The 9 Best Fashion History Books For The Stylish Historian

I’ve had a love for fashion history from a young age. When I was a little girl I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom, open my mum’s wardrobe, and pull out one of her prized possessions from her childhood – a fully complete collection of Brooke Bond collectable tea cards, charting the evolution of British fashion history, all perfectly stuck in their book.

I’m pretty sure my mum still has the book, but I’ve had to start my own collection. My bookshelf is slowly being occupied by more and more fashion history books.

Looking to start your own collection of fashion history books and don’t know where to start? Then my guide to the best fashion history books will be right up your street.

This book covers 5000 years of history to demonstrate the importance of communication through clothing, featuring 100 people from Sappho to Tutankhamen, Karl Marx and Michelle Obama. Its a great lens through which to look at the evolution of fashion. I also really like the fact the book features fashion history from several continents, which can be quite a rarity.

One of my best friends recently bought me this book by top fashion historian and curator Dr Kate Strasdin. Queen Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII and luckily for us a lot of her royal wardrobe has survived. Strasdin uses these objects to paint a full picture of Alexandra’s fashionable life, unlocking a rich tapestry of 19th Century royal dress and society in the process. My friend Jess from An Historian About Town has just written a review of the book if you need any more convincing.

There are certain dresses or outfits that go down in fashion history. From the elegant, such as Audrey Hepburn’s simple black shift or Princess Di’s never-ending wedding dress, the quirky, such as Björk’s Swan Dress or the Liz Hurley safety-pin dress, to the simply unforgettable—such as Marilyn’s famous moment in white in The Seven Year Itch. All these and more are covered in this fab little book.

Surviving Tudor garments are very rare so I think this book by Eleri Lynn, collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces, is something special. Fashion was pivitol in the communication of status and power in the Tudor period. You only have to think of Henry VIII and his massive codpiece in the works of Holbein or Elizabeth I’s rainbow portrait dripping with symbolism. Defo one for the bookshelf.

  • The ‘…in detail’ series by the Victoria and Albert Museum

This series of books has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while. The V&A Museum have produced several visually stunning guides covering fashion in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. The books look in detail at some of often overlooked aspects of fashion, such as the construction techniques, trimmings and button and fastenings. One for the true aficionado.

How To Read A Dress is a visual guide to women’s fashion across five centuries. I love the visual aspect of the book – each entry includes annotated colour images of historical garments, outlining important features and highlighting how styles have developed over time. If you fancy more fashion history, why not follow the author Lydia Edwards on Instagram? She featured in one of my first ever posts on the blog, all about my fave fashion history accounts.

There is a definite dearth of books about men’s fashion history out there, so when Lydia released the follow up to How To Read A Dress I knew I had to include it on the list! Its the same accessible format. With overviews of each key period and detailed illustrations for each new style, How to Read a Suit is an authoritative visual guide to the under-explored area of men’s fashion across four centuries.

  • Any of the fashion history exhibition books from the V&A

The V&A make the most beautiful coffee table books to accompany their famous fashion exhibitions. I’m lucky enough to have two in my possession, including the one from the current Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition. I also have the one from the 2014/2015 exhibition The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashion. (Top tip  – buy the paperback versions. They’re £10 cheaper and much lighter to carry around)

For a woman, there is probably no more important outfit in their life than the one they choose to get married in. In a world of fast fashion, the wedding dress is the only item that is carefully preserved and stored for generations. This book presents 50 of history’s most famous dresses, revealing why and how they continue to inspire brides and designers today. Expect dresses from everyone from Queen Victoria to Kate Moss.

I’ve tried to keep my recommendations quite broad and generic, without diving down into too many specific historical eras or focusing on specific fashion designers. There are many, many more wonderful books about fashion history out there, including lots of biographies about famous fashion figures. There really is something for whatever aspect of fashion history you are interested in. 

Are there any books you would recommend to someone wanting to learn more about fashion history?


  1. Christy says

    Hi There, I am currently writing my University dissertation on Victorian fashions, or more specifically the relationship between fashion and feminism at the time. I was wondering If you knew of any good online accessible resources about fashion in the 1850s and 1850s in Britain? I’ve been finding it hard to find sources whilst in Lockdown.

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