The best books about the history of fashion

Who am I?

Clothing is one of the most important aspects of our humanity, of the things which make us who we are. We use fashion to identify allies and enemies. To express our interests, politics, and belief systems. To make a statement about who we are to the outside world. To show our identity or ethnicity. Or to indicate our affiliation with certain groups. Fashion is everywhere, but compared to other disciplines, is very rarely talked about. Though I'm a lingerie expert, fashion in its totality interests me. I’m excited every time I learn something new, not just because I enjoy pretty garments, but because I also learn something about the nature of who we are.


I wrote...

In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie

By Cora Harrington,

Book cover of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie

What is my book about?

A comprehensive and accessible illustrated guide to lingerie from intimates expert Cora Harrington, founder of The Lingerie Addict, the internet's top intimate apparel blog.

While many love the idea of wearing special underthings, lingerie can be intimidating. How is it supposed to fit? How do you take care of it all? Is lingerie really for me? In this beautiful and empowering guide, lingerie expert Cora Harrington demystifies intimate apparel, making it accessible to all sizes, ages, and budgets. Covering everything from basic bras and panties to special occasion wear, shapewear, hosiery, corsets, and more, this no-nonsense handbook empowers you to confidently buy, wear, and care for the underpinnings of your dreams.

The books I picked & why

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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

By Elizabeth Wayland Barber,

Book cover of Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

Why this book?

Women’s Work is considered a seminal text in the study of fashion - whether that’s costume history, the culture of fashion, the history of textiles, or even the intersection of labor and feminism. If you’re interested in the study of garments, in learning why thread and cloth and sewing were so important in the past as well as why it continues to be important today, there is no better place to get started. This book has been popular for decades for a reason. Women’s Work helps to restructure and reorient your thinking around what we wear, a necessary component to understanding fashion.


Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century

By Taschen,

Book cover of Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century

Why this book?

Fashion is, of course, a visual medium. It’s also one with a very long history. If you want to get familiar with what people have been wearing for the last few centuries, this is the book. All the garments are taken from the Kyoto Costume Institute, a place I hope to visit one day. I’ve read this book cover to cover several times (even accidentally purchasing it more than once!), and I consider it an essential volume in my research library.


How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century

By Lydia Edwards,

Book cover of How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century

Why this book?

Like my previous recommendation, How to Read a Dress is heavy on the visuals, but unlike my previous recommendation, this book gives you the language to describe and talk about what you’re seeing. If you’re ready to move beyond the basics and get a little more detailed in your study of fashion, How to Read a Dress is the perfect next step.


Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present

By Alison Matthews David,

Book cover of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present

Why this book?

From poisonous gowns to flammable petticoats, Fashion Victims shares the dark side of fashion history. What was the human cost to those beautiful gowns, both in terms of the wearers and the makers? This book is a little grimmer than my previous recommendations but no less interesting. A fascinating read.


Underwear: Fashion in Detail

By Eleri Lynn,

Book cover of Underwear: Fashion in Detail

Why this book?

Of course, I can’t put together a list of fashion books without dedicating one of them to lingerie. Underwear: Fashion in Detail was one of the first lingerie-focused books I purchased (the other was Valerie Steel’s The Corset, unfortunately no longer in print). Full of amazing photos and equally amazing diagrams, if you want to learn about lingerie specifically, this is where to start.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fashion, clothing, and feminism?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fashion, clothing, and feminism.

Fashion Explore 34 books about fashion
Clothing Explore 23 books about clothing
Feminism Explore 184 books about feminism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Great War Fashion, Sexing La Mode, and The Ten if you like this list.