Fashion and literature have always had a fluid relationship. Characters inspire the catwalk, and in turn writers are fascinated by the trends of the day. In honour of this, we’ve put together a summer reading list that (for once) doesn’t include Go Set the Watchman. We’ve perused the shelves of the Archive Bookstore in Marylebone to find the top five most fashionable books. Fashionable in that they embody the styles of the time, influenced designers and trends, or just championed excellent looks. This was done at some peril: the bookstore is full of stacks of books in precarious piles that look like they could topple over at any moment. If you’re looking for the latest releases, other bookstores are for you, but if it's classics and quirk you're after, The Archive Bookstore should be bookmarked.


1. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
What could be more suitable than a novel that shares its name with the fashion magazine? Both take their name from Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress, and make the perils of vanity look so good. Becky Sharp is a strong and magnetic heroine, but she's not exactly likeable. Like the eponymous Madame Bovary, Becky has a love of wealth and beautiful things, and indulges in both to make her as appealing as possible to men. She gets through the novel by presenting herself as a sex symbol: ‘her face was radiant; her dress perfection.’ And be sure, Becky knows exactly what she’s doing.

2. Tender is the Night – F Scott Fitzgerald
Whilst The Archive Bookstore has some great vintage copies of The Great Gatsby, it’s not exactly the most original find for a reading list. Instead, we’re opting for Fitzgerald’s other classic: Tender is the Night. Yes, Gatsby has the whole flapper style down to a tee, but Tender has a more discreet glamour. Set in the golden French Riviera, its characters include Hollywood film stars and beautiful expats. Fitzgerald once again shows that decadence and fashion can be a façade for more serious underlying issues.

3. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton’s novels show that upper class living brings with it great style, but perhaps not happiness. She devotes many passages to the fashion of the time, which was such an important part of life for the wealthy. Think frothy dresses, yards of lace, and Romantic elegance. It would be slightly overdone by today’s standards, but designers like Oscar de la Renta still take inspiration from the dramatic style of dress. Showing how relevant Wharton is to contemporary fashion, in 2012 Vogue dedicated a spread to celebrate her 150th anniversary. Annie Leibovitz took the photographs, Grace Coddington styled, and Natalia Vodianova modelled as Wharton herself in lavish creations from the likes of Nina Ricci, Chanel and Balenciaga. Check out the feature here. Even a shade of Lancome lipstick is named after Wharton, and what could be more fashionable than that?

4. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Russian literature has got a bad reputation for being too long. It’s true, Russian novelists could often dedicate entire chapters describing just one thing. Don’t be fazed by this, as it actually makes for some excellent reading. We particularly find this in Anna Karenina, where the protagonist is yet another beautiful but troubled woman. Tolstoy skips no detail in describing how sensational she looks: ‘Anna was not in lilac, as Kitty had absolutely wanted, but in a low-cut black velvet dress, which revealed her full shoulders and bosom, as if shaped from old ivory, and her rounded arms with their very small, slender hands.’ For a more visual representation of this, check out the 2012 adaptation starring Keira Knightley in Jacqueline Durran’s designs and jewels from Chanel.

5. Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Orlando is the only example on this list where men’s fashion is central. This is not to say that Elizabethan fashion is making a comeback. It has to be said, those ruffs look pretty uncomfortable. Instead it brings up ideas of androgyny which many designers love to play with. Orlando is described as a beautiful boy in the beginning of the novel, but one day wakes up as a girl. This gender fluidity is reflected in both menswear and womenswear designs. Just see Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2016 show where male models wore pussy-bow blouses and feminine florals – and this is by no means the only example of the blurring of gender in fashion.

Visit the Archive Bookstore at: 83 Bell Street, Marylebone, London NW1 6TB

Text by Prudence Wade

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