Whether you just love everything having to do with fashion or if you aspire to showcase your own creations, you’ll need to do your homework.
Fashion is an art form, and when it comes to art all too often people think it’s just a matter of talent. This is not just wrong but dangerous, because it could discourage many passionate people from pursuing their fashion dreams. Yet, as any professional in any of the creative arts can tell you, that talent is no substitute for study and practice, particularly from the best fashion books.
Just like you wouldn’t try to be a painter without seeing the great masterpieces or a writer without reading the classics in the canon, you should not go into fashion without doing the research. Luckily for would-be fashion designers, or those just obsessed with fashion in general, we’ve compiled a list of the best fashion books that will give you all the background, insights, and stories about fashion’s past that you will need.
A Bit About the Best Fashion Books
We all have to begin somewhere. If you have an interest in fashion, but aren't quite sure it's what you want to pursue, the best fashion books can help you make a career decision. We've compiled some information about what you can expect from the best fashion books.
Why Read the Best Fashion Books?
Knowledge is an incredible thing. If you already love fashion, reading the best fashion books will only deepen that love you have for the art. If you don’t love fashion or are ambivalent about it, you might find that reading about it will give you an appreciation you didn’t have for it before.
Either way, the idea that only students in fashion design programs should read the best fashion books is just silly. These books are both records of the greatest works in fashion history, reveal the secrets of the fashion industry (even the ugly ones), and teach you how the business works.
Sure, this information will help any young fashion designer find their unique style. However, if you are just a consumer or fashion fan, these books will help you better appreciate the people behind the labels you love the most. Of course, the real reason to read most of these books is that they tell very compelling stories.
Are the Best Fashion Books Just for Designers?
As mentioned above, the best fashion books aren’t just for fashion designers themselves, but they are for anyone who wants to know more about the fashion world. From the technical details of fashion jargon and how color or fabric work in a design to gripping narratives about fashion icons, the best fashion books are just good reads.
Whether you are diving into these books to better learn a craft or just for fun, the best fashion books are worth the time investment. It’s also an excuse to ditch the audiobook or ebook for a traditional paper copy. Fashion also invigorates your tactile senses, and these books often include images you don’t want to miss. Also, because fashion-types care about designs, all of these books will look fabulous on your shelves or coffee table.
What Can Fashion Fans Gain by Reading the Best Fashion Books?
No book can ever teach you an art form, whether it’s fashion or something more traditional. Only practice and experience can effectively do that. Yet, part of what helps artists better understand their craft and inform their work comes from inside the pages of a book.
Whether it’s helpful tips in design books or particularly inspiring anecdotes from a biography, ideas and concepts get in your head and come out in your work. Of course, if you aren’t aspiring to make your own designs, you will still come away with knowledge that only the pros have. Whether you want this information to make yourself a savvier shopper or simply to satiate curiosity, the best fashion books will help.
The 15 Best Fashion Books for Designers or Fashionistas
Our list of the best fashion books covers all the relevant sub-genres. There are some narrative non-fiction stories, and we’ve also included instructional and reference books. However, the majority of the entries in this list are books detailing the collections from renowned fashion houses. Pick your favorites below!
1. The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees
As the first entry in our list, this book isn’t entirely about fashion. Rather, it’s more of a self-help book meant for people who struggle to find their own style and can’t get organized. However, this is a great book to start your journey into the inner-workings of the fashion world.
Whether or not you find the advice given that helpful or relevant to you, it examines how people develop their own styles. It also details how people can go about creating a look and personal style, even if they are on a budget. You can employ these tips yourself, or you can use them to inform your own designs.
By knowing how people make the decisions they do about fashion, you can shape your own work for versatility or to speak to a very specific kind of style. That’s what makes this one of the best fashion books on the market.
2. The Definitive History of Costume and Style by DK Smithsonian
This book from the experts at the Smithsonian is one that everyone should read, because it traces about three millennia of history. Yet, what makes this unique, is that it’s a study of the role fashion has played in that history, from the earliest fabric clothing to modern haute couture.
From legendary designers like Alexander McQueen and Coco Chanel to style icons like Marie Antoinette or Jackie Kennedy, this book approaches the history from all possible angles. What makes this one of the best fashion books on the market is that it has the information you need but can serve as a springboard to learning about some aspect of fashion history in greater depth.
Perhaps you can use it to draw inspiration from the past or connections to it and the designers of today. It’s also a visually stunning tome that’s almost as much fun to regard as it is to read.
3. Fabric for Fashion by Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnson
Writers put their words to paper or on the screen. Visual artists make their magic on canvas, paper, or in the digital ether. Thus, for the fashion designer, their medium is the human body. And fabric is the foundational element of it, just as the word-slinger needs their letters or the illustrator needs their paint.
This guide is one of the best fashion books because it demystifies fabric. Whether you are a designer or just a person who wears clothes made out of fabric, there is information in here you need. Learn the ways fabrics respond to the elements and ways to push the limits of what it can do in your designs. Figure out which fabrics are best for your climate and body type.
Whatever way you decide to use this information, you will be glad to have learned it. You can also pair this book with a companion book that actually contains swatches of the fabrics discussed, so you can get a hands-on feel for it.
4. Fashionpedia: The Visual Dictionary of Fashion Design by Fashionary
This is the most straightforward reference volume on our list of the best fashion books. Inside, it contains quick reminders and references for a myriad of fashion-related questions. For example, on one page, you can find all of the different types of sleeve patterns in once place. Whether you are looking for information about the cut of clothing, the definition of industry terms and jargon, or pretty much anything else, this book has an entry for it. This book is a must-have for every designer and every informed fashion connoisseur. You will never have to feel lost or ask for a definition when it comes to fashion terms again, because this book has the answers you need. You can also speak with authority and intelligence about fashion, thanks to the helpful tips recorded in this book. Like Cliff’s Notes for couture, this handy, small book is great for everyone.
5. The Little Dictionary of Fashion by Christian Dior
When it comes to fashion designers, there are few whose names ring as loudly as Christian Dior. His book is meant to be like the previous entry, but really this book is more analogous to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.
Not simply a reference book, but rather an book-length essay full of insights into Dior’s mind and thinking when it comes to fashion. The advice from the legendary fashion designer goes beyond simply fabric and cut. He includes a section about how to “walk with grace.” Luckily, just as writers do with Strunk & White, you can simply choose for yourself which of Dior’s tips to take to heart and which to disregard entirely.
Again, the utility and joy of this book is not so much in the timeless advice from Dior, but rather as a record of his thinking and insight into his fashion philosophy. That’s something every designer and fashion fan can benefit from knowing. Also, the book is filled with pictures of Dior’s most classic designs.
6. Dressing the Man by Alan Flusser
The minefield that is masculinity does not often offer great potential for fashion adventures and bold risk-taking. In fact, for as much as it changes, men’s fashion doesn’t really change that much.
That staple of male professional wear, the necktie, traces its origins back to the 17th century! Centuries later, men are still tying a useless strip of fabric that they hate around their necks because that is what’s done. One of the best fashion books for men is this one, because rather than focusing on the trendy stuff, it goes to the fundamentals.
The author details how things that don’t change much, like shoulder width and inseam, are the important things men need to consider about fashion. Whether the suits are billowy like they were in the 1990s or slim-tight as they are today, this book informs designers and the fashion-curious about the foundational elements in men’s fashion. Now, can we please do something about the necktie?
7. Chanel: The Vocabulary of Style by Jérôme Gautier
When it comes to the world of fashion, Chanel is a name like McCarthy or Lennon is for music. This book, written by fashion journalist and historian Jérôme Gautier, details through meticulously researched copy and stunning images what precisely made Chanel such a timeless powerhouse in a world as fickle and fast-paced as fashion.
A true giant in the field, Chanel pioneered incredible innovations in fashion from the “little black dress” to the bold idea that women’s fashion could be comfortable as well as stylish. At times this book feels like a textbook (and it is in plenty of college courses around the world), it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.
Not only is a great repository of information about a fashion legend, it also makes for a great coffee table book. However, it’s one that people will want to pick up and thumb through, so be warned.
8. Louis Vitton: The Birth of Modern Luxury
This book, published by Louis Vitton’s own archivists, is a meticulous accounting of the history of this storied brand drawn from their own archives. Readers are treated to beautiful art from the Vitton vaults, as well as other company materials detailing product designs and even advertising campaigns.
The book also details how the brand started with its iconic trunk and then spread to shoes, outerwear, fashion, jewelry, and even automobiles. However, this is not just another encyclopedic collection of history. This book also tells the story of three generations of the Vitton family, Gaston, Georges, and, of course, Louis himself.
This is one of the best fashion books because it both gives insight on how these iconic products were created and tells a story that keeps you entertained and engaged.
9. House of Versace by Deborah Ball
No list of the best fashion books would be complete without at least one book about the late Gianni Versace and the label that bears his name. Every great art form has their genius who was taken from the world too soon.
Versace, whose life and death were recently chronicled in a series now available on Netflix, was the Biggie or Tupac of the fashion world. He was dangerous, ostentatious, and bold in his statements, both artistic and casual. It also details the aftermath of the tragedy, when his flamboyant sister, the inimitable Donnatella Versace, took over the company.
This is a book that details how Versace changed fashion forever and how his loss at the height of his fame didn’t diminish his star by a single lumen. This is a great choice for people who like a compelling story and want insider anecdotes about the realities of the world of high fashion.
10. Oscar De La Renta: His Legendary World of Style by Andre Leon Talley and Adam Kuehl
With contributions from Mercedes T. Bass, Paula Wallace, and Anna Wintour that alone puts it in the running for one of the best fashion books. However, this monograph about the life and career of the late Oscar de la Renta.
The book itself details de la Renta’s process and inspirations for 70 iconic dress designs, including those worn by celebrities and First Ladies of the United States. It is through these studies that we learn about de la Renta’s story as it takes him from the Dominican Republic to Madrid to international stardom as one of the premier fashion designers in the world.
Aspiring designers will relish the chance to study and learn about how his use of simple lines and beautiful flourishes influenced his best designs.
11. Yves Saint Laurent by Florence Chenoune and Farid Mueller
When talking about designers who rose to prominence in the latter half of the twentieth century, Yves Saint Laurent is one who has to be included in the conversation. He worked under Christian Dior and took over the fashion house upon his mentor’s demise.
This book was written to accompany an exhibit of about 250 of Yves Saint Laurent’s designs. Yet, compared to this book, that exhibit was limited in its scope. This is the first book to look at all of Saint Laurent’s work comprehensively. Inside, you can learn how the designer drew inspiration from other art forms like theater, sculpture, literature, and even opera.
Offering an in-depth look at Saint Laurent’s entire career, this book is perfect for any aspiring designer or fan of the fashion world.
12. Valentino: Themes and Variations by Pamela Golbin
Offering a look back at 45 years of work from the Valentino fashion house, this book takes an in-depth look at the craft of fashion design. This is not a book for beginners, and you might want to keep the Fashionpedia handy, because this goes into great detail, discussing advanced design subjects.
This book explores how Valentino plays with lines, texture, and other motifs in the work. Included in the text is commentary from Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani himself. When you finish reading this book, you will understand why Valentino is one of two fashion houses not based in France that are official recognized as one of the Couture Houses.
Published in association with a Valentino exhibit at the Museé des Arts Decoratifs, this book not only dives in-depth to Valentino’s craft but also includes exclusive photos of the designer at work.
13. Christian Louboutin by Christian Louboutin
This book is a monograph purportedly written (or at least shepherded) by the artist himself. For decades, Christian Louboutin shoes have been the diamond standard in high-fashion footwear. From the streets of cities across the world to even a galaxy far, far away, Louboutin has used his eye for design and style to craft timeless and unique pieces.
This book highlights that career, at least through 2011 when it was published. While this book is full of information and original designs, commentary, and images, it’s also a piece of art in its own right. You can display this book’s five-piece foldout binding or the pop-up element.
Of course, it goes beyond just the shoes. There are sections detailing Louboutin’s collaboration with iconic filmmaker David Lynch and photo essays of Louboutin’s international homes.
14. Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano by Dana Thomas
A work of creative journalistic nonfiction, this is one of the best fashion books not because it goes into great detail about the art. Rather, this is a compelling story about two giants in the modern fashion industry and how it affected them.
What makes this book so compelling is the skill of Dana Thomas, a longtime fashion journalist. Not only is this a compelling narrative about two huge talents, but also it is a look inside the fashion industry. Readers will learn why designers go all out on their runway shows and how this side of the business makes its money. This is the kind of story that will keep fashion fans and aspiring designers on the edges of their seats.
However, even if you couldn’t care a whip about fashion this is a book you will not be able to put down. If you want a book that is both an intimate portrait of two great designers and a macro-study of the entire fashion industry, this was written for you.
15. Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon by Iris Apfel
You may not have heard her name before, but Iris Apfel is a unique figure in the fashion world. She is the only person who is not a fashion designer to ever have an exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1950, she and her husband Carl started Old World Weavers, a textile firm that made bespoke fabrics including reproductions of antique fabrics. This led to their involvement in design and restoration projects for every U.S. President from Truman to Clinton. She also was a style icon in her own right, buying and wearing artisanal clothes (usually from non-Western clothiers) to high-society functions.
This and more are all detailed in her charming and funny autobiography, which she subtitled “musings of a Geriatric Starlet.” She’s also been featured in a documentary called Iris and took part in another one with the hilarious title If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.
The best fashion books are varied in genre and style, but all of them have vital information about the world of couture that you will be glad to know.
From technical and referential materials to captivating narratives about designers, the best fashion books offer a lot of variety. If you hope to one day design and make your own clothes, all of these books are a crucial part of your journey. If you have no desire to be a designer but love fashion just the same, you will love these books. From the printed collections of fashion houses to helpful tips about how to pair clothing items, these books are like a Master’s Degree course in fashion. You won’t have any certificates or snazzy robes with a mortarboard, but you will have what you learned.
What do you think? Did we leave any of the best fashion books off of our list? Let us know, along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you enjoyed it!
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