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Read And Rejoice — 7 Fashion Books You Should Add To Your Library

This week, Barnes & Noble announced, to my horror, that it would be shutting the doors of its flagship New York City store, one of my favorite haunts and, moreover, the place where I first met my husband.  The news saddened me on so many levels. The idea of the place where I met my husband, one of the crucial geographical components of our metaphorical relationship atlas, clearly contributes to my chagrin, but it’s not the only factor. As someone who has dedicated her life to the written word, I’m shocked to see so many bookstores filing for bankruptcy. Sure, it’s true that we can now access news articles online, read insightful features on our mobiles or laptops, and browse the blogosphere to out heart’s content, but there’s still something so magical about print publishing. The feeling of staring at your iPad while reading a digital novel can never compare to that of holding a book in your hands, feeling and hearing the rustling of turning pages… Call me a traditionalist, but I can’t imagine a day when I’ll get rid of my massive book collection in favor of an abstract digital library.

While my library consists primarily of fiction titles and sociology titles, I also own quite a few fashion and beauty books — and they’re all meant to be held and enjoyed in their glorious physical form. So, to show my appreciation for the printed word, I decided to round up some of my favorite fashion books — some containing tips, checklists, helpful illustrations, brand facts, historical data, and resource lists, and others rife with stunning fashion photography or personal anecdotes and archival family photos. Sure, this list could be considerably longer but it’s a great start to building the fashion book library of your dreams.

 

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I Love Your Style: How to Define and Refine Your Personal Style by Amanda Brooks, $17.64 at Amazon.com

A fashion consultant and regular contributor to Vogue and The New York Times Magazine,  Amanda Brooks has crafted a lovely book about discovering one’s personal style rooted in the belief that to do so involves embarking on a journey of self-discovery. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote she chose to open the book summarizes its underlying message: “Insist on yourself. Never imitate.” At times, I Love Your Style borders on personal memoir or even family scrapbook, with Brooks discussing different looks that she’s favored over the years, pop culture icons that have functioned as personal fashion inspirations, and family photos that illustrate her parents’ own fashion sense and how it, in turn, influenced her.

She uses certain categories to illustrate archetypal looks — “Classic,” “Bohemian,” “Minimal,” and “Street” among them — and provides cheeky photos of pop culture stars whose wardrobes have made them synonymous with these labels, but she doesn’t suggest that women adopt such a rigid sense of style as to identify with only one category. To prove this point, she incorporates photos of herself sporting outfits that could belong to each category, showing that women can move seamlessly from a Bohemian look to a stunning evening gown or a punk-influenced get-up and, moreover, that it’s natural for one’s sense of style to change and evolve through time. Also, she does a rather thorough job of discussing some of the essential pieces women can use to experiment with a certain look — for instance, fisherman’s sweaters, Breton sailing tops, V-neck cardigans, trench coats, and ballet flats for a “classic” style. Even better, she provides some rather useful insights regarding such issues as proportions, fabrics and textures, and mixing high and low pieces or vintage and new garments.

Even the photos she includes within the “Icons” section of each chapter are glorious: Bianca Jagger in 1972, wearing a dramatic hat with a short veil; Jodie Foster in an embroidered blazer and schoolgirl skirt in 1976; Jean Harlow in 1932 wearing a simple white dress; Frida Kahlo lounging at home in 1950; and so forth. The photos alone are worth the buy!

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The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black, $39.11 at Amazon.com

By far the most thorough and authoritative tome on sustainable fashion, this book by Sandy Black goes far beyond calling for an increase in eco-friendly practices. Instead, she explores the relationship between cultural attitudes, marketing strategies, and fashion consumption: why advertisers seem to encourage attitudes of recklessness and irresponsible consumption, why they want to instill in youths a belief that logos and labels are status symbols, and why they tirelessly promote a celebrity-driven culture that makes for an insatiable appetite for novelty and disposable fashion (all for the sake of looking like the celeb of the moment). She discusses some of the real-world challenges that brands and designers face when considering how to employ more environmentally friendly practices while abiding by their production schedules, keeping costs low, maintaining a certain quality standard, and so forth, and even provides helpful statistics and diagrams that illustrate the relationship between sustainability, costs, and personalization within the design process.

Interviews with trailblazers in the green fashion movement — among them Timberland’s Peter Lankford and Nike’s Lorri Vogel — and essays by sustainable design professors and non-profit organization leaders are included, alongside essays that gauge the degree of sustainability in the design and production models employed by brands like Monsoon, H&M, Uniqlo, and Dries Van Noten (to name only a few). But this book isn’t merely about praising eco warriors and judging apparel companies. This is a book that focuses on an honest dialogue. To that end, then, Black includes interviews, essays, and article excerpts that show the attitudes of a vast array of designers  — even those who have not fully committed to making sustainability their utmost priority. These are often the most informative in that they show how so many designers hesitate to make sustainability a major consideration in their design process simply because they don’t feel they have the proper infrastructure in place to make their garments more environmentally friendly while simultaneously satiating the appetites of their loyal customers and sticking to their own corporate bottom lines.

Once the challenges are fully explored, Black breaks things down further, examining every facet of sustainability: the use of organic materials, wasteful manufacturing practices, the role that fair trade practices play within the sustainability paradigm, why the demand for short-term clothing poses a risk to the environment, current processes used to recycle textiles, the environmental impact of manufacturing synthetic fibers, and so forth. Experts are tapped to provide information about each of these topics and, as the book progresses, more and more solution-based models are presented as launching points for a serious debate on sustainability.

Though it has a clear academic slant, this book should be accessible to all readers and will hopefully make us all examine the roles we play (even those of us who are simply consumers) in the evolution of sustainable fashion.

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Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion, $17.13 at Amazon.com

I tend to find Nina Garcia’s style — and her taste, for that matter — to be entirely too conservative and old-fashioned, so I do suggest taking her advice in Nina Garcia’s Look Book with a grain of salt.  Still, I love the idea of dressing for every single occasion and scenario imaginable —from asking for a raise to going to your child’s sporting event, attending a gallery opening, meeting up with the girls for brunch, checking out a rock concert, attending a company party, meeting your new boyfriend’s friends, and so forth.  For a Fourth of July picnic, for example, Garcia suggests wearing a cute romper with espadrilles and a head scarf. Generally speaking, her suggestions seem rather appropriate but she can sometimes go overboard on the “dont’s.” For company party, for instance, Garcia advises women to wear simple sheath dresses and sleek pumps and warns against plunging necklines, lucite heels, and microminis. Though I find her suggestions for this scenario a bit rigid — surely, there are more options to play with than a boring sheath dress — I do think these occasions call for more classic and prim fashions so, in that sense, I do second her call for restraint. When reading this book, then, think of it as a useful guide rather than a rule book. It is by no means a fashion Bible, but it can at the very least guide you towards the right path.

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Fashion Spectacles, Spectacular Fashion: Eyewear Styles and Shapes from Vintage to 2020 by Simon Murray and Nicky Albrechtsen, $35.95 at Amazon.com

Sure, you know about Jackie O. popularizing oversize sunglasses or cat-eye shades being a dominant trend in the 1950s, but do you know what eyeglass silhouettes were popular in the 1920s or 1930s? Do you know the films, advertisements, cinema and music stars, and political icons that popularized certain eyewear shapes, lenses, or frame materials? And how about the commercial and sociopolitical factors that dictated changing tastes in regards to sunglasses? Well, this genial book will provide invaluable insights into all these questions and more.

The book’s authors even attempt to pinpoint the origins of eyeglasses and provide interesting bits of historical data relevant to this topic, such as the fact that Roman emperor Nero used a large emerald as a magnifying glass or sorts when viewing gladiators in combat.  Dividing each chapter into a separate decade, they discuss the predominant shapes and materials of that era; the eyewear or sunglass companies that dominated the market during that epoch; the technological and design breakthroughs made; the introduction of certain shapes, colors, or designs in film and print media; and some of the literary, political, or pop culture figures who have become synonymous with certain eyewear styles. Furthermore, they provide background context, discussing the circumstances that led to such developments as cellulose and Optyl frames, anti-glare lenses, and so forth.

Eyeglass aficionados will not only appreciate the authors’ attention to research, but they’ll relish the life-sized photos of eyeglasses included in each chapter and the inset pictures of vintage advertisements, movie stills, and fashion spreads.

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The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style: Secrets to Shopping Cheap and Looking Chic by Lilliana Vazquez, $15.30. Available at Amazon.com

Mexican-American style expert Lilliana Vasquez, the woman behind über popular blog CheapChicas.com, penned this book to help women look their best without breaking the bank. Now, this book isn’t entirely without flaws —  the quizzes seem so juvenile (not to mention misleading since a quiz can hardly pinpoint a woman’s complex aesthetic); her lists of fashion essentials for each season are completely arbitrary and way too much of a reflection of her classic and girly style; and her styling advice is equally biased and won’t appeal to those who have more of a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic — but it does incorporate some tidbits of valuable information.

By far the best chapters are those that don’t focus on style tips but, rather, concentrate on how to shop wisely and frugally. For instance, Vazquez breaks down the best months to shop if you want to enjoy great savings.  January, for instance, is a great month in which to buy winter gear since many retailers begin to liquidate their inventory and Vazquez estimates potential savings of 50% to 70%. She also maps out the best strategies for navigating a store — for instance, don’t start at the shoe rack and wind up blowing your whole budget before getting any clothing! — and discusses what fast-fashion retailers, mid-size retailers, department stores, outlets, and off-price department stores are best for what type of finds. She even provides lists of online retailers, second-hand stores in different geographical areas, and shopping apps you can download on your phone.

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See the World Beautiful by Anne Menke, $57.43. Available at Amazon.com

Featuring a foreword by Tommy Hilfiger, this coffee table book aims to show the intersection between art and fashion photography and, moreover, the way that modern fashion has been influenced by the natural landscape and architectural designs of different regions, not to mention the religious and political beliefs, artwork and craftsmanship, cuisine, and clothing favored by these areas’ indigenous populations. A photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, Elle France, Travel + Leisure, Cosmopolitan Germany, and more, Anne Menke has traveled the world on countless assignments and, while doing so, she didn’t simply point her lens toward the pretty models booked by magazine features editors but she took the time to breathe in her surroundings and to capture their unique beauty via her camera.

Some will challenge the description of this as a “fashion” tome since it’s not an assortment of airbrushed photos of anemic-looking models in high-priced duds, but that’s what makes this book such a coup. Through Menke’s photographs, we’re introduced to Massai warrior women from Nairobi, Africa, who don intricate beaded collar necklaces and earrings; spiritual healers in Salvador, Brazil, wearing white eyelet blouses and tiered ruffled skirts while performing healing ceremonies; handmade floral necklaces draped over crosses at cemeteries, gifted to the deceased as tokens of affection and remembrance; indigenous men and women in Bolivia tending to llamas and selling coca leaves at local marketplaces while wearing colorful sarapes and striped ponchos; etc. As you admire these photos, you’ll appreciate the beauty of these indigenous peoples and remote locales and you’ll see how strong an influence their cultures have had on our own.

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Streetwear: The Insider’s Guide by Steven Vogel, $25. Available at Amazon.com

Think of this as you’re “Who’s Who” of streetwear, a virtual dictionary of brands that have risen to prominence in this particular subculture. Like a fashion atlas, this tome dedicates a full chapter to each brand featured and is arranged in alphabetical order to make it easier to browse. Within each brand blurb, readers will find photos of said brand’s founders, the company’s headquarters, or some of their designs, along with details about the company’s origins and Q&As with the lead designers. Brands featured include Alife, Bounty Hunter, Crooks & Castles, Married to the Mob, and Ssur. Sure, this book came out in 2007 and, since then, many new brands have emerged — particularly women’s streetwear brands — and it would be amazing to see an updated version of this tome that reflects the way this fashion milieu has changed in the last seven years, but it’s still a solid read.

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