The best books featuring glitteringly lethal societies and darkly beautiful outfits

Autumn Krause Author Of A Dress for the Wicked
By Autumn Krause

Who am I?

While supporting myself as I got my MFA, I worked as a bridal stylist at an upscale Beverly Hills wedding salon. Just like most of the main characters in these books, I was thrust into a new world that was full of couture, decadence, and wealth. It was also full of backstabbing, competition, and elitism and I endured my share of it. As a girl from a blue-collar family who grew up with no fashion sense whatsoever, it was an experience that fed my fascination with glittering societies that have dark sides and inspired my first young adult novel, A Dress for the Wicked.   

I wrote...

A Dress for the Wicked

By Autumn Krause,

Book cover of A Dress for the Wicked

What is my book about?

A Dress for the Wicked is about a fashion-obsessed Victorian society. Every few years, there is a cutthroat competition to gain entry to the prestigious Fashion House and, for the first time ever, a girl from the country, Emmy, is admitted as a contestant. Emmy thinks her dreams have come true only to realize that the Fashion House is using her as a political pawn and that sabotage is always in style. Stolen kisses, midnight galas, and backstabbing unfold, and Emmy learns that ambition has a dark side—and that she might too. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Once Upon a Broken Heart

By Stephanie Garber,

Book cover of Once Upon a Broken Heart

Why this book?

Once Upon a Broken Heart is a fairy tale with a knife. Here, you’ll discover wily stories that change their endings, a bad boy (…if he is indeed human…) with a deadly smile, and poisons delivered through kisses. 19th-century fashions abound but, just like the plot, these outfits all have unexpected twists. What I love is how this novel is a love letter to both the hopeless romantics and the cynics. 

Splinters of Scarlet

By Emily Bain Murphy,

Book cover of Splinters of Scarlet

Why this book?

Sometimes a single mansion can contain a world within itself and the one contained here must be explored at your own peril. Intricate passages, decadent décor, and an upstairs/downstairs divide await, along with murder, mystery, and magic. The story centers on a girl who possesses an insidious gift that can save the ones she loves but at a deadly cost. Told against a backdrop full of lavish ballet costumes, this novel left me wondering how far one should go for another, especially when the sacrifice might be fatal.  

The Poison Season

By Mara Rutherford,

Book cover of The Poison Season

Why this book?

The forest is hungry and the lake is thirsty and only outsiders can satiate them. Nature is its own intricate, brutal character in this artfully drawn novel about a girl who lives in an insular society protected by a seemingly vicious habitat. Outfits inspired by seasons and folklore enchant the mind’s eye, along with questions about whether the monsters in ourselves are scarier than those found in the forest deep or the lake’s depths. 

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy,

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

This icon of Russian literature presents an unflinching look at the human heart as it navigates its deepest passions while flung about by the currents of high society. Every aspect is used to its fullest potential, including the fashions which are as ravishing as they are symbolic. The heart is fickle but it has one constant: the need for a good outfit! 

The Other Boleyn Girl

By Philippa Gregory,

Book cover of The Other Boleyn Girl

Why this book?

Court life under the reign of Henry VIII comes to vivid, excruciating life in this novel following Mary Boleyn, a young girl used by her cunning family to seduce the king. But, as history reveals, such a quest can quickly turn deadly. A sibling rivalry plays out on pages that cannot be turned quickly enough while gowns and jewelry are used to catch the eye of the king and stay on top…and to keep one’s head. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in curses, Russia, and orphans?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about curses, Russia, and orphans.

Curses Explore 47 books about curses
Russia Explore 236 books about Russia
Orphans Explore 107 books about orphans

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Tombland, Hamnet, and Wild Swans if you like this list.