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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Cora Harrington Why did I love 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.

By Elizabeth Wayland Barber,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Women's Work as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women's unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have…


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

Cora Harrington Why did I love 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.

By Taschen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Clothes define people. A person's attire, whether it's a sari, kimono, or business suit, is an essential code to his or her culture, class, personality, even faith. Founded in 1978, the Kyoto Costume Institute recognizes the importance of understanding clothes from sociological, historical, and artistic perspectives. With one of the world's most extensive clothing collections, the KCI has amassed a wide range of historical garments, underwear, shoes, and fashion accessories dating from the 18th century to the present day.

Showcasing the Institute's vast collection, Fashion History is a fascinating excursion through the last three centuries of clothing trends. Featuring impeccable…


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

Cora Harrington Why did I love 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.

By Lydia Edwards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Read a Dress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fashion is ever-changing, and while some styles mark a dramatic departure from the past, many exhibit subtle differences from year to year that are not always easily identifiable. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Dress is an authoritative visual guide to women's fashion across five centuries.

Each entry includes annotated color images of historical garments, outlining important features and highlighting how styles have developed over time, whether in shape, fabric choice, trimming, or undergarments. Readers will learn how garments were constructed and where their inspiration stemmed from at key…


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

Cora Harrington Why did I love 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.

By Alison Matthews David,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fashion Victims as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From insidious murder weapons to blaze-igniting crinolines, clothing has been the cause of death, disease and madness throughout history, by accident and design. Clothing is designed to protect, shield and comfort us, yet lurking amongst seemingly innocuous garments we find hats laced with mercury, frocks laden with arsenic and literally 'drop-dead gorgeous' gowns.

Fabulously gory and gruesome, Fashion Victims takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the lethal history of women's, men's and children's dress, in myth and reality. Drawing upon surviving fashion objects and numerous visual and textual sources, encompassing louse-ridden military uniforms, accounts of the fiery deaths…


Book cover of Underwear: Fashion in Detail

Cora Harrington Why did I love 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.

By Eleri Lynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Underwear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From camisoles to corsets, basques to boudoir caps and girdles to garters, Underwear: Fashion in Detail gets up close to some of the most intimate items in the V&A. The book traces the evolution of underwear, from rare examples dating from the sixteenth century and the exaggerated shapes of eighteenth-century courtly undergarments, to Dior's curvaceous 'New Look' girdles to contemporary lingerie by Agent Provocateur and Rigby and Peller. Meticulous colour photography shows these fascinating garments in close detail, while intricate line drawings reveal their construction. The book also highlights the work of designers such as Vionnet and Westwood, who have…


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The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

Book cover of The Romanov Heiress

Jennifer Laam Author Of The Romanov Heiress

New book alert!

Who am I?

A proud native of Stockton, CA, Jennifer Laam resides in California with a temperamental tabby cat named Jonesy. Her other works of historical fiction are The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), cooing at Baby Yoda, or obsessing over House Targaryen. 

Jennifer's book list on the last Romanovs

What is my book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed. An alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter Of The Tsar.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, former Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships. But they can’t distance themselves from the world forever.

The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

What is this book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed...an alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Lost Season of Love and Snow.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships.

But they…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fashion, clothing, and feminism?

9,000+ 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 49 books about fashion
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Feminism Explore 308 books about feminism