An Honest, But Slightly Leftist, Review of Fashion’s ‘Must Read’ Books

An entirely gullible bookworm, if a publication or a trustworthy colleague tells me a book is a “must read,” you’ll catch me a day later with said books in between my man hands whilst riding the A train uptown.

Although a lot of my down time is spent reading embarrassingly pretentious volumes of 19th and 20th century poetry (my time as an English major still lives somewhere within me), I thoroughly enjoy books about fashion.

Any piece of published literature that addresses fashion’s history, chronicles the lives of its notable figures or reveals secrets about the industry fascinate me, both as a consumer and a professional who exists within the tulle filled realm itself.

So, when I first spotted Austen Totone’s, a writer at NYLON and the creator of the blog Keep Calm and Chiffon On, blog post “6 Books You Must Read If You Want to Work in Fashion Or Publishing,” I immediately took the bait.

Besides following Totone’s blog, she was assitant editor when I interned at NYLON. So, it’s safe to say I trust her opinion.

However, after reading her 6 Must Reads, I realized that we have extremely different views on fashion’s “Must Reads.”

  • Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS

Yes, that #GIRLBOSS. The autobiography that spurned an entire Netflix series of the same title. The literary version tells the story of Sophia Amoruso’s journey form a homeless anarchist to the CEO of Nasty Gal.

Totone praises the title and Amoruso’s DIY attitude and for good reason, Amoruso started a retail empire. HOWEVER, Nasty Gal went bankrupt and Netflix’s GIRL BOSS got cancelled for a reason: Amoruso’s not all she’s cracked up to be.

I found this book long before Totone’s blog post and read it in one anger induced sitting.

The entrepreneur’s rags-to-riches schtick gets old once you realize she sold all her old values as an anarchist in order to rise to the top of the retail heap. #GIRLBOSS reads as capitalist propaganda and stinks of white feminism. HARD PASS.


  • Leandra Medine’s Man Repeller: Seeking Love Finding Overalls

Man Repeller, the fashion media empire that Medine’s been able to build with her quirky and left-of-center looks and girl power tonality, is by far one of my favorite places to go for outfit inspiration and a completely fresh take on the world of fashion. Medine sees things that the Vogues and CR Fashion Books of the world simply can’t.

I was expecting the same from Medine’s book, however, once again I was wrong.

Whereas Totone believes Medine’s personal essays to be poignant, they prove to be too much. Medine’s voice is so jam packed with sarcasm and quirky references that it’s best served in small doses.

Seeking Love Finding Overalls often reads as the tales of a quirky rich white girl- and that’s fine!- but personal essay after personal essay with pretty much the same theme gets boring and is pretty exclusive.

Although I find her book to be a hard pass, I’d check out Man Repeller’s website and Instagram account.


Although I just covered two duds, here’s a book I highly recommend.

  • Robin Givhan’s The Battle of Versailles : The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History

Not only will this historical tale deliver to you the story of the fashion world’s most important fashion show to date, 1973’s Battle of Versailles, it chronicles the history of fashion and how it transformed into the beast that we know today.

Givhan’s incredibly researched novel envelops the reader, wrapping them in both European old world haute couture and radical American silhouettes and politics.

If you’re into American fashion, you’ll really enjoy this American-centric look at the West’s fashion history.

Here’s a quick summary from WorldCat, seeing as I do the book little to no justice.

“Conceived as a fund raiser for the restoration of King Louis XIV’s palace, the world’s elite gathered in Versailles’ grand theater to view a fashion extravaganza of the best that French and American designers had to offer, while being entertained by Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker. What they saw would forever alter the history of fashion. At the Battle of Versailles five Americans–Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows–faced off against the five French designers considered the best in the world–Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior.

Against all odds, the American energy and the domination by their fearless models (ten of whom, in a ground-breaking move, were African-American) sent the audience reeling. By the end of the evening, the Americans had transformed their place on the world stage and sowed the seeds for changing the way race, gender, sexuality, and economics would be treated in fashion for decades to come. The in-fighting between ego-inflated designers, the unforeseen obstacles in staging the show on a shoestring, the triumphant win, the vastly different fates of the designers post-show–Robin Givhan’s meticulous research brings the event alive and places it firmly in the history of fashion, offering an intimate examination of a single moment that teaches us how the culture of fashion as we now know it came to be”

Have fun, but please remember, practice safe reading (which is totally not dirty, get your mind out of the gutter, and only entails being critical of the literature you’re devouring).


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