We all hit that slump when our wardrobe gets a little stale from time to time. Maybe you haven’t been able to dress up in a while, maybe the latest round of shows wasn’t to your taste, or perhaps you’re just looking for a change. There are a couple of places you can go, but after a while, even the glossiest magazines just might not do it. But what about your local library? There’s a treasure trove of inspiration for lots of things in the fictional worlds authors create, but fashion particularly tends to be overlooked in literature. That’s enough amazing prose going to waste to make a town full of bookworms cry. So if you’d like to refresh your fashion knowledge or even save your bookworm friend some tears, it’s worth checking the library. Here are six great books packed with fashion inspiration to get you started.
The Devil Wears Prada Series
Almost every aspiring fashion designer, blogger, or editor has watched the 2006 classic The Devil Wears Prada, but few are aware that it’s based on an equally if not more fabulous book series by former Vogue assistant Lauren Weisberger. After a stint working under Anna Wintour, Weisberger wrote her best-selling trilogy consisting of The Devil Wears Prada, Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns and When Life Gives You Lululemons. I’ve read this myself and it is one of my absolute favorites. It follows Andy through her assistant job, starting a magazine and her first marriage. Emily is much more fleshed out in the books as well, going through some big personality changes and even solving a glamorous mystery in book 3. I highly recommend this series even if the movie wasn’t your favorite. It’s well written, funny, mysterious, and some of the more unsavory characters from the movie are much more likable.
This novel by Sex And The City author Candace Bushnell might not be something you’ve heard as much about but is a great read if you want to fast forward to your glamorous post-college career. Like its predecessor, Lipstick Jungle follows the stories of women living in New York City. Wendy Healy, Nico O’Neilly, and Victory Ford are three ambitious 40 somethings who have all made it onto the New York Post’s “50 Most Powerful Women” list. All of their lives are woven together into a witty and refreshing take on life over 40 that still holds up today. This one has been on my reading list for a while, and if you’re excited about the Sex And The City reboot, this one might tide you over until the release. And if you want, you can debate with your friends about which one is the Nico, the Wendy or the Victory of the group!
Rosalie Ham’s debut, The Dressmaker is a dark gothic novel and an unlikely fashion mainstay. After Myrtle Dunnage is wrongfully blamed for the killing of a young boy in town, she is shipped off to boarding school, where she learns her trader as the titular dressmaker. Years later, Dunnage returns home to her fictional hometown of Dungatar, where her arrival seems like some sort of omen. Characters associated with her start dying off under accidental but mysterious circumstances, with fate seemingly enacting Myrtle’s revenge on her false accusers from childhood. This doesn’t seem at all related to fashion, but in fact, Ham excellently weaves all your favorite fashion tropes into the tale. Even with a fair amount of gothic horror, makeovers, sewing montages, and glamorously attired parties still abound and the 1950s setting means you’ll get plenty of Dior-Esque inspiration for your next (hopefully less deadly) dinner party.
A Vintage Affair
If you love to learn about fashion while shedding a few tears, you’ll love Isabel Wolff’s A Vintage Affair. Vintage enthusiast Pheobe dreams of opening her own vintage clothing store selling restored designer items from the past. Unfortunately, Pheobe seems better at dealing with the pasts of her stock than her own, as she starts her life over after the untimely death of her best friend. While searching for new items, she meets Mrs. Bell, an elderly woman who also struggles with the pain she caused her own best friend during the holocaust. Without spoiling too much, I can say that many heart-wrenching moments ensue, interspersed with beautifully written descriptions of iconic designer items from the 20th century. This is another book from my personal collection, and I can proudly say that I was introduced to a lot of iconic fashion history through this book. It’s definitely worth a read.
The Phryne Fisher Murder Mystery Series
Tea, murder, nude portraits, and perfectly fitted designer gowns, what could be better? Kerry Greenwood’s murder mystery series is the ultimate collection for lovers of historical fashion, particularly from the 1920s. Phryne Fisher is the protagonist of your classic rags to riches story. After growing up extremely poor in Australia, a series of deaths from The Great War catapults her to titled society in London. After growing bored with the ladylike occupation of flower arranging, Phryne goes back to Australia where she begins a career as an amateur detective. You’ll get to go along with her as she solves each mysterious death, leaving a stream of beautiful men in her wake. This series contains a whopping 21 books, but it really is worth the commitment to finish all of them. I’ve learned a surprising amount of fashion vocabulary from this series and they’re such great stories you won’t feel like you’re getting bogged down with terms.
The Finishing School Series
If you love the idea of characters like Phryne Fisher, but prefer something from earlier in fashion history, Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series is a great alternative. This story centers around the protagonist Sophronia as she is enrolled in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Soon after her enrollment, Sophronia learns that this is not your typical finishing school but is in fact an espionage academy for lady spies. In this fantasy steampunk reimagining of the 1850s, you’ll get to join Sophronia as she learns to faint and curtsey properly…even if she’s only doing it to land a stronger punch or gain crucial information. Yes, this might seem like something middle school you might read, but if you’re a Victorian fashion lover, it’s an amazing source for detailed descriptions of ball gowns and fan etiquette. Plus it gives you ideas for turning pretty things into survival tools or weapons, which has always been my cup of tea.