In The White Album, Joan Didion famously included a packing list of things any smart, working woman of the time needed for a trip:
TO PACK AND WEAR:
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
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.
Our editorial team has gathered a list our own personal favorite things to check out:
- Ian Steadman recommends “The Suit That Couldn’t Be Copied” [17-minute read] by Akhil Sharma in The New Yorker.
- Duncan Geere points to “How Silicon Valley Helps Spread the Same Sterile Aesthetic Across the World” [17-minute read] by Kyle Chayka for The Verge as worthwhile for looking at the boundaries between fashion and style.
- Kristen Taylor thinks the documentary Iris [83-minute watch] by filmmaker Albert Maysies–about a 93-year-old style maven long on the New York fashion scene–is an accessible way to follow style over time and see what it means to influence fashion at a broader level.
- Our creative director, Darren Garrett, likewise suggests watching something for a clue to “What We’ll Wear in the Future (if Classic Sci-fi Films Got It Right)” [9-minute read].
- As for me? I love this little piece of history: “I Apologize for Inventing the Word “‘Fashionista‘ 20 Years Ago” [4-minute read] by my former journalism professor Stephen Fried in The Atlantic, and Buzz Bissinger’s heartbreaking admission in GQ‘s “My Gucci Addiction” [32-minute read] about his very real obsession with shopping–and yes, we are talking about the same Buzz Bissinger who penned the football exposé Friday Night Lights.
Engage with some of the main threads of conversation around fashion today with these reads:
- My Father’s Fashion Tips
Tom Junod, GQ [38-minute read]
- Sneaking Into Pantone HQ: How Color Forecasters Really Decide Which Hue Will Be the New Black
Tom Vanderbilt, Slate [13-minute read]
- Bonfire of the Inanities
jacqui shine, The Awl [45-minute read]
- Meet Project Jacquard, Google’s Plan to Turn Your Clothes Into a Touch Screen
John Brownlee, Fast Company [3-minute read]
- Wearable Cloud Could Be Less Expensive, More Powerful Form of Mobile Computing
Tiffany Westry, UAB News [5-minute read]
- The Shirt on Your Back: How Did the Clothes You’re Wearing Get to You?
Interactive team, The Guardian [25+-minute read/watch]
- The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls
Nelson D. Schwartz, The New York Times [7-minute read]
- Is Kinfolk the Last Lifestyle Magazine?
Kyle Chayka, Racked [31-minute read]
- To Hell and Back Again: A Day With the Marie Kondo Method
Nicole Silverberg, GQ [14-minute read]
- The End of the Office Dress Code
Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times [7-minute read]
- Raf Simons Speaks to Cathy Horyn on the Speed of Fashion
Cathy Horyn, Business of Fashion [10-minute read]
- The Plus Side: Full-Figured Fashion Gets a New Look
Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker [18-minute read]
- Why I’m Breaking Up With the Apple Watch
Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times [6-minute read]
- Robot Factories Could Threaten Jobs of Millions of Garment Workers
Tansy Hoskins, The Guardian [4-minute read]
- Pink Bags of Chinatown
Wendy MacNaughton, California Sunday Magazine [1-minute read]
- The Unlikely Story of the Folly Cove Guild, the Best Designers You’ve Never Heard Of
Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura [10-minute read]
- What’s That You’re Wearing? A Guide to Muslim Veils
Russell Goldman, The New York Times [1-minute read]
- For the Abrahamic Religions, Clothing Is Both Trivial and Vital
“Erasmus” blog, The Economist [3-minute read]
- The Feminist T-Shirt Scandal Exposes an Entire System of Exploitation
Tansy Hoskins, The Guardian [4-minute read]
- Couture in Orbit
European Space Agency and the Science Museum of London, Tumblr
- James Lavers–Costume and Fashion: A Concise History
- Roland Barthes–The Fashion System
- Tansy Hoskins–Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
- Sandy Black–The Sustainable Fashion Handbook
- Greta Eagan–Wear No Evil: How to Change the World With Your Wardrobe
- Elizabeth L. Cline–Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
- Lucy Siegle–To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
- Stephen Fried–Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia
- Alicia Drake–The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris
- Teri Agins–The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever
- Dana Thomas–Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
- Judith Thurman–Cleopatra’s Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire
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.