Newsflash (Not Really): Fashion, Feminism AND Literature Are Totally Compatible And Here Are My Top Picks To Prove It!

From novels to glossy coffee table books, poetry anthologies to biographies, fashion writing is a rich, diverse world to immerse yourself in.

Apr 10, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

If I have to have the “yes you can be a feminist and care about clothes” conversation ONE MORE TIME I’m going to, I don’t know, probably passive-aggressively whine about it here or something. I love fashion – it’s my job for crying out loud - and I am also a feminist who happens to love reading. A lot. When the three come together in perfect harmony as they do in some of the titles below, I’m in heaven.

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Me talking about this very subject in the Wardrobe Deparment at Port Eliot Literary Festival

From novels to glossy coffee table books, poetry anthologies to biographies, fashion writing is a rich, diverse world to immerse yourself in. Just as writing about food or music is a tricky one to pull off – anything that appeals to one of the senses so intensely is incredibly difficult to pin down in words – the best fashion writing is something to be savoured and treasured because it’s rare.

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Some fashion/feminism/literature in our pop-up salon at Port Eliot Festival

Memoir and Musings

From now on, to save me having to make the same old points about fashion being about self expression and creativity and empowerment and therefore totally in line with feminism’s basic principles AGAIN, I will simply thrust Linda Grant’s The Thoughtful Dresser in any naysayer's face and walk away, dramatically flicking my cloak over my shoulder (what? Obviously I’d be wearing a cloak.) She makes those points more powerfully, movingly and articulately than I ever could. This is possibly my favourite piece of fashion writing EVER.

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Luella’s Guide To English Style is one of my most treasured possessions – Luella Bartley read from it at the first ever Pamflet salon and it’s a sublime celebration of the eccentricity of the quintessential English girl’s style – from Agatha Christie to Siouxie Sioux. If you want to give someone who loves fashion, pop culture and feminism a real treat, give them this book.

Biography

There are so many to choose from but Detmar Blow’s biography of his late wife Isabella Blow, Blow by Blow is one of the most fascinating. It’s completely subjective, gossipy and indiscreet and that’s why it’s fantastic – I love the little anecdotes, like the one that tells how wonderful Peter who manned the front desk at Vogue House for nearly 30 years (and recently retired) chucked Lee McQueen out of the lobby for being rude.

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Anthologies

I’ve just realised I can’t find my fashion poetry anthology which is slightly disconcerting (I’ve also misplaced one of the greatest fashion novels, Flowers For Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico – it’s either lost in the colour-coded bookshelves or I lent it to someone. Worrying) Anyway, here are some more marvels of the genre:

The Virago Book of The Joy of Shopping is an amazing collection of literary snippets from Jane Austen to Joan Didion, all about buying stuff. It’s a delicious read – perfect for dipping into on a rainy Saturday afternoon with coffee and cake.

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Then there’s the venerable Colin McDowell’s Literary Companion To Fashion which has an astonishing breadth and depth, featuring extracts from Juvenal to Mark Twain and Angela Carter. There are poems, essays and quotations mingled with chunks of classic novels. It’s a real education.

And a more modern, fun-to-read-on-the-bus option is Cut On The Bias; stories about women and the clothes they wear, edited by Stephanie Tillotson. Fantastic short stories that give us a tantalising glimpse into women’s lives – and wardrobes.

Coffee Table Books

Diana Vreeland’s The Eye Has To Travel is a visual feast – the most beautiful, exciting, imaginative and provocative fashion imagery from this titan of the industry, accompanied by text explaining the woman behind the images.

The Sartorialist is a collection of the best of Scott Schuman’s street style photographs. The street style/blogger debate kicked off in a big way recently thanks to an article by Suzy Menkes' called 'The Circus of Fashion' in which she decries the ‘peacocks’ who strut about in front of fashion shows with the sole aim of getting their picture taken by the increasingly huge numbers of street style photographs.

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Even Schuman and his partner Garance Dore agree that the street style scrum is starting to get out of control – old rules of etiquette (like not standing behind a photographer when they’ve set up a particular shot, and stealing it) have gone out the window and it feels more contrived than it used to. This book, although only published in 2009, already feels like a relic from a more innocent age.

I could go on, and on, and on – this is just a small selection from my collection. If you want any more specific recommendations to suit a particular purpose, just ask in the comments section and I’ll do my best to suggest something appropriate!