As I’ve been always fascinated by fashion history, you can clearly imagine I’ve read a lot of books to learn every curiosity and collect the informations I needed to write this blog.
Of course it’s clearly impossible to know everything as fashion history and costume history in particular are such vast subjects, with so much to learn, that it takes a lot of time just to scratch the surface.
And my best friends on my way to become an expert are books!
With this article I would like to suggest you 5 books, my allies, which helped me out through these years, giving me the chance to delve in this glamorous and fascinated subject.
My recommended list is made of 2 books about costume history, 2 books about fashion history and one biography of an iconic designer.
1) THE PICTORIAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FASHION (by Ludmila Kybalovà)
Even if this book is not available anymore (if you like to buy it you have to search for a second-hand copy), I truly recommend it to you for a thorough study of costume history.
The first edition of the book was published in 1966 and it was a sophisticated and exhaustive analysis of the subject.
Now if you’re lucky to find this book, it can be considered one of the most complete guide through 4000 years of fashion habits, from Egyptians to 1960′s, with focus on hairstyles, hats and accessories. It’s very easy to consult and full of pictures of paintings, frescos and old publications of fashion magazines.
This textbook was my very first book ever about costume history and I spent a lot of time on its pages, studying for exams and it’s ideal both for beginners as for amateurs.
2.THE WORLDWIDE HISTORY OF DRESS (by Patricia Rieff Anawalt)
You can analyze the numerous fashion habits, not only historically speaking, but also geographically speaking in this book.
It’s an overview about the traditional dresses from all over the world, from the ancient ceremonies of Native Americans, to the alterations of body’s volumes of the Middle-East costumes, from the ancient jewelry of the African Continent , to the shiny and precious armors of the European armies.
The iconography is rich and varied and the descriptions are encyclopedic, underlying the mutual influences between different cultures. There’s an amazing selection of sketches, pictures, costumes and artifacts from international museums and portraits of contemporary and ancient societies.
It’s really impossible not to find inspirations from the numerous information this book can give you. You can read it through or just consult it briefly or sit down on your sofa and take a tour around the world, simply browsing it.
3. 50 DRESSES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (by Design Museum)
One of the best book for a brief lecture of the nineteenth century evolution of fashion habits and society.
You don’t have to be an obsessed fashionista to appreciate this book.
The authors selected 50 dresses that affected the revolution of fashion. Last century thrived with innovations, style icons, talented designers and memorable trends. This book is an overview, a glamorous journey made of pictures and satisfying descriptions, which will take you from the decadence of 1910′s to the most wanted collections of Kate Moss for Topshop.
All in the time of a flight.
4. DECADES: A CENTURY OF FASHION (by Cameron Silver)
If you want to be seduced by the most heartbreaking glamorous pictures, that’s the right book for you. If you want to observe the fashion universe through the eyes of one of the most important vintage couture dealer, that’s the right book for you.
If you want to fall wildly in love with the past decades’ style, stories, icons, dresses and accessories, that’s the right book for you. The book offers a unique point of view about fashion history, a stunning series of images, matched with smart and sophisticated descriptions written by the author.
Enjoyable for the eyes and for the mind it’s one of my favorite book, for people who have always dreamed to be insiders of the enchanted world of couture.
5. SHOCKING LIFE (by Elsa Schiaparelli)
I’ve chosen one auto-biography among those that I’ve read through the years, the one of Elsa Schiaparelli.
The funniest, most sincere, spontaneous, interesting, fascinating, moving personal history of all the time. With an ironic touch, Elsa Schiaparelli tells us the story of her private life, the difficult beginnings of her career, her failures, the lack of inspiration and her brilliant successes, the important encounters, sometimes hilarious, with artists, politicians, thinkers, philosophers and other designers.
When I used to teach fashion history, I suggested my students to read the book, because of the great avant-garde way the protagonist lives her life. The book is a marvelous self-portrait, as Chanel used to say, of “that Italian artist, who makes clothes”.
My Final Thoughts
Fashion history books are essential in your toolkit to learn how fashion evolved through the centuries and decades.
Discover through them the evidence of fashion’s past to solve the cases of fashion’s future as in an exciting crime novel for your summer adventures.
Obviously there’s a wealth of fashion history books available that you could possibly keep reading for a very long time.
So if you’d like to add some other books to my list please be welcome! I’m curious to know, who your best friends are!