For the last 100 years or so, literature has brought us some of the biggest style icons that have inspired numerous trends and collections worldwide. Jay Gatsby, Holly Golightly, Patrick Bateman, Anna Karenina are but a few. It is therefore no wonder that fashion has become an incremental part of literature for years and years, whether it is addressed directly or merely reflected in the stories’ characters.
My favourite books tend to be American 20th Century fiction, mainly to do with the topics that they address, but also to do with the fashions that are explored.
However, as I am a big fashion lover, I do try and read a mixture of fiction and fact. Over the last couple of years I have come across some slightly lesser-known books, as well as some very famous releases, of books that directly relate to fashion. Here are just my favourites that I thought I would share with you:
In The Mink by Anne-Scott James is a novel that was published in 1952. It is essentially about life in the fashion magazine world of the 1930s and ’40s. It is quite a stunning read, with huge amounts of descriptive narrative that gives you a real feel for post-war fashion. Although it is described as a novel, it is absolutely a memoir of her life. Scott-James graduated from Oxford and started her first job at Vogue and this story basically retells the moments that followed. Whilst the protagonist’s name has been changed, and the names of the magazines are slightly different, the details of In The Mink are far too alike to her own story for it to be a work of fiction. I would highly recommend this book to you if you are interested in reading about fashion of these times – it is truly reflective of what it would have been like to work in fashion journalism post-war, as a woman, and how fast-paced the industry was, even back then.
For a book offering pictures and comments on the biggest style icons and It-girls and boys of the last couple of generations, then Alexa Chung’s It is perfect. Definitely to be a coffee-table classic, it is full of some really beautiful photography and will give you loads of classic and indie movies that you just HAVE to see. It is Chung’s way of expressing who her fashion inspirations have been throughout her life, whether from popular culture or big characters in definitive movies. Think Liv Tyler in Empire Records, Kate Moss, and The Spice Girls.
The Fifty Things… series by Paula Reed is more of an educational course in huge fashion moments for every decade between the 1950s and the 1990s. Each book demonstrates what key trends defined those decades, who pioneered them, and what made them so popular. If you’re currently studying a fashion related degree, or are thinking about it, then I would highly recommend these. They’re fairly short and concise, and will give you an easy insight into what has driven fashion for the last 50 years.
Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro is a book that we can all probably relate to (ignore the coffee stain, I bought this copy in a charity shop…). Unhappy with her life and her looks, Louise C is looking for help and she finds it in a second hand book shop. There she discovers a little fashion encyclopaedia entitled ‘Elegance’…. I won’t tell you anymore, but it is an easy read that gives you some fun style advice throughout.
Another more educational suggestion – Costume and Fashion, A Concise History by James Laver. This is slightly more difficult to read as it is more of a mini text book, but it is very interesting to read and will give you extra background into what has driven fashion choices over the years.
I am always on the look-out for new books to add to my shelves, so if anyone has any suggestions then please please do let me know!