It surprises me how much people spend on their wardrobes and how little they actually appreciate what they already have.
Sure, clothes, especially good clothes, can be expensive and people are more likely to compliment how you look than how you think. Yet, there’s something to be said about being able to enjoy something well.
In my experience, appreciation is positively correlated with knowledge and the best way to acquire knowledge is to read a book. Good books bring perspective, give us basic concepts so we can read between the lines (or in this case, seams), and sometimes even inspire us to try something new.
So if knowledge is power, then these books are nuclear reactors.
I love books about classic men’s clothes that demystify style for the average guy. The first menswear books I ever bought were Alan Flusser’s Dressing The Man, and Bernhard Roetzel’s Gentleman and they’re still my favourites. Flusser and Roetzel explain what makes tailored clothes so timeless and I revisit their chapters on fit and proportion every few months or so. Another essential book is Classic Tailoring Techniques for Men which serves as an introductory textbook to the subject. Give it a shot before moving on to more technical volumes like Tailoring Suits The Professional Way and The Stanley Hostek Tailoring series. If the idea of trade publications turns you off then try Bespoke Menswear: Tailoring for Gentlemen instead.
I’m also fond of books that examine the origins and contexts behind clothes. I haven’t read all of it yet (and I doubt anybody else has), but The Esquire Encyclopaedia of 20th Century Men’s Fashion is an exhaustive account of Anglo-American menswear that belongs on every respectable bookshelf. Similarly, A History of Men’s Fashion by Farid Chennoune traces how history has shaped clothes and how clothes have shaped history – all the way back to the 17th Century. It’s comprehensive, straightforward, and packed with fascinating insights about why we wear what we wear.
For books about contemporary menswear, give academic texts a go instead (even if they bring up repressed uni memories). Radical Fashion and Critical Fashion Practice are the best introductions I’ve ever read about conceptual fashion designers, like Vivienne Westwood and Hussein Chalayan, who challenge the way we think about clothes and the bodies that inhabit them. Likewise, Japanese Fashion – The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo provides an outstanding summary of Eastern deconstructivist fashion without the hyperbole of high-fashion magazines. Couple these with the sociological essays in The Men’s Fashion Reader and Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. But if I could only bring one book with me to the proverbial desert island it would have to be Menswear Revolution by Jay McCauley Bowstead. It’s the most astute study of gender and men’s fashion I’ve come across.
Still, you can’t discuss contemporary menswear without touching on streetwear. Though I rely on magazines and websites like Highsnobiety and 032c most of the time, I recommend a couple of books. First, This is Not Fashion: Streetwear Past, Present and Future which surveys streetwear from the 1970’s to the present, and second, COOL: Style, Sound and Subversion, an illustrated compendium of youth cultures and their aesthetics. While you’re at it, cop Subculture: The Meaning of Style and Skateboarding Is Not A Fashion, for their deep dives into the punk and skating scenes respectively too. If you’re interested in hip-hop, pick up The Incomplete Highsnobiety Guide to Street Fashion and Culture which explores the intersections between streetwear, high-fashion, popular music and contemporary art. Even kids who wear VLONE in the hopes of one day meeting A$AP Rocky will love it.
Finally, if you want to learn how to wear clothes well, there’s no substitute for fashion photography books. Scott Schumann’s Sartorialist series, Giuseppe Santamaria’s Men In This Town and T. Hayashida’s Take Ivy are the most well-known “street style” books but my favourite is Japanese Dandy by Masato Kawai. Basically a catalogue of steezy Asian guys, Kawai’s monograph is a masterpiece of classic style and composition. For something more contemporary, check out Adam Katz Sinding’s This is Not a F*cking Street Style Book, or anything by long-time Raf Simons collaborator, Willy Vanderperre. Unfortunately, these books don’t come cheap but let’s be honest, the best things in life rarely do.
You can follow ICON’s menswear experts, The Hounds on instagram @thehoundsblog.