You know I don’t buy into the idea of must-haves. I do, however, believe that there are books (and films) that everyone should be familiar with. The required reading list gets longer when you claim to have a passion – yes, “even” if it’s fashion. A true fashionista is not just someone who sports the perfect LBD; she should also know who invented it and why. It’s nice to carry a Lady Dior, but even better to be able to discuss it in terms of Barthes’s mythologies. And every bag instantly becomes cooler if you pop a good book into it.
Therefore, my new series of Monday posts is all about fashion must-reads, from academic and philosophical, to simpler and factual, to chick lit as light as Louis Vuitton’s Alma, yet for some reasons enduringly influential.
Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams belongs to the first category, but don’t let that scare you away. If you usually complain about theorists “having some interesting thoughts, but repeating them over and over again,” prepare to be surprised. In under 300 pages (not counting the appendix), Wilson manages to fit so many ideas, that you beg her to slow down. She swiftly moves from Victorian corsets to punk, Marxism to postmodernism, fashion in literature to David Beckham. The reason for this density might be the fact that in 1985, when Adorned in Dreams was first published, there weren’t many serious books about fashion out there. Wilson must have felt like she needed to provide the first comprehensive overview of fashion theory – and she did it extremely well.
But don’t expect anything along the lines of Fashion Theory for Dummies. Wilson’s text is not only thorough – it’s also thought-provoking and opinionated. As she narrates fashion’s history, she also interprets it. When she explains contemporary points of view, she states hers as well. She defends fashion from accusations of shallowness, ugliness and sexism. Fashion as a phenomenon – mind you – not the fashion system. She sees no excuse for sweatshops and has no sympathy for popular magazines telling women how to look and think.
The book can be read for its historical significance or as a great introduction to the philosophies of fashion. It can also serve as a litmus paper to check how deep your interest in fashion really is. If it bores you, you might just be a lover of pretty clothes – which is totally fine. However, if it grips you and leaves you hungry for more, with a long list of names and topics to research… Could you please become the next editor-in-chief of Vogue? (And hire me one day. Please.)