Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Fashion Academia

Over the past few months I've become more and more interested in fashion writing. Fashion as a study was something altogether new for me. Of course, I knew of costume history and costume design, whole university courses are dedicated to learning the intricacies of the 18th century corset, but this was something different. These books look at how and why clothes are used in literature, how historical clothing is presented in museums or how a fictional character's wardrobe speaks volumes about their place in society, and who they are. 

I've managed to hoard a few these type of books, as well as discovering some in my local library. Here are my 5 favourite 'Academic Fashion' books:

1. Dressed in Fiction by Clair Hughes.

This book combines two of my loves: fashion and fiction. Looking at specific moments in literature, Hughes examines the important role played by clothing. Her collection of essays focuses on iconic novels such as Wilkie Collin's The Woman in White, George Elliot's Middlemarch and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. I found her writing on Northanger Abbey and how Austen's Henry Tilney knows so much about fashion particularly interesting, and, although I have yet to read all of these classic novels, I found reading about clothing and costume in this way completely fascinating and refreshing.

2. Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson
Perhaps the best ever title for a book? First published 1985 this is a 'pop culture' style look at fashion. Wilson includes her observations on the fashion industry, fashion and gender, oppositional dress and fashion and feminism. Although it was written 30 years ago this is so on the ball and relevant to discussions we have about fashion today. Wilson talks about consumerism and fast fashion as well as whether a woman can wear lipstick and heels and still call herself a feminist. That we are still having these conversations today shows how much we still have to say about fashion and the role it plays in our everyday lives - and how on it Elizabeth Wilson was back then!

3. The Literary Companion to Fashion by Colin McDowell
I absolutely love that this book exists. As reviewed earlier on my blog here, The Literary Companion to Fashion is a compendium of fashion quotes. From Shakespeare to Joyce, Dickens to Woolf, the book includes every reference to dress you could possible want. All those iconic fashion moments in literature appear, from Meg getting dressed up for the ball in Little Women, to Scarlett O'Hara making dresses out of curtains in Gone with the Wind. This is such a brilliant reference book for the moments when fashion meets literature, although as it was published back in 1995 I'm sure there are many more quotes to be added to this list!

4. 400 Years of Fashion ed. by Natalie Rothstein
A friend gave me this as a birthday present a few years ago, and it was a lovely way of introducing me to costume history. The book is filled with some beautiful illustrations and photos (as shown above) and gives a broad overview of fashion history throughout the ages.

5. Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing
Finally, this little book sheds some light on clothing of the regency period and what Jane herself might have worn. When I studied Austen at university I used to love absorbing all the details of dress that are included in her novels, wondering about the part the played in her characters' lives - and this does just that.

I'm also really looking forward to Amber Jan Butchard's Nautical Chic book which is due to come out in March!

What are your favourite fashion books? I'd love to know in the comments!


  1. I stumbled onto your blog through your comment over at Clothes, Cameras, and Coffee, and I just love this post! I took a Costume Design course at university about a year ago and it sparked even more of a love for fashion history books than I already had. Two on your list above sound particularly great, especially The Literary Companion to Fashion. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of it! Thanks for this list!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I think the Literary Companion might be out of print but you should be able to find it second hand online. Lucky you studying costume design - sounds like a dream course! x