100 books like Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century

By Taschen,

Here are 100 books that Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century fans have personally recommended if you like Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Lilith Saintcrow Author Of A Flame in the North

From my list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like any writer, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. Naturally, this means I read a lot of history. I love reference reading; I love researching arcane questions for a tiny detail that will bring a character or their world to life. Creating epic fantasy is an extension of both my drives as a reader and a writer. Pouring myself into characters who inhabit different settings is a deeply satisfying exercise in both craft and empathy, and each history book has some small bit I can use to make my settings more compelling, more enjoyable for readers, and more real.

Lilith's book list on European history books for writing Western epic fantasy

Lilith Saintcrow Why did Lilith love this book?

Too often, our idea of history (or prehistory) is of men doing things and women silently following. Barber dives into the history of textiles to show how spinning, weaving, and cloth were not only drivers of culture and civilization but also a major technological achievement akin to harnessing fire and developing agriculture.

I was blown away both by the book’s premise and by the obvious passion and breadth of knowledge Barber brought to showing just how the stunning leap forward taken by women with spindles kick-started what we think of as civilization.

We take clothes for granted, but the first person to think of cloth rather than animal skins gave a great gift to humanity, one which may never be equaled.

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

Cora Harrington Author Of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie

From my list on the history of fashion.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Cora's book list on the history of fashion

Cora Harrington Why did Cora 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 Author Of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie

From my list on the history of fashion.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Cora's book list on the history of fashion

Cora Harrington Why did Cora 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 Author Of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie

From my list on the history of fashion.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Cora's book list on the history of fashion

Cora Harrington Why did Cora 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…


Book cover of Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece

From my list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 

Sue's book list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Why did Sue love this book?

"The statements we make just by getting dressed in the morning." This book about fashion and dress codes, and how they interconnect with gender, sexuality, and class, is lively and thought-provoking. My own study of the women who appear in Greek vase paintings led me to look more closely at women’s relationship with their clothing. In particular their handling of shoes became a source of fascination, and in my current research I’m focussing on narratives around female footwear. In the book, Brydon’s chapter "Sensible Shoes" has been an inspiration. Stilettos, for example, are seen as being entirely ambiguous in their significance, items which can both empower and disable the wearer. Like the knife they are named after, they are double-edged. 

By Anne Brydon (editor), Sandra Niessen (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Clothing the body is one of the most complicated acts of daily existence. When a nun ponders red shoes, an architect knots his bowtie, a lesbian laces her Doc Marten's, or a nude model disrobes, each is engaging in a process of identity-making that is both intensely personal and deeply social. In an increasingly material world, negotiating dress codes is a nuanced art, informed by shifting patterns of power and authority, play and performance, as well as gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity and race. Drawing on ethnographic knowledge to connect theory and practice, authors reveal links between material culture, social and…


Book cover of How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir

Paige Harbison Author Of Anything to Have You

From my list on wasted women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire life in the literary industry, first being raised by an author and her two published sisters, then signing my own book deal at age nineteen. So basically, I am completely incapable of seeing the world through anything but a bookish lens. For this little project, I was asked to make some recommendations based on a subject I care about. I chose Wasted Women. These are books about women who deserve more out of life than they have—and about the consequences of letting a clever woman stay caged.

Paige's book list on wasted women

Paige Harbison Why did Paige love this book?

This one is literally about a wasted woman. It’s a fascinating non-fictional journey to be taken on by the author, who has led a fascinating, glittering New York life working for Conde Naste and other high-profile jobs. A life that she is consistently self-sabotaging through the abuse of drugs—particularly the ones prescribed to her by her father when she was a child. She is smart, sharp, interesting, interested in the world around her, and yet she continues to burn everything down time and time again.

By Cat Marnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Murder Your Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'I was twenty-six years old and an associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the top fashion magazines in America. That's all that most people knew about me. But beneath the surface, I was full of secrets: I was a drug addict, for one. A pillhead. I was also an alcoholic-in-training who guzzled warm Veuve Clicquot after work alone in my boss's office with the door closed; a conniving and manipulative uptown doctor-shopper; a salami-and-provolone-puking bulimic who spent a hundred dollars a day on binge foods when things got bad (and they got bad often); a weepy, wobbly, wildly hallucination-prone…


Book cover of Designer Dirty Laundry

Susie Black Author Of Death by Sample Size

From my list on humorous cozy mysteries set in the fashion industry.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec. I love solving puzzles, asking a lot of questions, and am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries set in the fashion industry was the natural next step for me to take. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write.

Susie's book list on humorous cozy mysteries set in the fashion industry

Susie Black Why did Susie love this book?

I love cozy mysteries with a witty protagonist who usually discovers the corpse. Clever dialogue in a fashion setting, with wacky supporting characters get me laughing, and a twisty plot I can’t figure out keeps me turning the pages. Designer Dirty Laundry is all of that rolled up into one laugh-out-loud story. I credit this book and series with giving me the impetus to write my debut cozy.

By Diane Vallere,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Wonderful read regardless of your fashion sense. Samantha Kidd could not be more entertaining and, surprisingly, relatable." ~Shawna, Reviewer

National bestselling author Diane Vallere delivers your new favorite fashionable amateur sleuth! Join Samantha Kidd as she trades high fashion for dirty laundry and learns a great wardrobe isn't enough to turn her life around, let alone catch a killer.

She expected the fashion industry to be ruthless. She wasn't prepared for it to turn deadly.

Ready to redesign her life, style expert Samantha Kidd accepts a job in her Pennsylvania hometown as a trend specialist. But her first day goes…


Book cover of Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War

Jillianne Hamilton Author Of The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street: A Heartwarming WW2 Historical Romance

From my list on daily life on the British homefront during WWII.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with English history around age 10 when I began reading historical fiction and non-fiction. I have maintained a history blog, The Lazy Historian, since 2015 and I published a casually written non-fiction book, The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII, in 2018. When I began writing my Homefront Hearts WWII romance trilogy, I threw myself into researching the well-documented daily lives of the English and the various challenges that came from “keeping calm and carrying on.”

Jillianne's book list on daily life on the British homefront during WWII

Jillianne Hamilton Why did Jillianne love this book?

In 1941, Britain was shocked to find out that the extra margarine coupons in their food ration books were actually to be used for clothing starting immediately since clothing was now also to be rationed. Clothes rationing, wartime makeup, wedding wear, uniforms (for men and women), restrictions placed on clothing design, fashion houses and magazines, “make-do and mend,” and more are all covered in this dense little book.

By Julie Summers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In September 1939, just three weeks after the outbreak of war, Gladys Mason wrote briefly in her diary about events in Europe: 'Hitler watched German siege of Warsaw. City in flames.' And, she continued, 'Had my wedding dress fitted. Lovely.'

For Gladys Mason, and for thousands of women throughout the long years of the war, fashion was not simply a distraction, but a necessity - and one they weren't going to give up easily. In the face of bombings, conscription, rationing and ludicrous bureaucracy, they maintained a sense of elegance and style with determination and often astonishing ingenuity. From the…


Book cover of The Women in Black

Kate Strasdin Author Of The Dress Diary: Secrets from a Victorian Woman's Wardrobe

From my list on featuring fashion.

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I can remember I have been absolutely gripped by the stories that old clothes can tell. From visiting fashion museums as a child to collecting books on the subject, I was drawn to the shapes, the fabrics, and the tales. I can remember a curator once telling me that clothes are the closest we can get to people in the past. They are the ghostly outlines of our ancestors and that has stayed with me. We give so much away about ourselves through the clothes we choose to wear and so they really do matter.

Kate's book list on featuring fashion

Kate Strasdin Why did Kate love this book?

Set in a mid-century department store, this wonderful short novel details life in a mid-20th-century frock department through the eyes of the women who worked there.

It is a book that highlights the importance of clothing in women’s lives at that time and the very specific kinds of garments. The tale follows Lisa as the news sales assistant in Cocktail Frocks and the friends she makes along the way. It is a sharply observed, funny, and tender story bringing the old department store alive.

By Madeleine St John,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Women in Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Madeleine St John weaves a fairytale which illuminates the extraordinariness of ordinary lives.


Book cover of The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris

Emma Baxter-Wright Author Of Chanel Paperscapes: The Book That Transforms Into a Work of Art

From my list on the provocative talents of the fashion industry.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a failed fashion designer, the history of twentieth-century fashion, represented both visually and in the form of narrative text, make up the bulk of my ever-increasing library of fashion books. In order to write about fashion, either as a biographer of one of the great designers or cutting-edge photographers, it is crucial to acknowledge what was deemed as desirable in a previous generation and a previous context. As Yves Saint Laurent famously said, "Fashion fades, Style is eternal." Fashion in its broader sense has never existed in a vacuum and an understanding of fashion history and fashion imagery, that so clearly evokes a specific era, is the very best way to appreciate the cyclical nature of this creative business.  

Emma's book list on the provocative talents of the fashion industry

Emma Baxter-Wright Why did Emma love this book?

Meticulously researched by brilliant fashion journalist Alicia Drake, this book charts the bitchy, high octane rivalry of two mega egos of the industry, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. As a journalist working today in an era of horrendous consumerism known as ‘fast fashion’ this detailed account of how both men were instrumental in shifting the established codes of a refined haute couture system into a faster-paced ready-to-wear market in the 1970s is illuminating. It also documents the evolution of couturier as a celebrity, detailing how YSL used an image of himself to promote his aftershave in 1971, a revolutionary idea of self-promotion at the time, and now a very necessary part of the ‘selfie’ obsessed generation of creatives working in fashion.  

By Alicia Drake,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Beautiful Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1950s Paris, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were friends, the rising stars of the fashion world. But by the late sixties, the city was invaded by a new mood of liberation and hedonism, and dominated by intrigue, infidelities, addiction and parties. Each designer created his own mesmerizing world, so vivid and seductive that people were drawn to the power, charisma and fame, and it was to make them bitter rivals. "The Beautiful Fall" is a dazzling expose of an era and the story of the two men who were its essence and who remain its most singular survivors.


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