresh enough to be worn today.
By Sophia Amoruso
This immediate best-seller is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. Literally. While living a dumpster life, Sophia Amoruso discovered her knack for sniffing out the most valuable vintage pieces in thrift stores and decided to start her own online business. Now, every girl worth her credit card has bought something from Amoruso’s Nasty Gal – an online fashion store inspired by vintage style. Here, the #girlboss herself shares some tips and guidance to starting your own business. It’s a must-read for all 21st century entrepreneurs and business-minded fashionistas.
9. Fifty Shoes That Changed the world
By Design Museum
One of a series of similar books (fifty bags, fifty hats…), this book is a peek into history’s shoe closet. Long gone are the days where shoes were just for protecting your feet. Here, we take a step into some of the most world-renowned shoes of all time and the stories behind their creation. Discover how a doctor’s ankle injury led to a certain boot called ‘Dr.Martens’ which from then became an icon of a new generation’s defiance. Ever wondered why the luxury Italian shoes brand has such a very un-Italian name as Tod’s? This book tells all.
10. Issues: A History of Photography in Fashion Magazines
By Vince Aletti
Whether you’re a lover of vintage fashion, or are old enough to have worn those pieces when they were new, this book offers a lovely kind of nostalgia. The New York-based curator and photography critic Vince Aletti has collected magazines since 1965. Here he shares his archive with a comprehensive study of fashion images that have defined the past century. See the shoot that launched Kate Moss into fame, or some ideology-changing work with early shoots featuring ethnic minority models. Fashionistas, designers, and photographers alike will be spending hours flipping through these special pages.
11. Killer Style
By Serah-Marie McMahon and Alison Matthews David
Today we pretty much only wear clothes that keep us protected, covered, and help to express our style. But that wasn’t always the case. This book reveals that history is actually full of fashions that have harmed, or even killed their wearers. We know that all sounds pretty dark, but nobody ever said books on fashion had to be cheerful. Besides, this book makes a compelling read about the lengths people have gone to all in the name of looking good. With gritty case stories involving waist-cinching corsets and lethal hair dyes, this book raises an important discussion about unrealistic beauty standards, gender inequality, and unsafe workplaces. They’re issues that are still relevant today.
12. The Knockoff
By Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
For a fiction read, The Knockoff is an absolute must. The story surrounds Imogen Tate, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Glossy’ Magazine and queen of the fashion world. Imogen is soon threatened by her twenty-something former assistant who plots to take over ‘Glossy’ by turning it into an app, knowing that her old-fashioned Editor wouldn’t know how to manage it. It’s an amusing novel that’s best described as a digital-age version of The Devil Wears Prada. While commenting on some extremely relevant issues concerning the digitalised fashion industry, this novel also makes for amusing light reading by the pool.