The best books about clothing

19 authors have picked their favorite books about clothing and why they recommend each book.

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Great War Fashion

By L.J. Adlington, Lucy Adlington,

Book cover of Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe

On a lighter note, this book is a wonderful journey through what everyone wore, not just the fashions but the uniforms, the make-do-and-mend, maternity wear, underclothes, knitting for the soldiers, wartime washing-day, trousers for women (shock! horror!), a kit for lady footballers and lady drivers, and how the war changed women’s clothing along with their lives. Full of illustrations, delicious cartoons, and WW1 advertisements, this book is quite simply a wonderful read, as well as wonderfully informative.


Who am I?

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the author of the internationally acclaimed Morland Dynasty books. Five volumes of this comprehensive historical series focus on WW1, covering the military campaigns and the politics behind them. With the approach of the WW1 centennials, she was asked to write about the period again, this time from the point of view of the people who stayed at home. The result was the six-volume series, War At Home, which views the war from a more personal perspective, through the eyes of the fictional Hunter family, their servants, and friends.


I wrote...

Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

By Cynthia Harrod-Eagles,

Book cover of Goodbye, Piccadilly: War at Home, 1914

What is my book about?

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants, and neighbours, life will never be the same again. For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below the stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of the German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye.

The Business of Beauty

By Jessica P. Clark,

Book cover of The Business of Beauty: Gender and the Body in Modern London

Am starting with a tiny cheat as this book isn’t just about women – although it is about the beauty industry which is usually associated with women. What this book is -however – is an exploration about the history of beauty, consumption and gender in Victorian and Edwardian London. It is packed with stories of women beauty salon owners like Sarah “Madame” Rachel Leverson, Helen Rubinstein and Anna Ruppert. I’ve been working on a book that features Anna Rupert and Clark’s book has been an invaluable resource and a great in depth study on the subject.


Who am I?

I’m a writer interested in the odd areas where science and consumerism touch – particularly where this intersects with women workers. My debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium tells the history of radioactivity through the eyes of the people who made, bought, and sold products laced with radium in the 20th century. The follow-up title will explore the deadly element Uranium.


I wrote...

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

By Lucy Jane Santos,

Book cover of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

What is my book about?

Of all the radioactive elements discovered at the end of the nineteenth century, it was radium that became the focus of both public fascination and entrepreneurial zeal. Half Lives tells the fascinating, curious, sometimes macabre story of the element through its ascendance as a desirable item - a present for a queen, a prize in a treasure hunt, a glow-in- the-dark dance costume - to its role as a supposed cure-all in everyday twentieth-century life, when medical practitioners and business people (reputable and otherwise) devised ingenious ways of commodifying the new wonder element, and enthusiastic customers welcomed their radioactive wares into their homes.

Rich Apparel

By Maria Hayward,

Book cover of Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII's England

Maria Hayward is my go-to author for all things clothing and fashion in Tudor England. In this book, she focuses on dress during Henry VIII’s reign, and the sumptuary legislation that regulated what people could wear. However, this is more than just a study of legislation. Hayward also uses wills, portraits, inventories and letters to describe and analyse the actual clothes owned by people from across the social spectrum. Of particular use to newcomers to the history of fashion is the information she provides about the different types of fabric and accessories, and her glossary.


Who am I?

I am a historian and historic buildings consultant with a longstanding interest in 15th and 16th century England. In addition to my own work on memorials, funerals, and the Howard family, I have worked as a researcher and consultant for television and books, including being a production researcher for the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. 


I wrote...

The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

By Kirsten Claiden-Yardley,

Book cover of The Man Behind the Tudors: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

What is my book about?

Understand how Thomas' life shaped the recovery and success of the Howard family through his military prowess and navigation of the political landscape of Tudor England. Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, lived a remarkable life spanning eighty years and the reigns of six kings. Amongst his descendants are his granddaughters, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and his great-granddaughter, Elizabeth I. The foundations of this dramatic and influential dynasty rest on Thomas' shoulders, and it was his career that placed the Howard family in a prominent position in English society and at the Tudor royal court.

Chinese Clothing

By Hua Mei,

Book cover of Chinese Clothing

So you wish to paint your lips red like ancient Chinese women but are worried about confusing your Tang from your Ming. Get your make-up right with this manual. This succinct and wonderfully illustrated book is a treasure for lovers of Chinese fashion history or historical novelists like myself who may not be fluent in mandarin and depend on English publications. Creating vivid descriptions of concubines or Ming court characters is made easy when you can visualise exactly how people dressed or painted their faces during the different periods of China’s long history, including the Ming dynasty. I loved this book as it informed me about hairstyles, make-up, shoes, hats, clothing, and even the different insignias embroidered on eunuch clothing depending on their rank. With attention to variations across ethnicities and insights on historical and social changes, this book is a must-have.  


Who am I?

I am an honours graduate in aerospace engineering and psychology and I have written five historical novels. My debut novel, The Ming Storytellers, is set during China’s Ming dynasty and was well-reviewed by the Historical Novel Society. To pen this 600-page saga, I spent six years researching the Ming dynasty while studying a year of mandarin. I have travelled to Beijing, along the Great Wall, and to China’s southwestern province of Yunnan. Being a descendant of the Vietnamese royal family gave me access to rich genealogical sources passed down from my scholarly ancestors. These stories of concubines, eunuchs, and mandarins made the past come alive, complementing my research with plausible drama.


I wrote...

The Ming Storytellers

By Laura Rahme,

Book cover of The Ming Storytellers

What is my book about?

Set against the backdrop of China’s sixth naval expedition in the early Ming dynasty, this is the story of an imperial concubine’s rise in the reign of the Yong Le emperor, and her forbidden relationship with one of China’s most illustrious figures, Admiral Zheng He. A complex tale of thwarted love, adventure, crime, and mystery, The Ming Storytellers brings a cast of fascinating supporting characters. We meet a mysterious storyteller on board Zheng He’s ship whose long winding tale will turn out to be more than it originally seemed. Also traveling with the Ming fleet and bound for her home in Zanzibar, the secretive Persian traveller, Shahrzad, watches Zheng He closely. But what does she seek? 

A rich story unfolding in Beijing, on the Ming ships, and in a mountainous village in Yunnan, The Ming Storytellers explores a distant world and brings to life key events in China’s history.

Sexing La Mode

By Jennifer M. Jones,

Book cover of Sexing La Mode: Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France

A major divergence in the nature of elite men's and women’s clothing styles took place in the eighteenth century that symbolized a new understanding of both femininity and French national identity. The fancy dress men wore at court transformed into the sober black suit of the male professional, while women’s clothing became increasingly ornate, fussy, and “feminine” in the modern understanding of the term. Jones links fashion and gender systems to social, cultural, and economic practices—including the rise of consumer culture—and demonstrates why the study of fashion and sexuality are far from frivolous.


Who am I?

As a child (and budding feminist), I inhaled historical fiction about queens and other formidable women. This led to my scholarly interest in female power and authority. Aristocratic women had meaningful political influence in Old Regime France through family networks and proximity to power. However, with the French Revolution of 1789, women’s exclusion from political power (and the vote) was made explicit. This led me to examine the tools women had to accumulate political and social capital, including beauty and the control of fashion. We need to take the intersection of beauty, fashion, and politics seriously to understand the operation of power in both history and the modern world. The books I chose privilege my own interest in eighteenth-century France, but have a broader significance. And they are all really fun to read!


I wrote...

The Creation of the French Royal Mistress: From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry

By Tracy Adams, Christine Adams,

Book cover of The Creation of the French Royal Mistress: From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry

What is my book about?

This study explores the emergence and development of the position of the French royal mistress through detailed portraits of nine of its most significant incumbents. While kings have always had extraconjugal sexual partners, only in France did the royal mistress become a quasi-institutionalized political position.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, key structures converged to create a space at court for the royal mistress. The first was an idea of gender already in place: that while women were legally inferior to men, they were men’s equals in competence. For example, because of their legal subordinacy, queens were considered the safest regents for their husbands; in a similar fashion, the royal mistress was the surest counterpoint to the royal favorite. Second, the Renaissance was a period during which people began to experience space as theatrical. This shift to a theatrical world opened up new ways of imagining political guile, which came to be positively associated with the royal mistress.

The Age of Undress

By Amelia Rauser,

Book cover of The Age of Undress: Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s

The neoclassical style of dress—sheer, high-waisted muslin dresses that displayed a woman’s arms and eschewed traditional undergarments—that appeared in the late eighteenth century shaped European female fashions for nearly thirty years. Historians have often labeled the neoclassical movement associated with the Enlightenment and Age of Revolution as austere and masculine in its effects. However, Rauser effectively makes the case that women were at the center of 1790s neoclassicism in its most intense and embodied form, as creators and patrons—and that fashion, more so than other forms of art, reveals an era’s artistic and political culture.


Who am I?

As a child (and budding feminist), I inhaled historical fiction about queens and other formidable women. This led to my scholarly interest in female power and authority. Aristocratic women had meaningful political influence in Old Regime France through family networks and proximity to power. However, with the French Revolution of 1789, women’s exclusion from political power (and the vote) was made explicit. This led me to examine the tools women had to accumulate political and social capital, including beauty and the control of fashion. We need to take the intersection of beauty, fashion, and politics seriously to understand the operation of power in both history and the modern world. The books I chose privilege my own interest in eighteenth-century France, but have a broader significance. And they are all really fun to read!


I wrote...

The Creation of the French Royal Mistress: From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry

By Tracy Adams, Christine Adams,

Book cover of The Creation of the French Royal Mistress: From Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry

What is my book about?

This study explores the emergence and development of the position of the French royal mistress through detailed portraits of nine of its most significant incumbents. While kings have always had extraconjugal sexual partners, only in France did the royal mistress become a quasi-institutionalized political position.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, key structures converged to create a space at court for the royal mistress. The first was an idea of gender already in place: that while women were legally inferior to men, they were men’s equals in competence. For example, because of their legal subordinacy, queens were considered the safest regents for their husbands; in a similar fashion, the royal mistress was the surest counterpoint to the royal favorite. Second, the Renaissance was a period during which people began to experience space as theatrical. This shift to a theatrical world opened up new ways of imagining political guile, which came to be positively associated with the royal mistress.

The Ten

By Lauren Cochrane,

Book cover of The Ten: The Stories Behind the Fashion Chassis

What connects the most important fashion styles over the last 80 years? The answer: the stories of those who made these clothing items fashion and trends, often globally. Lauren Cochrane illustrates lavishly this with a wealth of exactly these stories and plenty of pictures. These 10 classic fashion items are part of the universal language of style we all somehow know but not too much about them: The White T-shirt, Miniskirt, Hoodie, Jeans, Ballet flat, Breton top, Biker jacket, Little black dress, Stiletto, Trench.

Familiar, commonplace, ubiquitous - each piece has become an emblem of a certain style, carrying its own connotations and historical significance. They aren't just clothes - our social history is contained within these perfect 10 pieces. They're vessels that hold the history of style, politics, and identity: while trends may come and go, these are here to stay.

The Ten puts fashion in context. Showing how…


Who am I?

I published the novel Ehrenfried & Cohn in 2016 about the decimation of the Jewish fashion industry in Berlin by the Nazis. I studied at the University of Arts in Berlin and became a fashion reporter for newspapers. Later I worked as a producer and journalist for German Public Broadcasting, the BBC in London, and PBS and CBS in New York City. I currently share my time between London and Berlin writing fact books on Jewish fashion and as a lecturer on fashion history in the US.


I wrote...

Ehrenfried and Cohn: Goodbye, Berlin - The Last Fashion Show

By Uwe Westphal,

Book cover of Ehrenfried and Cohn: Goodbye, Berlin - The Last Fashion Show

What is my book about?

Many years ago, I started to ask questions about the Nazi regime and its impact on the fashion industry in Berlin. I discovered there were about 90,000 employees in 2,700 Jewish fashion firms. All of these Jewish fashion companies were closed or confiscated. How did the state-run theft happen and how did the Nazis do it?

I advertised in England, the US, and France for eyewitnesses and I received many – often handwritten letters from former Berlin Jewish fashion designers or seamstresses. I condensed many of these reports into one fictional fashion firm, run by Kurt Ehrenfried and Simon Cohn. Ehrenfried & Cohn not only lose their property, their success, and their homes, they are forced to leave Berlin, the city of their success. After the war, Kurt Ehrenfried and designer Simon Cohn return from exile back to Berlin with the intention of reclaiming what had been so viciously stolen from them.

Jacob's New Dress

By Sarah Hoffman, Ian Hoffman, Chris Case (illustrator)

Book cover of Jacob's New Dress

This gentle picture book introduces us to Jacob who wants to dress up like his friend, Emily, and not in the costumes the other boys prefer. Despite being teased when he arrives at school wearing a dress fashioned from a towel, Jacob decides he wants a “real” dress. With support from his parents, he makes one of his own. Further teasing is met by Jacob’s expression of pride in his creation and refusal to compromise who he is. This colorful book promotes acceptance of gender nonconformance and can serve as an opener to discussions of the topic with young children.


Who am I?

I have always loved children. I love tiny babies just discovering the world around them. I love elementary-age kids who are taking pride in developing new skills and learning how to deal with challenges. I love teens who are questioning and rethinking the things they thought they knew. I also love the science and practice of psychology (my profession for over thirty years) and, I love books. To date, I have written nine books. My audience ranges from preschool to high school and topics include strategies to understand and cope with problems as well as psychology as a topic of study.


I wrote...

Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

By Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, Claire A. B. Freeland, Violet Lemay (illustrator)

Book cover of Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

What is my book about?

Carolyn is a happy, energetic, first-grader who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She’s excited to start her new year of school and make new friends. Yes I Can! follows Carolyn on a typical day at home, at school, and even on a field trip. She can do most of the things the other kids do, even if sometimes she has to do it a little differently.

Written by a physical therapist and two psychologists, this picture book includes a note to parents, caregivers, and teachers with more information about discussing disabilities with children and helping them to build positive empathic relationships.

Lena's Shoes Are Nervous

By Keith Calabrese, Juana Medina (illustrator),

Book cover of Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-Of-School Dilemma

Lena isn’t worried about the first day of kindergarten - but her shoes are. In this clever story we see various parts of Lena’s wardrobe taking on various personalities, possibly mirroring parts of Lena’s own personality. Her outgoing blue dress is ready for a new adventure, her friendly headband wants everyone to work together, of course, her fearful footwear wants to stay home. But when Lena threatens to wear her slippers to school, will her shoes muster the courage to march forward? A creative and witty book about facing your fears.


Who am I?

I am a children’s book creator and a parent. Raising an anxious child can be challenging. Events that many children find fun and exciting can be overwhelming and scary for your child. Seemingly small changes in their daily routine can throw some youngsters into a swirl of emotions that is upsetting to them and to those who love them. When I was searching for picture books to help the young worrier in my life, I looked for books that acknowledged their distressing feelings while giving them some strategies with which to cope with their overwhelming emotions. That premise became the theme of my Maud the Koala book series. 


I wrote...

Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

By J.E. Morris,

Book cover of Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

What is my book about?

Maud the Koala is excited. Today is her birthday and she is getting ready for her big party, after all, big birthdays are the best birthdays. Right? But Maud’s mother has some concerns when she discovers Maud invited 56 children to her backyard celebration. As the crowd builds, Maud starts feeling dizzy and slips behind a bush to find some peace and quiet. In the shrubbery, she finds Simon who is also overwhelmed by the hubbub. Slowly Maud and Simon reengage with the party at their own pace. Socially anxious children will relate to Maud and Simon as they realize big crowds aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

What People Wore When

By Melissa Leventon,

Book cover of What People Wore When: A Complete Illustrated History of Costume from Ancient Times to the Nineteenth Century for Every Level of Society

This is a pretty exhaustive study of how humans garb themselves, and how function, wealth and technology all influence fashion. Whether you’re telling the a tale of a doughty Georgian lace merchant, or the harrowing adventures of an inter-dimensional jazz band, you’re probably going to put your heroes in some sort of clothing, and this book gives you insight into all the various ways humans have found to do that.


Who am I?

I believe stories to be our species’ instinctual tool for discovering our best selves. Sometimes those stories are about real people in the past, sometimes they’re completely imagined people in the future — sometimes we even swap out the humans for animals or aliens, or sassy anthropomorphized objects. Whatever the case, for a story to work its wonders, its details must be believable, or we reject its premise. These books help make a story believable, and, if you get the alchemy just right, those details can even help tell the story themselves.


I wrote...

New in Town

By Kevin Cornell,

Book cover of New in Town

What is my book about?

One fine morning, the people of Puddletrunk wake up to find their bridge has collapsed. They are not surprised. After all, termites have destroyed the last 200 or so bridges. Luckily, the people of Puddletrunk have a bridge-building expert in their town: the fabulous Mortimer Gulch, who will gladly rebuild their bridge for a pretty penny. But when a newcomer to Puddletrunk does not want to pay for the repairs, Mortimer is displeased. To make matters worse, this unusual foreigner has some innovative ideas that threaten to upend Mortimer Gulch's entire business.

Here is a whimsical yet timely picture book allegory about what new people with new ideas can bring to communities.

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