Jun 29, 2011
Readers, one of my goals this summer is to increase my knowledge of fashion history -- particularly of the last century.
It's not that I know nothing about fashion history, it's just that most of what I've learned I've picked up watching old movies. If Lana Turner didn't wear it, I might not know about it. I have a lot of books on period style but these focus more on industrial design and decor (also areas of interest).
At the Mid-Manhattan Library yesterday I picked up some gems I'd like to share with you, along with a few others I own.
Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look by Jonathan Walford (Thames & Hudson, 2008) is a stunner. Like many of you, I adore Forties fashion -- the cuts, the colors, the accessories, everything. One of the wonderful things about this book is that it includes German, Italian, British, Australian and even Canadian fashion of the period as well as American. As one might expect from a fashion book, the photographs are beautiful, but the writing is also excellent: clear and compelling. (Did you know that due to American wartime restrictions, no collar or ruffle on a dress could be more than 5" wide?)
Happily, the text and the photos support each other, which isn't always the case in fashion books (photographs in many books seem to have been chosen by someone who hasn't read the text too closely, or the photograph will end up pages away from the description of it).
Many of the fashions are modeled by mannequins here, but accessories are included.
Fashion Since 1900 (second edition) by Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye (Thames & Hudson, 2010) is more of a pocket-sized book but still full of great photos, and it provides a clear overview up to and including the current period (make sure you buy the second edition). Although the tone is academic, this is a great book to start with, and you can carry it on the subway.
Not to be handled without a forklift, Fashion Today by Colin McDowell (Phaidon, 2000) is an eight-and-half pound treasure, bursting with gorgeous images and fascinating essays on such topics as "Designer as Superstar," "The Lure of Retro," and "Modeling the Image." McDowell's writing can be a little dense but he speaks with tremendous authority (he is/was the Senior Fashion writer of the London Sunday Times.)
Warning: the print in this book is in a non-serif font (Arial?), making it tiring to read. The print is also miniscule -- you may need a magnifying glass and/or aspirin. Art direction takes precedence over legibility here.
I already owned Lesley Jackson's The Sixties (Phaidon, 1998), which has an excellent chapter of textile design, and the many historical and ethnic influences that inspired designers of the period.
While not a fashion book, fashion trends are discussed in Thomas Hine's classic Populuxe (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), which covers design and social trends during 1954-1964, the height of postwar American consumerism. I love this book.
You can view a more pics of these and other fashion and fashion-related books here. Are you familiar with any of them?
Friends, what are some of your favorite fashion books? Any you particularly recommend to the student of Twentieth Century fashion history?
Any pet peeves about fashion books you wish to share? (In his chapter on models and modeling, McDowell describes a famous Helmut Newton photo in great detail but fails to include a photo of it -- thank goodness for the Internet!) UPDATE: McDowell specifically apologizes for this in the back notes -- Whoops!)