The 21 Best Fashion Books of All Time, According to Professors

The 21 Best Fashion Books of All Time, According to Professors

These are the titles they’ll always treasure.

Whether you’re new to fashion and aching to know more or looking to further your expertise, there’s no better portal to knowledge than a book.

Tasked with educating the next generation of designers, editors and industry changemakers, fashion professors have unique insights into the best texts on the subject. So we asked scholars at the New School, the Pratt Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design and more about the fashion-related titles they consider must-reads. And each is abundant in new learnings, whether to inspire your creativity or power your hunger to learn more.

From historical reports (like Robin Givhan’s “The Battle of Versailles“) to a tome about the sneaker’s cultural power, these are the 21 best fashion books, according to professors.

“Little Black Dress” by André Leon Talley, $50, available here

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Photo: Adam Kuehl/Skira Rizzoli

“This is a wonderful collection and history of the little black dress, as only André Leon Talley can tell it!” —Professor Adrienne Jones, Pratt Institute

“The Art of Dressing Curves: The Best-Kept Secrets of a Fashion Stylist” by Susan Moses, $35, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Harper Design

“The ultimate handbook for anyone who has curves! Susan has styled some of the most celebrated curves (Jill Scott, Queen Latifah, Emme) and gives you everything you need to know to make you look your best.” —Prof. Jones

“Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel” by Eric Boman, $65, available here

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“The undisputed queen of style! When this exhibit was at the Met, I must have gone at least eight times, in hopes of meeting her. It didn’t happen then (that story is for another time), so I bought the book. Every single page is dripping with fabulousness. It’s one of my personal sources of inspiration; only for the true fashionistas.” —Prof. Jones

“The Battle of Versailles” by Robin Givhan, $24, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of St. Martins Press-3PL

“It’s a brilliant book on fashion history with a peek into the early days of fashion policy in Washington. I loved how Givhan weaved in fashion’s complex relationship with copying, intellectual property protection and advocacy efforts to include fashion in federal legislation, taking readers back to the late Eleanor Lambert’s 1963 congressional testimony. Givhan framed the battle between American and French fashion while providing an in-depth look into racial and political issues in the 1960s and 70s, with many similarities to present-day injustices and activism.” —Professor Kenya Wiley, Georgetown University and the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School

“Fashion Law and Business: Brands and Retailers” by Howard S. Hogan and Jennifer Bellah Maguire, $175, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Practising Law Institute

“I always recommend ‘Fashion Law and Business: Brands and Retailers’ (Second Edition) by Howard S. Hogan and Jennifer Bellah Maguire. It’s required reading for my Fashion Law and Social Justice course, and it’s a great reference book for attorneys, designers and other industry professionals.” —Prof. Wiley

“Sneaker Law: All You Need to Know About the Sneaker Business” by Kenneth Anand and Jared Goldstein, $99, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Sneaker Law LLC

“It’s a great read for designers, entrepreneurs and anyone interested in working in the footwear industry. Anand and Goldstein are unapologetic about their passion for sneakers, and their authenticity shows throughout the book. They provide a good balance of discussing the history of sneakers and business and legal concepts, while also highlighting evolving issues around collabs, sustainable manufacturing and the growing resale market.” —Prof. Wiley

“Sneaker Freaker: The Ultimate Sneaker Book” by Simon Wood, $60, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Taschen

“This 600+ page collector’s book is one of my personal favorites because of how detailed its storyline is in telling the lineage of sneakers and how it affected culture. From the infamous Chuck Taylor to the modern-day technological advancements of the Nike Air Max series, it gives complete insight into what makes sneaker culture so aspirational to millions of people worldwide.” — Professor Quintin “Q” Williams, Savannah College of Art and Design

“SLAM KICKS: Basketball Sneakers That Changed the Game” by Ben Osborne, $40, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Universe Publishing(NY)

“From the hardwoods to the concrete, basketball sneakers are not only designed for performance, but the evolution of them has now doubled to off-court fashion. Through contributions from sneaker fanatics like Scoop Jackson and Russ Bengtson, it takes a deeper look into how select legendary styles transitioned themselves into the daily lives of sneaker fashionistas, along with explanations of performance features that made them unique for their time.” —Prof. Williams

“Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide” by U-Dox, $30, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

“What makes sneaker releases even more special is when they’re collaborative and/or limited. Whether that’s Reebok’s exclusive 2006 release of the ALIFE ‘The Ball Out’ Court Force Victory Pump that utilized tennis-ball felt for the upper, or Adidas‘ collaborations with the infamous, quirky Jeremy Scott, this book gives excellent representations of what makes this industry so special: innovative material selections and storytelling.” —Prof. Williams

“A Visible Man” by Edward Enninful, $30, available here 

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Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Press

Enninful is the most qualified person to replace Anna Wintour, and, in this book, he makes a strong case for his candidature. You know why else I love this book? It’s the references for me. There are names that you will recognize, like Naomi Campbell and Pat McGrath, but there are others who have been lost in the churn of the fashion system. Enninful evacuates them and shares how they contributed to his ascent. This book pairs well with ‘The Chiffon Trenches‘ by the late André Leon Talley. I would have loved to see them in conversation.” — Professor Jonathan Square, Parsons School of Design

“Dressed in Dreams” by Tanisha Ford, $28, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

“Tanisha Ford is an academic like myself, but this book is more memoir than monograph. Ford’s scholarship has shaped the way I understand the relationship between fashion history and African American identity. However, ‘Dressed in Dreams’ was game-changer. Ford is on the forefront of breaking barriers between academia and popular writing. The book is fun, vulnerable and just plain readable.” —Prof. Square

“Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible” by Tim Gunn, $25, available here

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Tim Gunn is an undying inspiration for my fashion pedagogy. I’ll be teaching a class at Parsons next fall that he conceptualized, and I got to make it work! You can’t go wrong with any of what Tim Gunn says or writes, but his fashion bible is a particularly useful resource. It’s less a bible and more of an accessible history of the most common garments in our closets.” —Prof. Square

“D.V.” by Diana Vreeland, $17, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Ecco Press

Diana Vreeland is my problematic fave. She was a product of her times, despite being an eccentric and free spirit. The book is chock full of zesty quotable quotes, like, ‘I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, the sort of life you had lived before and what you will do in it later.’ Or, ‘I can’t imagine becoming bored with red — it would be like becoming bored with the person you love.’ She said that Black people should not be offended if white people wear blackamoors. Eek.” —Prof. Square

“Unraveled: Life and Death of a Garment” by Maxine Bédat, $27, available here

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“This is required reading in my class. Maxine’s book is one of the most accessible, comprehensive and credible reads if you want to have a holistic understanding of the systemic issues in the fashion industry. It’s an engaging read, narratively captivating and always one of the favorite reads for my students.” — Professor Michelle Gabriel, Glasgow Caledonian New York College

“Empire of Cotton: A Global History” by Sven Beckert, $19, available here

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“This book is a great comprehensive discussion of the geopolitical and historical influence of cotton and fashion on the world we see today. Through a history of mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism and the histories of both India and the Americas, Beckert masterfully discusses the complex legacy of cotton in our modern world.” —Prof. Gabriel

“The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy” by Gilles Lipovestsky, $46, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Princeton University Press

“There’s a direct line between the consumption behavior fashion has driven over the last 70+ years and the mass transition we have experienced in democratic societies from identifying primarily as ‘citizens’ to identifying primarily as ‘consumers.’ It has had direct effects on the quality of our democracies and the responsibility we no longer feel to be active participants in democratic society; we now see our responsibility as ‘voting with our dollar.’ Lipovetsky does the great work to draw these correlations and argues that there have been positive outcomes from this relationship. Written in 1994, it’s for you to judge whether his predictions were overly optimistic or accurate for the world and fashion industry we see today.” —Prof. Gabriel

“Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity” by Elizabeth Wilson, $17, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Rutgers University Press

“Originally published in 1985, Wilson’s work serves as a foundational text to understand the phenomenon of fashion in our modern world. The theoretical side of fashion is often either overlooked or mythologized, in effect marginalizing it entirely. In reality, the theories of fashion as a psychological and sociological phenomenon are massively important to understanding our most unsavory fashion behaviors — overconsumption, exclusion, neocolonialism, loss of life in the supply chain — and without that understanding, we will continue to engage in caustic and negative behavior in the name of fashion.” —Prof. Gabriel

“Freedom” by Zygmunt Bauman, $30, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press

“Our collective relationship to consumption is a very present topic as of late; we watch companies, brands and individuals engage in mental gymnastics to build a system and world where overconsumption doesn’t need to be dealt with to build a more sustainable and positive fashion industry. This should be seen for what it is, as a shirking of responsibility from all parties to deal with untenable, destructive business models and addictions to consumption which are indications of much larger social issues. Preeminent sociologist Bauman asks important questions about what it means to be free in a consumption-driven society and makes clear the ways consumption can serve as a tool for repressive control. He asks an essential question: What happens when freedom moves from broader context to be exclusively correlated with the freedom to consume?” —Prof. Gabriel

“The House of Beauty and Culture” by Kasia Maciejowska (out of print)

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Photo: Courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Arts

“The House of Beauty and Culture emerged in ’80s London, not the ’80s that’s so thoroughly documented, as a revolt and irreverent response to mass production and a fractured social climate in the UK. Growing up, I was obsessed. HOBAC was a collective, it was fashion, culture, art and craft. Bricolage as process. Trash becoming treasure, and night clubs as the social network. HOBAC’s ethos continues to inspire.” —Professor Lisa Morgan, Rhode Island School of Design

“Dissolving the Ego in Fashion” by Danielle Bruggerman, $27, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of ArtEZ Press

“The power of tweaking the visual pleasure button — whereby a look becomes a commodity — has come to dominate the experience of fashion at the disembodied expense of sensorial pleasures and the complex multi-layered relational and affecting possibilities of clothing. This small but potent book explores critical theories related to fashion’s human dimension and how we might redefine value systems as a means to engage a more meaningful future society.” —Prof. Morgan

“The Slow Grind: Finding Our Way Back to Creative Balance” by Georgina Johnson, $30, available here

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Photo: Courtesy of Georgina Johnson

“I keep returning to this anthology. It’s a responsive heartbeat to an accelerating and flawed fashion system. Radical change is proposed through care-filled practices and intersectional approaches/engagement.” —Prof. Morgan

“The New Black Vanguard” by Antwaun Sargent, $50, available here

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“Joy! Pouring over the images, the rush of embodied understanding was/is glorious and profound.” —Prof. Morgan

Please note: Occasionally, we use affiliate links on our site. In no way do either affect our editorial decision-making. Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity. 

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