Reading List

What To Read About What To Wear

The best books, magazines, and Web sites about fashion.

When word came that Vogue’s reliably hefty September issue would have 51 fewer ad pages this year than it did in 2007, the fashion and advertising industries shuddered. The news sounded better to those of us who simply enjoy the August ritual of basking in hot sunshine while poring over photos of models swathed in fur-trimmed wool: Our beach bags instantly became a bit more manageable.

Of course, the glossies are indispensable if you want to see the latest in luxurious “necessities.” (Elle recommends that we purchase a coat the color of a Jordan almond; Vogue would have us dressing like Jane Fonda in Klute.) And it’s amusing to watch as these bastions of luxe attempt to accommodate an economic downturn: Replace the gold band on your Cartier with one of white alligator, says Vogue, and voilà! You have “a new watch for a fraction of the price.”

But if Vogue, Elle, and W are still worth a gander, they no longer stand alone. A host of blogs and Web sites now cover high fashion with the same encompassing scrutiny that ESPN brings to sports. The Business of Fashion keeps tabs on the latest industry headlines while offering thoughtful comment on new developments. Fashionista has the air of a bored teen—many of its posts are written in marker on ruled notebook paper and then scanned for posting on the Web—but don’t let the attitude fool you: Its proprietors keep a bemused eye on the latest trends (exhibiting reassuring skepticism about animal prints in bright primary colors). What’s more, they’re so well-versed in brands high and low that they regularly catch the fast-fashion copycats at Forever 21 and Topshop in the act. If you’re inclined to forgive the fakers—after all, everyone needs clothes, and the $29 version of a dress can’t possibly exhibit the subtlety and fine cutting of its $2,900 cousin—take a look at the “Adventures in Copyrights” tag  for a spate of breathtaking ripoffs. For the latest on the legal skirmishes between the designers and their imitators, check out Counterfeit Chic, a lively blog by a law professor with her eye on the clone wars.

Although anyone can enjoy the spectacle of these megabrands in battle, the best writing about clothing explores how we feel—and what we mean—when we wear it. Autobiography of a Wardrobe (a slim volume that probably weighs only a mite more than Vogue’s missing ad pages) is an exemplar of this sort of sartorial anthropology. Elizabeth Kendall writes her life story in the voice of her wardrobe, allowing her clothes to describe her transformations—from clumsy teen to grieving daughter, from dancer to writer. Kendall understands the particularity of our relationships with individual items of clothing and the alchemical power that can lie in an object as humble as a “navy blue A-line drip-dry skirt.”

You can see more of these humble items on display on Flickr’s “Wardrobe Remix” pool, where amateur fashionistas post regular photos documenting their latest looks. Outfits both dowdy and divine are submitted for public inspection, and the images have a yearning quality that somewhat dulls their chic. (After all, a true glamourpuss doesn’t wonder what other people think.) Nonetheless, the photos are mesmerizing. Remixers (mostly women) stand in their hallways, doorways, or yards, in skirts and cardigans, with briefcases and shower-wet hair, waiting to be noticed. That’s no surprise, given that normal people are the new fashion celebrities. One much-beloved fashion blog at the moment is the Sartorialist, which celebrates impossibly fashionable laymen;  New York magazine’s popular Look Book takes a similar tack. But without the sharp photography of these sites, the Wardrobe Remixers on Flickr seem more exposed, honest, and interesting. Perhaps because of that vulnerability, the tone of the comments is refreshingly uncatty: “Love this!” wrote one Remixer to another. “The scarf individually is a gorgeous pattern and I really like the shoes too.”