The 1MOQ Syllabus

10 Books Every Fashion Person Should Read (Part 3)

Key Takeaways

  1. This is 1MOQ's very own syllabus (now at its third edition): a list in non-hierarchical order of books related to fashion in any possible way.
  2. You can judge a book by its cover! And you can judge a book by its style. After all, what it matters is: not every "fashion book" must be about fashion. Style is everywhere in literature, and you can learn from it.
  3. Buy books, read books, keep books, re-read books—and again! This is what fashion education means.

In this third edition of the 1MOQ Syllabus, writer Drew Zeiba edits a non-hierarchical list of books to inspire the fashion-engaged from every angle. Ranging from novels of the well-dressed and murderous to architectural investigations of retail environments to theoretical takes on the impact of “taste,” this multi-genre collation offers a variety of ways for designers, stylists, editors, buyers, and others to think through fashion and the culture we wear it in.

Donna Tartt, The Secret History
“Very nice clothes are not incompatible with the writer's profession,” Donna Tartt claimed to Vanity Fair in 2013, and the Pulitzer Prize winner is known for her own sharp menswear-inspired sartorial choices. While her first book, a neo-Romantic novel of (mostly) rich kids at a liberal arts college isn’t about fashion per se, clothes are fixations of the text that help weave together its morality—or lack thereof. A thrilling read for any fashion person on the power of clothes in self-invention and narrative.

Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl
Written in 1999 by French collective Tiqqun, this compact book remains as relevant as ever in its exploration of performance, fashion, seduction, and consumption, the tale of the Young-Girl (hint: not necessarily young nor girl). Plus, it’s weird—a great book of theory for those who might not normally read it, and a funhouse mirror to many of us.

Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Cute, Zany, Interesting
How do we talk about what we like, and why does it matter? Another book of theory that troubles the libidinal economy of the hyper-consumptive age, Ngai’s text asks how “taste”—that mercurial and hard-to-define concept—is formed and expressed. By following the usage of the three titular adjectives, Ngai explores how aesthetic judgements permeate the ways we see ourselves, the world, and one another, pointing out that often (take note critics) what winds up as an intellectually justified position often begins as little more than a gut reaction. How interesting!

Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, Willi Smith: Street Couture
“I don't design clothes for the queen, but the people who wave at her as she goes by,” said designer Willi Smith, perhaps anticipating the attitude expressed in a motto such as Telfar’s “Not for you—for everyone” as much as the “democratization” of taste by the Zaras and Sheins of the world. Working decades before high-fashion would catch up to innovations of streetwear, with his brand Willi Wear, Smith synthesized design innovations and novel business practices, while also collaborating with some of his generations’ most boundary-bending artists and architects. This book, published to coincide with an exhibition of Smith’s work that just closed at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, is as worthwhile for its historical ephemera and images as the essays on fashion and culture.

Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women
While not exclusively about “garments,” this hybrid-genre project investigates how lives (particularly women’s) are woven into culture. A deeply affecting meditation that blurs memoir with political theory with poetry, the short book is not only pertinent to the fashion-involved for its engagement with clothes, but for its refusal to neatly bend to genre and its enjoinder to question the safe, formal neatness we too often cling to.

Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style
Though an imperfect text, this 1979 book is still a seminal work and a major historical document in cultural studies, especially as it relates to using style as an entrypoint into broader social concerns. Looking at British youth post-war, Hebdige explores how self-styling expresses allegiances and resistances, and proposes an interdisciplinary mode for analyzing cultural expression in the 20th century that resonates to this day.

Nathalie Léger, The White Dress
Part of French writer and curator Nathalie Léger’s loose trilogy of non-fiction-ish books available in English from the iconic small press Dorothy Project, The White Dress both is and isn’t about a piece of clothing. Following the Italian artist Pippa Bacca who was brutally killed while on a cross-continental trek to promote world peace in a wedding dress, Léger’s final installment to the must-read series on three boundary-bending women posing questions about art, risk, self-invention, and inheritance.

Paul Dalla Rosa, “Comme,” Granta
Okay, maybe you’re too busy in the studio for a few hundred pages, or just want something you can read on a single sitting on the train. Not a book, but a short story by Australian writer Paul Dalla Rosa—a dry and darkly comic account of icon-worship and commodity fetishism in the world of luxury retail.

Fredi Fischli, Niels Olsen, and Adam Jasper, Retail Apocalypse
But what even is shopping in the post-Internet, perma-Covid era? Hot pink and high-intensity this phonebook-thick book from Fredi Fischli, Niels Olsen, and Adam Jasper travels to the end of the retail world to ask what architects and others can learn from the art of display. Combining art, essay, case studies, and interviews, this must-view tome is a paperback museum to the twilight world of brick and mortar and an instructive guide for anyone interested in what they can learn from the visual and spatial culture that surrounds us—or at least used to.

Terry Newman, Legendary Authors and the Clothes they Wore
If I’m being honest this book isn’t that smart, and the writing really isn’t that literary, but for the fashion-and-lit nerd (ahem, yours truly), it is fun. In consumable segments this book looks at writers such as Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, Maya Angelou, Simone de Beauvoir, and Brett Easton Ellis, asking how they style(d) themselves and what—if anything—their sartorial choices have to say about the literary lifestyle.