Sartorial: A Reading List

A crash course in how science and technology is changing how we express ourselves through style

2 min read

Image credit: Darren Garrett

In The White Album, Joan Didion famously included a packing list of things any smart, working woman of the time needed for a trip:

2 skirts
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe, slippers

” “¦ The list enabled me to pack, without thinking,” she wrote, “for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture.”

Whether you’re into the latest trends–or you’re decidedly not–there’s one fundamental quality about fashion: None of us can avoid it. Like it or not, fashion has been essential to every human society that has managed to get beyond controlling fire. Everybody who’s ever had to pack a suitcase has made certain choices about what to put in, and what to leave out. And as simple as Didion wanted it to be, she knew that when we get dressed, we do so to fit a culture or follow an agenda. The apparel and accessories we wear are based on a whole host of factors that inform who we are.

For our Sartorial section, here’s a reading + watch + listen list about all things fashion that’ll get you up to speed on the latest in how the topic is evolving.


“Fashion is instant language.”

–Miuccia Prada, 2007


Start Here

There’s really no one, definitive starter text for learning about fashion. If you’re looking for a beautifully illustrated, compact history of the subject in its modern form, check out Fashion from the Oxford History of Art series by Christopher Breward. The book chronicles the evolution of trends and products over the last 150 years, the emergence of big players in runway couture (think Coco Chanel and Giorgio Armani), and the impact of style movements on the street as they relate to the eras when they emerged.

But if you engage with only one thing from this list, watch the 2015 documentary The True Cost. From director Andrew Morgan, it tackles the most pressing fashion-related concerns of our time: the decreasing cost of our clothing and the human rights violations and environmental damage associated with the age of fast fashion.

With a run time of one hour and 32 minutes, it’s available to stream on iTunes in 80 countries, Netflix, Amazon, or on DVD with subtitles in 17 languages. It’s a global issue that needs a global audience.


Then Try

Our editorial team has gathered a list our own personal favorite things to check out:


Dive Deeper

Engage with some of the main threads of conversation around fashion today with these reads:




Listen or Watch

Finally, if you prefer to learn with a podcast while on a walk, or by watching a movie at home, here are a bunch of options:

  • The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes
    Seven stories about how the clothes we wear affect us more than we think, Invisibilia, NPR [61-minute listen]
  • Fixing the Hobo Suit
    Costume designers for film and TV give the superhero costume an update by better using technology and returning to the source material that inspired them, 99% Invisible, Episode 190 [22-minute listen]
  • Socks, Shirts, and Science
    If the intersection between fashion and tech inspires you, you can’t go wrong listening to any of the episodes from the Fashion Is Your Business podcast. This recent one explores sensing textile technology and the value of mapping the human body [46-minute listen].
  • “Made in Bangladesh
    Al Jazeera English traces the garment supply chain back to Walmart executives after a 2012 fire at a factory in Bangladesh killed at least 112 workers. This documentary asks if U.S. retailers actually know where their clothes are made. [25-minute watch]
  • Bill Cunningham New York
    This film follows a true fashion historian–Harvard-dropout Bill Cunningham, who photographed the street style of New York City for the Times Style section from 1978 until his death in 2016. “We all get dressed for Bill,” said Anna Wintour. [84-minute watch]
  • Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
    A film tribute to one of the 20th century’s most influential women, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel celebrates the woman who helmed Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue as they came of age, launched Twiggy’s career, and advised Jackie Kennedy on her wardrobe. [86-minute watch]
  • The September Issue
    Filmmaker R.J. Cutlers goes behind Vogue‘s biggest issue of the year to capture a surprisingly tender look at Anna Wintour and her editors as they create a fashion Bible that directly impacts a $300-billion industry. [90-minute watch]

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Sartorial section, which looks at the impact of science and technology on how we present ourselves to each other. Click the logo to read more.