6 Books for People Who Love Fashion

Fashion: The Whole Story

Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our guides.

You have a friend who can’t get enough of Project Runway even after 12 seasons, just started her own fashion blog, and has that sense of style that allows a person to layer three different prints and still look great. And we have a list of books that will enhance his or her sartorial creativity, exploring the history, aesthetics, and commerce of fashion. Not to mention, the books themselves are stunning works of design. Yes, it’s what’s inside that counts, but these books also look great on display—and isn’t that what fashion is about?

 The Anatomy of Fashion: Why We Dress the Way We Do, by Colin McDowell
Well-known British fashion writer McDowell has written a fashion history with a twist. He asks, “Why does the human body shape, which, when all is said and done, does not vary massively in its essential form, require so much variation in its clothing?” To get at the answer, he breaks down fashion history by body parts or elements—hair, shoulders, hands, and butts, among others. McDowell includes a healthy dose of dry humor, making this book an easy read despite its enormous scope.

I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, by Nathaniel Adams and Rose Callahan
The term “dandy” has inspired countless debates and memorable quotes about its meaning. In the introduction to this book of interviews with and photographs of self-professed dandies, Adams provides another colorful one: “These are the men who, stranded alone on a desert island, would still dress up every day, using fish bones as tie pins and polishing their shoes with squid ink.” The book’s strength is its selection of subjects, ranging from the writer Gay Talese to the Harlem jazz performer Mr. Dandy Wellington, to the “English eccentric” Mr. Michael “Atters” Attree.

Refashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials, by Sass Brown
Written by a self-described “fashion activist,” this book highlights designers who use recycled and upcycled materials to make sustainable works of fashion. Most of its photographs and illustrations are delightfully whimsical and, as is fitting, the whole thing is printed on responsibly sourced paper that has a rustic feel.

Fetishism in Fashion, by Lidewij Edelkoort
“We are all born in bondage with a cord around our baby body.” This is the first line of this essayistic photo-exploration of fetishes in fashion. It covers the expected (consumerism, romanticism), the odd (face fetish), and the risqué (bestial, skin). Yes, the book is intense. It’s also visually stunning, featuring impressive portraits and fashion photographs by Marie Taillefer, making for a coffee table book that’ll be a definite conversation starter.

Fashion: The Whole Story, edited by Marnie Fogg
This encyclopedia covers fashion from as far back as 500 BCE, moves through continents and eras (a sampling of chapters: Indian Dress—Mughal Period, Pre-Raphaelite Dress, Wartime Tailoring 1940s), and arrives at the trends behind the clothing on today’s streets. It’s an excellent illustrated resource for anyone who wants a more precise idea of what all those characters in the historical fiction we read might have actually looked like.

Icons of Vintage Fashion, by Pénélope Blanckaert and Angèle Rincheval Hernu
This book could be described as an encyclopedia of women’s wear, but it really functions most successfully as a pricing history of vintage fashion. Each garment gets a picture, a brief description, and a list of its estimated price and the actual amount of money (usually in the thousands) it fetched. Discovering how much people are willing to pay for a 1960s Chanel suit is more interesting than you might think.

What’s your favorite fashion book? 

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