History in the Making

3 Books on the Background of Style

As part of my 2018 Style Resolutions, I am trying to give myself as complete a style education as possible- I firmly believe that if you are passionate about something, you should educate yourself and learn as much as you possibly can. I have started with style and the industry itself; whether we like it or not, the fashion industry plays a role in all of our lives and our identities, and it is near impossible to escape it. And although we all take part, most of us live in ignorance of the bigger picture! Yes, we all know and acknowledge that sweatshops and barely-paid labour are a part of fashion, but most just push it to the side and leave it there. It is time for us to inform ourselves and play an active role in our choices, and information is the first step to style!
3 Books on the Background of Style
These three books cover different aspects of the style industry that touch our lives, our wardrobes, and our wallets- fast fashion, jewelry, and luxury. I know that some people may say “luxury isn’t a part of my wardrobe” but it’s not as simple as “I don’t buy those brands”. (Lest we forgot the blue cardigan episode from The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda educates Andy on how what fashion houses on the runway makes its way down to fast fashion!) And even if one of these areas doesn’t play a huge role in your wardrobe, it still plays a role in the industry as a whole and the global economy! Without further adieu….
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline

I think that this should be at the top of everyone’s list at their fashion education. Across the globe, across cultures and strata of society, everyone everywhere proclaims the fantastic bargain that they were able to get on whatever item they are wearing. However, there is a lot at play behind your $3 tank top. Cline starts by discussing the mindset of current consumers, with the “haul” mindset being at the forefront- people will stockpile and haul twenty or thirty pieces of clothing for $200. TWENTY OR THIRTY. We as a society aren’t looking at the quality of a piece but only the price tag. This segways into the history of garment production and purchasing- surprisingly, we are spending less on clothing than we have in the past two hundred years but we have more clothing than ever. She also visits and explores the overseas factories that make these garments for pennies, and the workers that have to make some sort of living from it. She finishes with what people are doing to slow down fashion and take style back into their own hands. Published in 2012, this book could use an update on ethical fashion as a lot has been happening in this arena lately, but overall this is a great introduction to fast fashion and what it’s far-reaching effects are!
Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shaped the World by Aja Raden

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the WorldAja Raden

I will fully admit, I’m only partway through Stoned but it is a wonderful look at the history of jewelry and why humans are so obsessed with it to this day. It is divided into three different sections, Want, Take, and Have, all which look at the economic ramifications of gemstones. While many people argue that life isn’t about money, I find that explaining the impact of things via money tends to drive a point home. While I think that a lot of us own minimal gemstones, or at least us younger folks, much of life seems to be punctuated by gemstones. An engagement ring, a class ring, earrings for a notable birthday or promotion, jewelry certainly plays a role in a lot of peoples lives. What is interesting to me is how you can trace the rise of importance of jewelry to very specific moments in history, some engineered by companies and people, some naturally occurring. So, the next time you are lusting after a Tiffany’s diamond bracelet, you will have some of the history behind it! (Also, this book is a PERFECT example of what I love about history- you can pick any topic to use as a lens to look at society as a whole 🙂 Okay, stepping off my history soapbox.)
Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas

Deluxe has got to be one of my favourite books that I have read in the past five years, I actually read it in one setting. Although I’m not in an economic group that can afford to life the luxury life, I am fascinated by luxury items and brands, and how these houses and companies operate. How does Hermès get people to spend $12,000 USD on a handbag that they had to wait four years to get? How does Chanel justify price jumps of 5-8%? And how does Louis Vuitton get people to pay $1000+ USD for canvas bags?? Thomas looks at all of these things. We see how luxury houses started out, typically as small, family run businesses, that were slowly bought out and amassed by a few conglomerate companies, most notably LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton). In case you were wondering, LVMH owns over 100 luxury subsidiaries, including Givenchy, Dior, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, amongst many others. Chances are, if you buy luxury items at all regularly, you are purchasing from LVMH. Like Overdressed, Thomas examines how many luxury companies have moved production overseas in order to increase their profit margins, which could lead you to ask why you are paying for this “Made in France/Made in Italy/Made in Switzerland” product that is made 80% in China and merely finished in the country stated. She also discusses the ever-growing Asian market for luxury goods and how that has affected the luxury industry. We finish Deluxe with a look at how the counterfeit luxury goods market operates, and how it affects the craftsmen and workers who actually make their living from creating luxury goods. I’ve heard rumblings that we can expect a follow up to Deluxe in 2019- fantastic news, as the only drawback to the book is that it was written in 2008 and many of the brands it mentions are less popular while newer brands aren’t mentioned at all.

I’m hoping that these recommendations will help you look at your shopping patterns, and the fashion industry as a whole! In the next few months, I will be sharing more style books: style guides on how to look at your wardrobe and cultivate specific styles, biographies and memoirs to give you insight, and perhaps more on the business of style if you are interested! (Not all at once, only periodically- I promise I will still share all types of book recommendations!)
Have you read any of these books? And can you identify your shopping habits? (More on this on Style File Friday!)
Until tomorrow,
The Historian
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