Representing the creative future

1 Granary Book Club: A list of fashion history and theory reads

Read your way into fashion!

It is a common belief that to master any sort of semi-serious discussion around fashion, an encyclopaedic study of its history might suffice. But the world of academia can offer much more to the fashion industry and its members than a giant skein of theories. What follows is a selection of books that will help you navigate your way in fashion theory through issues of representation, commodification and art, and much more. Whether you are a student who doesn’t want to be caught unprepared on your first months of fashion school, or you just need an ace in the hole to impress that cool clique of friends with some top-notch fashion knowledge, this list of essential reads is for you.


Rocamora, Agnès and Smelik, Anneke. 2016. Thinking Through Fashion. London: I. B. Tauris

This selection of essays is a comprehensive study of fashion through different social and cultural theories. Exploring issues such as the relationship between body, dress, society, production, and consumption, etc. This book will help you understand how theories that have nothing to do with fashion can actually provide new fascinating readings. Suggested essays: Smelik’s “Gilles Deleuze: Bodies-without-Organs in the Folds of Fashion”, Tynan’s “Michel Foucault: Fashioning the Body Politic”, Tseëlon’s “Jean Baudrillard: Post-modern Fashion as the End of Meaning”.  Preview available here.

Barnard, Malcom. 2007. Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge

The bible of fashion theory. A massive collection of essays and book chapters by great sociologists, philosophers, and fashion theorists, divided by topics. Read it all from the preface to index for an extensive study of fashion or just some parts for targeted research. Thanks to this book you will be able to get a general idea about an author or a topic without needing to read or buy any further material. Suggested parts: “Fashion: identity and difference”, “Modern fashion”, “Post-modern fashion”, “Fashion, fetish and the erotic”.

Entwistle, Joanne. 2015. The Fashioned Body. Cambridge: Polity

Must-read for anyone (thinking of) starting a course that includes a theoretical study of fashion. This book is a juicy summary of the most important theories around fashion. It explores the relationship between dress and the body and how fashion is relevant in discourses of gender, identity, sexuality, and body politics. 245 pages that represent the quintessence of fashion knowledge. Preview available here.


Yuniya, Kawamura. 2018. Fashion-ology. Second Edition. London: Bloomsbury

This book is a concise manual that will introduce you to the study of fashion. In 125 pages the author redefines the meaning of fashion from a sociological perspective. For the account of the roles, behaviours, and practices of the fashion system, the book is a useful resource for students of other disciplines than fashion criticism, such as design and marketing. Preview available here.

Barthes, Roland. 1990. The Fashion System. Berkley: University of California Press

This classic of fashion theory is as insightful as it is complex. Focusing on the language and the pictures of fashion magazines, namely written clothing and image clothing, Barthes provides a new semiotic reading of fashion. If you were thinking of engaging in this read, we’d recommend that you start from the analysis of his work and the small chapters you can find in Thinking Through Fashion and Fashion Theory. Or you can scroll through the preview here.



Bruzzi, Stella. 1997. Undressing Cinema. Abingdon: Routledge

An accurate analysis of the relationship between fashion, costumes, and cinema. Through a careful selection of modern titles, from Pulp Fiction to Mrs. Doubtfire, Bruzzi argues that clothes in cinema both construct the narrative in the film and participate in wider discourses around the representation of race, gender, and sexuality. Must read for cinephiles and anyone interested in researching fashion through the cinematic lens. Preview available here.

McDowell, Colin. 1998. The Pimlico Companion to Fashion. London: Pimlico

A lovely anthology of essays, memoirs, extracts, and quotations of Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Diana Vreeland, Elsa Schiaparelli, William Shakespeare, and many, many others, all divided by themes. The collection explores the role of clothes in building characters’ identities and as subjects of the narration. A great tool of research for those students and fashion enthusiasts with a thing for literature.


Muggleton, David. 2000. Inside Subculture: The Postmodern meaning of Style. Oxford: Berg

If you were wondering how safety pins have made the leap from punk accessory to sloppy embellishment in fast fashion clothing, this book is for you. Muggleton explains how contemporary overproduction and overconsumption have contributed to turning past subcultural styles into meaningless, highly commercial copies. The fast track to getting acquainted with the ominous theories on the hyperreal of Baudrillard.

Granata, Francesca. 2017. Experimental Fashion: Performance Art, Carnival and the Grotesque Body. London: I.B. Tauris

You will never read anything like this. The book provides a mind-blowing account of modern fashion and performance art using Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque as a tool of analysis. In Experimental Fashion, Granata illustrates how Margiela and Kawakubo adopt a deconstructive approach in fashion to contrast ideals of beauty and the commodity culture promoted in western societies during the 1980s. A special mention to the chapters on Leigh Bowery and Lady Gaga, whose grotesque way of self-fashioning becomes expedient to reflect on ideas about the body, gender, and performativity.

Wilson, Elizabeth. 2019. Adorned in Dreams. London: Bloomsbury

A classic that should be in the uni tote bag of every fashion history and theory student. In this extensive study of fashion, Wilson explores the origin and meaning of dress as a cultural phenomenon and an expression of society. During this glorious narration, the scholar focuses in particular on what bounds the onset of fashion with the development of the city as we know it. Capitalism, voyeurism, and modernity, key concepts in the theories of Veblen, Freud, and Benjamin, are essential features of the urban environment where fashion could thrive. Preview available here.

Evans, Caroline. 2007. Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness. New Heaven: Yale University Press

Book yourself a desk at the library and dive into the most fascinating and dark account of contemporary fashion ever written. Evans explores how the decadent imagery of designers like Margiela and McQueen, and photographers like Nick Knight and Steven Meisel reflect and amplify the anxieties of our society. Adapting the theories of Marx, Guy Debord, and Freud, the author exposes issues of overconsumption, commodity fetishism, and trauma in fashion. Preview available here.

Bartlett, Djurdja. 2019. Fashion and Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press

An exploration of the intersection between fashion, politics, and economics in our contemporary society. The introduction to the topic “Political Fashion, Fashionable Politics” is very useful for research purposes. Read an extract of the book here.

Riello, Giorgio and McNeil, Peter. 2010. The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives. London: Routledge

Not your good old fashion history book. Riello and McNeil narrate the history of fashion from the Middle Ages to the 20th century inside and outside the western-centric perspective.

Nelson Best, Kate. 2017. The History of Fashion Journalism. London: Bloomsbury

The first chronicle was ever written of the events, the people, and the titles that gave life to fashion journalism. In less than 300 pages Best traces a much-needed history of the discipline from the pages of the late 17th century French Le Mercure Galant to the visual culture of social media and the myriad of niche publications of the new millennium, touching on the theories of Barthes and Foucault. A milestone for fashion communication students and anyone interested in learning more about the ancestors of our favourite zines. Preview available here.

Cheang, Sara; De Greef, Erica and Takagi, Yoko. 2021. Rethinking Fashion Globalization. London: Bloomsbury

This freshly printed book is a collection of essays from scholars and thinkers at the forefront of fashion decolonisation. Reflecting on themes such as globalisation, transnationalism, national identity, and sustainability, Rethinking Fashion Globalization aims at de-westernising current fashion discourse. Read an extract of the book here.



Grose, Virginia. 2021. A Practical Guide to the Fashion Industry. London: Bloomsbury

The fashion industry, with its constant creation of highly specific roles and processes, can represent for students and young professionals a riddle overwhelmingly hard to solve. Grose will answer all the questions you never dared to ask on the positions, the people, and the physical and virtual spaces of fashion, with the aid of case studies and interviews with industry specialists. You can find a small extract here.



Geczy, Adam and Karaminas, Vicky. 2018. The End of Fashion: Clothing and Dress in the Age of Globalization. London: Bloomsbury

Despite the dramatic title, there is no cause for alarm. This collection of essays narrates the shift, that occurred in our contemporary society, in the way we understand fashion and the fashion system. Mass media and digitaliSation, globalisation, fast fashion, and sustainability issues are revolutionising the industry. This book is the perfect staring point to ask ourselves what we are leaving behind and what will be ahead of us. Many chapters are in the preview here.