Fashion changes, but stylish books endure
Fashionable friends are the toughest to shop for. You wouldn’t dare buy them clothing and, anyway, their closets are already jam-packed. Luckily several chic new style books by both big-name connoisseurs and under-the-radar experts have recently hit the bookshelves—all great for gifting to the fashionistas in your life. From the glossy and gorgeous to the text-driven and probing, here are six of the best.
Katharine Hepburn. Jackie Kennedy. Madonna. You know a style maven when you see one. And yet, their particular breed of je ne sais quoi is often difficult to pin down. Luckily, fashion historian and Parsons professor Elyssa Dimant has done the work for us in The Style Mentors: Women Who Define the Art of Dressing Today.
Breaking down these trendsetters into eight signature looks, Dimant explains how the most stylish women approach their wardrobes and how burgeoning fashionistas can achieve similar success. From the icons (Coco Chanel, Cate Blanchett) to the mavericks (Isabella Blow, Daphne Guinness), bohemians (Veruschka, the Olsen twins), gamines (Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy), sirens (Marilyn Monroe, Beyoncé), minimalists (Donna Karan, Sofia Coppola), rockers (Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani) and classicists (Wallis Simpson, Michelle Obama), The Style Mentors outlines the world’s greatest fashion role models, alongside lovely, illustrative photographs.
In addition to the eye candy, Dimant’s book proves exceedingly useful. Learn why a bohemian never wears flats and how Dita Von Teese tailors vintage clothing to fit her famous curves.
As anyone who has ever worn a cloche or coveted a bustle knows, fashion is as much about looking backward as it is about envisioning the future. Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style acknowledges this centuries-old journey, tracing some 3,000 years of high couture and humble duds—from the draped fabrics of ancient times through contemporary street style.
Moving both chronologically and geographically through the ages, this stunning coffee table book —penned by Smithsonian consultant and Cooper-Hewitt curator Susan Brown—looks in on such clothing moments as Etruscan dancing garb, Flemish squirrel-skin kirtles and 17th-century baroque doublets.
Somewhere between history lesson and fashion spread, Fashion is particularly adept at capturing the ways in which Western style was greatly influenced by design from around the world.
VOGUE'S HEAVY HITTERS
This fall marks the 120th anniversary of Vogue. In appropriately lavish celebration, the world’s most iconic couture magazine is releasing a glamorous new volume chronicling the publication’s history as seen through the eyes of eight of its most memorable editors.
Told via in-depth interviews with each of these visionaries, Vogue: The Editor’s Eye gives a glimpse into the process, proving that the magazine’s cutting-edge fashion spreads are as much about editorial point of view as they are about model-photographer-designer collaboration.
Here, readers learn about Babs Simpson (fashion editor, 1947-1972), who traveled to Cuba to shoot Ernest Hemingway; Jade Hobson (1971-1988), an advocate for flattering power suits and the liberated career woman; and Phyllis Posnick (1987-present) who took a conceptual, provocative approach to the fashion narrative.
Alongside these stories are iconic photos from Vogue’s own pages (from heavy hitters like Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz) as well as wonderfully telling behind-the-scenes shots. An introduction by Anna Wintour adds an extra air of backstage insight.
As the co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” stylist Stacy London is a pro at helping regular women ditch frumpy sweaters and dated jeans to dress properly for their lifestyles and body types. Her new book, The Truth About Style, follows in this empowering makeover tradition (or what London calls “a startover”) while also incorporating the writer’s own history of self-doubt and renewal.
London’s struggle is all too familiar: When she graduated from Vassar at the age of 22, she weighed only 90 pounds, having devoted her senior year to both academics and anorexia. This battle with her weight stretched into adulthood, and it was only through her work helping women look their best that she learned to love herself.
In The Truth About Style, London interweaves her own story with those of nine women desperately in need of a style startover—from a post-mastectomy cancer survivor to a busy mom who hasn’t bought new clothes in seven years. Working with each to construct a new wardrobe (and life) outlook, London deftly shows that the way we present ourselves influences the way we feel.
TIM GUNN'S TUTORIAL
What Stacy London is to the style-impaired, Tim Gunn is to aspiring designers, having served for 12 seasons as the ultimate mentor on the hit reality show “Project Runway.” In Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, the coolly collected clothing authority goes beyond styling advice (or pleas to “make it work”) to tell the quirky and often downright strange histories of just about every article of clothing or accessory ever worn.
Readers are treated to factoids like how a man’s politics used to inform his necktie choice, why there was once historical concern with making pants difficult to remove and what the connection was between World War II prudence and the rise of the bikini (hint: It involves fabric rationing).
With the same dry humor and anecdotal joy Gunn fans have long admired, his Fashion Bible proves both a useful reference book and a fun read.
Cameron Silver began his career in the theater, and it’s easy to see how this flair for drama informed his work at Decades, the L.A. vintage boutique he opened in 1997.
Decades: A Century of Fashion is Silver’s gorgeous, oversized love letter to the style eras that comprise his collection. Beginning with the Edwardian hats and John Singer Sargent silhouettes of the turn of the 20th century, and moving through 1990s Kate Moss cool and deconstructed minimalism, Decades explores the designers, models and overarching looks that defined each period.
At every point in history, Silver is careful to detail conflicting aesthetics, concluding that fashion is always about dichotomy. Take, for instance, the 1970s’ simultaneous attention to sporty all-Americanism (Cheryl Tiegs) and disco danger (Bianca Jagger), or the complicated crossover between Grace Kelly’s and Bettie Page’s mid-century appeal.
Silver attributes a different “it designer” to every decade, but perhaps more emblematic of the times are the photo plates he inserts between chapters—pictures of gowns taken at extreme close-up, such that the material, stitching and color come into vibrant, telling view.