For a short, misguided time in my youth, I thought clothes and books were mutually exclusive. I'd been raised on narratives that dictated girls had to be smart or pretty, never both; that paying any mind to your appearance was arbitrary at best, superficial at worst. Everything worked nicely in these black-and-white rules until, of course, it didn't — I became friends with other girls who were band geeks and science fair champions and who also took great pride in frequenting the mall. I continued to read my beloved books, but would occasionally take a break to circle everything I wanted in the dELiA*s catalog.
Over the years, it became clear just how personal personal style was. A dress was never simply a dress — and loving one certainly wasn't cause for ridicule. It was your mother's hand-sewn dress from the '70s, or the dress you bought with your first real paycheck, or simply the dress that made you feel like a million bucks. Clothing became a vehicle to remind myself of my own stories, and to project that feeling, however small, to others — and suddenly I wanted to know if others felt the same.
These 7 books below illustrate the impact of clothing on both personal and public lives, from reading an actress's tale behind her beloved, broken-in boyfriend shirt, to going backstage on the front lines of the fashion biz. Try them on, feel around in their pockets: you'll come out with a better appreciation for the shirt on your back.
Worn Stories by Emily Spivack
For me, the most appealing kind of fashion books have both an aesthetic and literary element that draws me in, and this one delivers. Spivack has collected personal stories from well-known names such as Greta Gerwig, Simon Doonan, and Maira Kalman, each sharing a tidbit of their lives connected to a significant piece of clothing. It's the ultimate nosy peek into others' private worlds — without feeling like a creep.
The WORN Archive by Serah-Marie McMahon
For eight years, the Canada-based fashion magazine WORN graced both the Internet and the newsstands in the coolest bookstores. It no longer exists as a periodical, but luckily, the best of the mag has ended up in this tome, which features essays on our relationship to certain types of clothing, the history of garments, and even how to tie a tie — essentially, a long (and informative!) love letter to fashion that would look sharp sitting on your shelf.
9 1/2 Narrow by Patricia Morrisroe
They say you don't know someone until you walk in her shoes — or, in this case, read her memoir. Morrisroe's life story is segmented by the style of shoes she's worn. Breaking down a whole life through footwear, from Catholic-school saddle shoes to wedding day pumps, reminds us of the many emotional milestones we mark with our feet.
Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen
The magic of being old enough that you have run out of effs to give is captured expertly in this book, culled from the popular blog of the same name. Keep this one on your coffee table for those less-than-positive feelings about your body or style: these ladies will remind you that you've totally got this.
Leave Your Mark by Aliza Licht
PR girl and fashionista I am not — but I am still drawn to books about them. I picked this one, written by Donna Karan International's Global SVP of Communications (a mouthful, right?), on whim. Licht promises to mentor through her advice on nailing interviews and building a personal brand, but what I found the most compelling were her behind-the-scenes tales of the fashion world throughout. It might not change your life, but you'll get the thrill of gossip and maybe a nice boost of career motivation.
The Glitter Plan by Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor
Here's another book I came into with no expectations: would I really want to hear about the rise of the duo responsible for the distinctly early-aughts silhouette of the velour jumpsuit? In fact, I was — hearing how Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor pursued their dream so relentlessly was a fascinating look at taking risks, having business savvy, and hopping on a trend when they saw one. All in all, a thrilling, quick hit of the fashion biz that will make you want to dig up your old pair of terry sweatpants, because feelings. And if reading about fashion-industry moguls is your thing, you'd be wise to pick up Sophia Amoruso's #GIRLBOSS , too.
Service and Style by Jan Whitaker
What's cooler than reading about how we wear clothes now? Hearing about how we wore it then — and, more important, how we bought it. This fascinating book takes a look at the rise of the American department store from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. Perfect for history buffs and vintage lovers who wish shopping was an all-day event once more.