11 Must-Read Books About Iconic Women In Fashion

by Kerri Jarema

The fashion industry is a place where the outlandish and the chic can co-exist together in (well, mostly) harmony. Sometimes, the most classic designers live the craziest lives, and the most unique dressers can actually be the most traditional personalities. The fashion world is full of contradictions like these, sure, but it is also home to some of the most creative, pioneering, weird and wonderful women that have become icons for far more than what they are wearing. These are the women who turned the industry on its head, taking the reins from mostly male designers, or becoming inspirations for working women, or just changing the public's perceptions of what it means to wear age-appropriate clothing. These women, from androgynous icon Grace Jones to beloved Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington, have used fashion to express more than just style.

These are the women who have become modern day icons, changing not only the way we dress but the way we see ourselves: as fierce feminists, creative pioneers, career women and passionate creators; people who aren't afraid to stand out from the crowd, to make a little noise, and to look really, really well-dressed while doing it. If you've ever wanted to know more about clothes and the women who have become notorious for helping shape the way we wear them, add these eleven books to your TBR immediately.


'Edie: American Girl' by Jean Stein

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Edie Sedgwick exploded into the public eye like a comet. She seemed to have it all: she was aristocratic and glamorous, vivacious and young, Andy Warhol’s superstar. But within a few years she flared out as quickly as she had appeared, and before she turned twenty-nine she was dead from a drug overdose. In a dazzling tapestry of voices—family, friends, lovers, rivals — Edie Sedgwick’s life is brilliantly captured. And so is the Pop Art world of the ‘60s: the sex, drugs, fashion, music — all glitter and flash on the outside, it was hollow and desperate within. Alternately mesmerizing and horrifying, this book shattered many myths about the ‘60s experience in America.


'Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph Of Helen Gurley Brown' by Gerri Hirshey

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When Gurley Brown published her book Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, it sold more than two million copies in just three weeks, helping to usher in the unapologetic self-affirmation of second wave feminism. The book catapulted Brown into national renown, cementing her status as a complex and divisive feminist personality. Gerri Hirshey traces Brown's path from the Arkansas Ozarks to becoming the highest-paid female ad copywriter on the West Coast, and transforming Hearst's failing literary magazine, Cosmopolitan, into the female-oriented global juggernaut it is today. Not Pretty Enough shines new light on the life of one of the most incomparable and indelible women of the 20th century.


'I'll Never Write My Memoirs' by Grace Jones

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As a singer, model, and actress—a deluxe triple threat—Grace Jones has consistently been an extreme, challenging presence in the entertainment world since her emergence as an international model in the 1970s. Celebrated for her audacious talent and trailblazing style, Jones became one of the most unforgettable, free-spirited characters to emerge from the historic Studio 54. Her provocative shows in underground New York nightclubs saw her hailed as a disco queen, gay icon, and gender defying iconoclast. In the memoir she once promised never to write, Jones offers an intimate insight into her evolving style, personal philosophies, and varied career.


'I'll Drink To That: A Life In Style, With A Twist' by Betty Halbreich

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Betty Halbreich is a true original. A tough broad, she has spent nearly forty years as the legendary personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, where she works with socialites, stars, and ordinary women off the street. She has helped many find their true selves through clothes, frank advice, and her own brand of wisdom. But Halbreich’s personal transformation from a cosseted young girl to a fearless truth teller is the greatest makeover of her career. Meticulous, impeccable, hardworking, elegant, and—most of all—funny, Halbreich has never been afraid to tell it to her clients straight. As Halbreich says, “There are two things nobody wants to face: their closet and their mirror.” She helps women do both, every day.


'The Woman I Wanted To Be' by Diane Von Furstenberg

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Diane von Furstenberg started out with a suitcase full of jersey dresses and an idea of who she wanted to be. She has since established herself as a global brand and a major force in the fashion industry, all the while raising a family. In The Woman I Wanted to Be, von Furstenberg reflects on her extraordinary life from childhood in Brussels to her days as a young, jet-set princess, to creating the dress that came to symbolize independence and power for an entire generation of women. She opens up about her family and career, overcoming cancer, building a global brand, and devoting herself to empowering other women.


'Rare Bird Of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel' by Eric Boman

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With remarkable panache and discernment, 95-year-old Iris Apfel combines styles, colors, textures, and patterns without regard to period, provenance, or aesthetic conventions making her one of the most unique style icons. In over ninety sumptuous color plates, photographed by Eric Boman, show off a selection of Apfel's extraordinary outfits. Detailed captions describe every aspect of the outfits, including names and dates of designers, plus full information on fabrics and accessories. The book also includes an essay by Apfel herself, describing her lifelong love affair with style and illustrated with vintage photographs from her personal collection.


'Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years' Edited by Alexander Vreeland

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When Diana Vreeland became editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1963, she initiated a transformation, shaping the magazine into the dominant U.S. fashion publication. Vreeland rarely held meetings and communicated with her staff through memos dictated from her office or Park Avenue apartment. This compilation of more than 250 pieces of Vreeland’s personal correspondence includes letters and memos that show the direction of some of Vogue’s most legendary stories. They display Vreeland’s irreverence and reveal her bold ideas about the Vogue woman and what the magazine should be. Each chapter is introduced by commentary from Vogue editors who worked with her, giving readers a truly inside look at how Diana Vreeland directed the course of the magazine and fashion world.


'Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion' by Lauren Goldstein Crowe

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In 2007, the news of Isabella Blow's suicide at the age of 48 made headlines around the world—but there is more to the story of Isabella than her tragic end. The key supporter and muse of milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen, Blow was truly more than a muse or patron. She was a spark, an electrical impulse that set imaginations racing, an individual who pushed others to create their best work. Her fascination with clothing began early, as did a willingness to wear things — and say things — that would amuse and shock. This is an extraordinary biography of Isabella Blow, whose pedigree, wild style, and outrageous antics catapulted her onto the London social scene and made her a fashion icon.


'Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career Of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer' by Jay Jorgensen

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All About Eve. Funny Face. Sunset Blvd. Rear Window. Sabrina. A Place in the Sun. The Ten Commandments. Scores of iconic films of the last century had one thing in common: costume designer Edith Head. She racked up an unprecedented 35 Oscar nods and 400 film credits over the course of a 50-year career.Never before has the account of Hollywood’s most influential designer been so thoroughly revealed — because never before have the Edith Head Archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences been tapped. This unprecedented access allows this book to be a one-of-a-kind survey, bringing together a spectacular collection of rare and never-before-seen sketches, costume test shots, behind-the-scenes photos, and ephemera.


'Grace: A Memoir' by Grace Coddington

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Grace Coddington’s extraordinary talent and fierce dedication to her work as creative director of Vogue have made her an international icon. Here, Grace creatively directs the reader through the storied narrative of her life so far. Grace describes her early career as a model before she stepped behind the camera to become a fashion editor at British Vogue in the late 1960 before joining American Vogue in 1988. Grace reveals her private world with equal candor — the car accident that almost derailed her modeling career, her two marriages, the untimely death of her sister, her abiding relationship with Anna Wintour, and the evolving mastery by which she has come to define the height of fashion.


'Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life' by Lisa Chaney

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Revolutionizing women’s dress, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the twentieth century’s most influential designer. Her extraordinary and unconventional journey—from abject poverty to a new kind of glamour—helped forge the idea of modern woman. Witty and mesmerizing, she became muse, patron, or mistress to the century’s most celebrated artists, including Picasso, Dalí, and Stravinsky. Drawing on newly discovered love letters and other records, Chaney’s controversial book reveals the truth about Chanel’s drug habits, her lesbian affairs, and her German lover during World War II, and explores the origins, creative power, and secret suffering of this exceptional and often misunderstood woman.