Writing about men’s style is not like dancing about architecture. In fact, I sometimes wonder which I enjoy more: dressing or reading about dressing. Partially that’s because I’m detail-oriented and fascinated with history—not only what we wear but why we wear it. But I think it’s also because dress is a language in an of itself and thankfully a great number of writers have tried to decode that language to find the poetry within.
However, I want to state categorically that this is not an “essential” list of men’s style books or a “must have.” This is simply the books I have in my library, collected over the years rather haphazardly instead of by intent. I am missing some very important titles (such as Sex and Suits, Eminently Suitable and Dressing the Man) so this is more of a work in progress. Also, this list is in no particular order.
Alan Flusser Style & The Man
This is my go to book when it comes to the basic elements of a wardrobe and dressing well. Clear, simple and to the point, this book is one of the best references for classic style I’ve ever read. Written in 1996 and updated in 2010, everything from bow tie widths to packing a suitcase is covered, with plenty of illustrations to help.
JJ Lee The Measure of a Man
This memoir is one of the first books that inspired me to dress well and invest in my wardrobe. The book mixes a journey into the author’s childhood and his relationship with his father with his contemporary journey to try to become a tailor. More importantly, this book showed me that clothes and dress can reveal so much about our relationships and ourselves.
G. Bruce Boyer Elegance
Written over thirty years ago, this book is both an extremely well-written treatise on classic men’s style as well as a fascinating time capsule. Boyer writes like he dresses, with understated style and supreme ease. And despite the book’s age, the only thing outdated are some of the shops and addresses—Boyer’s advice, guidance and historical perspective are just as relevant today. In fact, I recently interviewed Boyer on the book’s anniversary which you can read here.
Patricia Mears and G. Bruce Boyer Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s This book was published as an accompaniment to a 2014 exhibit for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Of most interest to me is the chapter written by Boyer “Tailoring The New Man.” It is the clearest, most concise history I’ve ever encountered of 1930s menswear, considered by many the pinnacle of men’s style. Boyer expertly traces the roots of contemporary tailoring through both London’s “drape cut” and the Neapolitan revolution of Vincenzo Attolini. Plus, the photographs of the period clothes are stunning.
G. Bruce Boyer True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear
Almost a companion to Boyer’s earlier Elegance, this book is an excellent primer to the basics of a classic wardrobe while also delving deeper into the history of what we wear. But this is not dry academic writing, far from it. Boyer’s personality shines through, almost as if he is sitting next to you, smile on his face, while he shares his thoughts on ascots, demin and evening dress.
Jeffrey Banks and Doria De La Chapelle Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style
Although it can function quite well as an inspiring and fun-to-flip-through coffee table book, heavy with images both historical and contemporary, Preppy is also full of very informative essays on the history of Ivy League style. Starting with the early decades of the twentieth century, to Japan, womenswear, the 80s trend and Ivy’s resurgence today, this is a great primer on the most important men’s style movement in America in the last one hundred years.
James Sherwood Bespoke: The Men’s Style of Savile Row Thoroughly researched, expertly written and featuring stunning photography and archival images, this is by far the book on Savile Row and its history. All the major houses are here, broken up in to chapters that focus on different aspects of the Row’s history, like those houses most associated with the Royalty, military tailoring, fashion and so on. This book is extremely satisfying to read while also a pleasure to simply flip through.
Richard Anderson Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed
I have read this book three times and I intend to read it again this summer. A biography of tailor Richard Anderson, it is a very personal and very in-depth look at his Savile Row apprenticeship just as the old Row was disappearing (when he began, in the early 80s, some tailors still wore the classic servants’ uniform of black coats and striped trousers). Anderson exposes what it’s really like in the cutting and sewing rooms when the clients aren’t around and some of his stories of mishaps and near misses are as funny as they are revealing.
Marcus Binney, Simon Crompton et al One Savile Row: The Invention of the English Gentleman
The essays in this book are relatively short but they are valuable insights into the history and vision behind legendary tailoring house Gieves and Hawkes. But the best reason to own this book is the breathtaking photography of Bruno Ehrs. The lighting, details, composition and colours are all so stunning, so unexpected, this is more art than catalogue. Historical garments are given a new life by being draped over a chair or hung from a mantelpiece. The sheer artistry of the tailoring is magnified by the expert photography.
Hugo Jacomet The Parisian Gentleman As Bruce Boyer says in his foreword, this book “is a poem to artisans.” But as Hugo Jacomet himself says, the book is not meant to only extol the virtues, skills and artistry of Parisian craftsmen in order to educate and inspire those who wish to dress well. It is also aimed at those who wish to make those suits and shoes we will wear. And that’s what I enjoy most about this book: Jacomet’s underlying drive, that to insure this industry continues, it needs new blood. And Jacomet does so expertly with crisp, passionate writing that is refreshingly and strikingly personal, accompanied by the stunning photography of Andy Julia.
Riccardo Villarosa and Giuliano Angeli Homo Elegans: How to Construct an Ideal Wardrobe
Produced with the help of the Ermenegildo Zegna company in 1990, don’t be put off by the rather outdated photos in “The Wardrobe” section. If you can see past the oversized 80s suits, there is a lot of fundamental information in this large book about classic men’s style. Especially useful is the opening section devoted to fabric: almost forty pages of detailed images and descriptions of everything from carded cashmere to linen gabardine.
Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman
Another book that is as much a pleasure to flip through as to read, Callahan’s lens is trained on some of our time’s most well-known dressers including Gay Talese, Nick Wooster, Nicholas Foulkes, Hugo Jacomet, G. Bruce Boyer and James Sherwood. She also visits lesser-known but perhaps more extreme dandies with a series of striking and sometimes very intimate photos. Equally sharp is Adams’ pen—he is writing not to just celebrate these men, but to understand why they do what they do: spend inordinate amounts of time on their dress.
Simon Crompton The Finest Menswear in the World Expanded from the archives of his blog Permanent Style, Crompton goes through the classic men’s wardrobe and chooses the makers around the world he feels offer the best in their field. And it is a fascinating view inside the processes of a number of remarkable artisans including Bresciani socks, Cleverly shoes and Zimmerli underwear. The book is also full of excellent photography showing the art and craft of menswear making in detail.
David W. Marx Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style I cannot tell if Ametora is a history book dressed in fine menswear or a menswear book that happens to be full of detailed history. But I don’t really care. This book is a supreme pleasure to read, not least because of the way Marx brings the history of Japan’s fascination with American style to life. It turns out the story behind Japan’s embrace of button-down shirts and selvedge denim is as fascinating as the clothes itself.