Fashion Forward: 28 Titles To Build Stylish Collections

Fashion books may appear to appeal exclusively to fashionistas, dress historians, or aspiring designers, but titles about why we wear what we do and when are beautiful and compelling. The 21st-century fashion books in this selection, including several exhibition catalogues, address new research questions and uncommon subjects. Most draw on advances in printing technology to illustrate the amazing variety and detail that make fashion exciting.

Fashion books may appear to appeal exclusively to fashionistas, dress historians, or aspiring designers, but titles about why we wear what we do and when are beautiful and compelling enough to rouse even pandemic-fatigued sweatpants enthusiasts. Fashion is more than luxury shopping; through material histories and international street style snapshots it showcases what people are and were like and how they want and wanted to be seen, whether in turn-of-the-century New York, 1960s Accra, Regency London, or present-day Tokyo.

Many libraries will already find the famous European and American designer names well represented on their shelves. The 21st-century fashion books in this selection, including several exhibition catalogues, address new research questions and uncommon subjects. Most draw on advances in printing technology to illustrate the amazing variety and detail that make fashion exciting.

Fashion has made its way into academia as scholars study its relationship to social identity, its role as personal and political signifier, and its circulation as global commodity and form of communication. The most fascinating new books have something unique to say about these aspects of fashion, are accessibly written for academics and nonscholars alike, and reward readers with beautiful images.

Titles featured here have broad appeal for varied audiences, including for nonspecialists or readers just discovering an interest in fashion. Starred () titles are essential for most collections. All titles listed below are also available on a downloadable spreadsheet.


Corrales-Diaz, Erin R. The Iconic Jersey: Baseball x Fashion. D Giles. 2021. 192p. ISBN 9781911282284. $34.95.
Uniquely American, the baseball jersey offers a clear illustration of fashion’s ability to telegraph identity. This catalogue begins with 19th-century historical team uniforms and runs through Elton John’s Dodger Stadium sequins, 1990s hip-hop album covers, and high-fashion riffs. Further illustrating their importance are recent jerseys that invoke Black Lives Matter and the U.S. government’s incarceration of people of Japanese descent during World War II.

D’Alessandro, Jill & Reina Lewis. Contemporary Muslim Fashions. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/Delmonico. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9783791357829. $50.
Based on an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt and de Young Museums, this catalogue examines many ways Muslims express identity, modesty, and ethics through fashion, illustrated through ensembles by young designers and street style photographs. Essays cover historical Muslim dress, national identity and cultural heritage, and designs for modest athletic wear.

Dandy Style: 250 Years of British Men’s Fashion. Manchester Art Gallery/Yale Univ. ed. by Shaun Cole & Miles Lambert. 2021. 168p. ISBN 9780300254136. $35.
Drawing upon the Manchester Art Gallery’s collections of garments and portraits, this title investigates the British Beau Brummel style of dandyism and its permutations through subsequent centuries. The book is organized conceptually, with chapters focusing on menswear in museums, portraiture, embellishment, subversion, and dandyism as performance.

Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. Yale Univ. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9780300218725. $40.
This account of Regency fashion takes a material approach to evoking life in the era. Befitting Austen’s powers of observation, Davidson draws upon garments, printed and painted images, contemporary accounts, and descriptions in Austen’s letters and novels to explore the meaning of clothing in her literature and life.

Ford, Richard Thompson. Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. S. & S. 2021. 464p. ISBN 9781501180064. $30.
Through historical legal cases, Thompson contrasts the popular notion of fashion as frivolous and unimportant with countless efforts to restrict clothing and dress choices—whether ermine, tartan, hijab, dreadlocks, or drag. By intensifying and codifying links between appearance and identity, dress codes themselves continue to influence fashion history.

Hill, Colleen & others. Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties. Rizzoli Electa. 2021. 184p. ISBN 9780847869770. $50.
Hill explores several contradictory directions of 1990s fashion, including grunge, deconstruction, luxury, minimalism, environmentalism, nostalgia, and technology, finding that early e-commerce and the circulation of images on the internet shaped today’s fast-fashion world. Fashion images that are problematic are acknowledged: appropriation of Asian and Native American motifs, glorification of “heroin chic,” and voyeurism.

Jones, Kevin L. & Christina M. Johnson. Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960. Prestel. 2021. ISBN 9783791359434. $60.
This compelling history of what women wore while walking, riding, swimming, bicycling, skating, motoring, playing tennis, and more begins with a survey of depictions of sporting women before 1800. The main catalogue, focusing on 1800 to 1960, categorizes ensembles by type of activity, including “Taking the Reins,” “Making Waves,” and “Having a Ball,” interspersed with profiles of pioneering sportswomen.

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk. Victoria and Albert Museum. 2020. 304p. ed. by Anna Jackson. ISBN 9781851779925. $60.
As this substantial catalogue from the Victoria and Albert Museum shows, kimono originally meant “the thing to wear” but has taken on multifaceted cultural meanings in Japan and beyond. Essays explore topics such as textiles and techniques used in kimono production, global trade, Japonisme in Europe, expression of Japanese national identity, kimono as film costume, and issues of exoticism and cultural appropriation in fashion.

Kramer, Karen. Native Fashion Now: North American Indian Style. Prestel. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9783791354699. $49.95.
This collection of late 20th and early 21st-century Indigenous fashion profiles designers and artisans from many tribes with gorgeous photographs of their work. Divided into sections on “Pathbreakers,” “Revisitors,” “Activators,” and “Provocateurs,” the book traces how Indigenous fashion combines tradition with innovation and has influenced global trends.

Lynn, Eleri. Tudor Fashion: Dress at Court 1485–1683. Yale Univ. 2021. 208p. ISBN 9780300260588. $35.
Newly reissued in paperback, this painstakingly researched volume by the former curator at the UK’s Historic Royal Palaces examines the role of fashion in power and politics. Through original documents and surviving garments and textiles, as well as the renowned painted portraits that still fascinate modern viewers, Lynn lets readers peer into the lives of the Tudors via their wardrobes.

Mears, Patricia & others. Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse. Vendome. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780865653733. $60.
Ballerinas and what they wear, from ballet flats to leotards and tulle skirts, have provided inspiration for designers and photographers since the early 20th century. In this catalogue to the exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Mears traces the history of women’s ballet costume and its translation into haute couture gowns, star ballerinas perceived as ideally feminine models and adopted as fashion muses, and how dance practice wear influences ready-to-wear styles.

The Men’s Fashion Book. Phaidon. 2021. 528p. ISBN 9781838662479. $79.95.
This encyclopedic volume briefly introduces 500 brands, designers, photographers, and style icons ranging from Cecil Beaton to Tupac Shakur to Yohji Yamamoto, focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries. Large photos, “see also” references, and a chronology of menswear beginning in the 1500s provide a broad overview of men’s style.

Pel, Martin. 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs. Unicorn. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781911604228. $27.
This catalogue from a show at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum captures Roaring Twenties fashion through historical examples, advertisements, and photographs. It details how dramatic shifts in fashion reflected major societal change—the end of World War I, the evolving role of women, the nascent film industry, modernism in art and design, and the development of fashion retail.

Slinkard, Petra & others. The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design. Rizzoli Electa. 2020. 160p. ISBN 9780847868223. $45.
Based on two museum exhibitions, this survey spotlights women designers and their role in the evolution of fashion, from Madeleine Vionnet to Claire McCardell, Rei Kawakubo to Iris van Herpen. Essays focus on women’s fight for equity in the garment industry, whether as designers, seamstresses, or textile workers, from the 17th century to the present. Includes brief profiles of well-known and less familiar female designers with representative garments.


Bolton, Andrew. Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016. 248p. ISBN 9781588395924. $50.
Appropriately, this ode to technical processes of both hand- and machine-made fashion is a visually stunning material object made of varied types of paper and luminous photography. Its subject is the tactile processes that create prêt-à-porter (“ready-to-wear”) and haute couture garments, including draping, patternmaking, tailoring, and traditional dressmaking trades such as pleating, lacework, embroidery, and featherwork—and now technological innovations including 3D printing, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding.

Borrelli-Persson, Laird. Marimekko: The Art of Printmaking. Yale Univ. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9780300259834. $65.
Marimekko was conceived as an antifashion company in the 1950s by feminist and utopian Armi Ratia, who designed freeing dresses in bold prints. Women make up a majority of the designers of these iconic prints and the clothing and home goods made with them. In this book, the colorful, instantly recognizable prints are the focus—they splash across full pages, demonstrating anew how they brought joy to a postwar world.

Faiers, Jonathan. Fur: A Sensitive History. Yale Univ. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9780300227208. $60.
This comprehensive and well-illustrated account examines the historical, political, cultural, and physiological aspects of the practice of humans wearing fur. Faiers thinks broadly, considering parallels among hair, skin, and fur, the global fur trade, fur’s role in Indigenous cultures, and the manufacture of fake fur.

Matthews David, Alison. Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. 2015. 225p. ISBN 9781845204495. $30.95.
In gruesome and fascinating terms, Matthews David focuses on the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, recounting ways people have literally died for fashion, from clothing that harbored germs or caught fire easily to poisonous arsenic in green dyes and mercury in fur hats. The conclusion draws parallels to the dangers of fast fashion, with its sweatshops and toxic industrial manufacturing processes.

Miller, Leslie Ellis & others. Silk: Fiber, Fabric, and Fashion. V&A/Thames & Hudson. 2021. 504p. ISBN 9780500480656. $95.
Densely illustrated with paintings, garments, and textiles from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections, this reference follows silk as a material, a commodity for world-changing trade, and an artistic medium. Sections trace techniques of weaving, knotting, dyeing, printing, and embroidering, along with the many other ways artisans across the globe have fashioned silk fibers into incredible objects for millennia.


Bill Cunningham: On the Street. Ten Speed: Clarkson Potter. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9781524763503. $65.
This substantial volume is the first published collection of Cunningham’s photographs of street style and fashionable events in the New York Times and elsewhere from the 1970s until his death in 2016. Essays by fashion writers and Cunningham admirers offer a sense of the man behind the camera, who called himself a “columnist who writes with pictures.”

Foley, Greg & Andrew Luecke. Cool: Style, Sound and Subversion. Rizzoli. 2017. 277p. ISBN 9780789332844. $35.
This guidebook identifies cool types ranging from Mod to Pachuco, Afropunk to Harajuku, classifying them according to their music and fashion tastes. Hand-drawn illustrations show representative looks, with text and essays covering history and influences. Includes an extensive bibliography and more than 100 playlists that readers can stream on Apple Music.

Lewis, Shantrelle P. Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style. Aperture. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781597113892. $35.
Black dandyism originated in England with enslaved men using fashion to express individual identity and defy expectations of their race, class, and gender. Through inspiring images taken around the world, Lewis traces the continuing influence of dandyism’s radical subversion across the African diaspora in the 20th and 21st centuries, covering movements and geographic centers of Black dandy culture, personalities, designers, tailors, and photographers.

Lo, Andria & Valerie Luu. Chinatown Pretty: Fashion and Wisdom from Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors. Chronicle. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781452175805. $24.95.
Eye-catching and unconventional outfits photographed on senior citizens in Chinatowns across America lead into shared stories and reflections on their lives. The Chinatown Pretty project began as a blog by two friends, inspired by their grandmothers, before being published as a book. The practical resilience demonstrated in these portraits is newly poignant in the shadow of AAPI elders suffering racist attacks.

Shito, Rei. Style on the Street: From Tokyo and Beyond. Rizzoli. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780847868728. $35.
Journalist and photographer Shito spots and captures eclectic street style ensembles around the world, centering on Tokyo and Paris. Her book includes interviews with other street fashion connoisseurs including Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, as well as styling strategies for those who aspire to mix patterns and shapes with the panache of these fearless examples.


Albrechtsen, Nicky & Fola Solanke. Scarves. Thames & Hudson. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780500296172. $40.
This short history of the printed scarf features hundreds of photographs showing the squares and rectangles of fabric as small canvases, not folded or tied. Focusing on the 20th century, the book highlights individual designers and manufacturers, and the scarf as a collectible object. Wartime roles of protective and decorative scarves, obtainable with a few ration coupons and capable of bearing lightweight, durable maps into the field, are an intriguing side note.

Connecting Afro Futures: Fashion x Hair x Design. Kerber. 2021. 128p. ed. by Claudi Banz & others. ISBN 9783735606150. $40.
This exhibition “magalog” presents an Afrofuturist perspective on African hair and fashion design. Essays and interviews on hair design, ethical and sustainable fashion manufacturing in Africa, and the decolonization of the decorative arts museum detail the disruption of the European fashion system, highlighting voices from Uganda, Senegal, and more.

Lover’s Eyes: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection. D Giles. 2021. 280p. ed. by Elle Shushan. ISBN 9781911282938. $50.
Miniature eye portraits peek from the pages of this catalogue of Nan and David Skier’s collection of jewelry known as “lover’s eyes.” Mysterious and intimate, these painted eyes adorned brooches, rings, lockets, pendants, and tiny boxes in the 18th and 19th centuries, sometimes with locks of hair in hidden compartments to evoke or memorialize a loved one. Examinations of fakes and modern adaptations of the form round out the essays in this distinctive history.

Vincent, Susan J. Hair: An Illustrated History. Bloomsbury. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9780857851710. $34.95.
The personal meets the political in this European-focused history of haircare, hairdressing, hair removal, and the cultural meanings of fashionable hairstyles over the decades. Hippie hair, flapper bobs, shaved heads, powdered wigs, and mop tops are some of the most dramatic examples of close ties between hair and identity. Plentiful illustrations from art and advertising show how hair shapes culture.

Lindsay King is the Associate Director for Access and Research Services in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University. She is the coauthor, with Russell Clement, of “Style and Substance: Fashion in Twenty-First-Century Research Libraries,” in Art Documentation (spring 2012). Lindsay holds an MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois and an MA in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

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