Penn Libraries News

Featured Books and DVDs: Fashion

You can find these selections and many more on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Four DVD covers are laid out above three books. From top left, The Devil Wears Prada, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, House of Gucci, and Paris is burning. From bottom left: Fashion and Music, Get a Life!: The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood, and Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore.

This month, the Penn Libraries invites you to explore arts and cultures from all over the world through the unique lens of fashion. From pockets to shoes, this month’s featured books offer an engaging history of the things we wear, while the featured DVDs comprise a mix of documentary footage and classic fictional storytelling.

“I think [fashion is] an intriguing concept that gives us the opportunity to showcase a variety of cultures, untold history, and unique titles from every corner of the collection,” says Megan Brown Olsen, library assistant, who led the curation efforts this month. “There's something fashionable on display for everyone!”

Readers may be surprised by how closely fashion is linked to music, according to Florrie Marks, the Music Library’s administrative assistant: “The Music Library has many books that focus on the relationship between fashion and music, from the zoot suits of the 1940s to pop music performers such as Lady Gaga to the world of theater. Fashion Designers at the Opera features pictures and descriptions of costume designs of some of the world's great fashion designers, including Armani, Prada, and Versace, when they were commissioned to costume productions by some of the world’s greatest opera houses.”

Meanwhile, Patty Gilson, the library assistant who chooses the featured DVDs each month, says, " I chose to include the documentary The True Cost in this collection because it's important to know the darker side of the highly capitalistic and superficial fashion industry. We need to remember that the designer clothing people covet comes at the cost of human rights and the environment.”

You can find these selections and many more on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.


The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900 by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux 

Pencils, a sketchbook, cake, yards of stolen ribbon, thimbles, snuff boxes, a picture of a lover, two live ducks: these are just some of the fascinating things carried by women and girls in their tie-on pockets, an essential accessory throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. This first book-length study of the pocket uses the lenses of materiality and gender to provide new insight into the social history of women's everyday lives and explore their consumption practices, work, sociability, mobility, privacy, and identity. The unexpected story of these deeply evocative and personal objects is revealed through sources as diverse as criminal trials, letters, diaries, inventories, novels, and advertisements. 

Costuming Cosplay: Dressing the Imagination by Therèsa M. Winge 

Cosplay, short for “costume play,” has grown from its origins at fan conventions into a billion-dollar global dress phenomenon. With an approach that ranges from admiration and role-play to gender performance, this is the first book to fully examine the subculture and costume of the cosplay phenomenon. Drawing on extensive first-hand research at conventions across North America and Asia, Therèsa M. Winge invites us to explore how cosplay functions as a meritocracy of creativity, escapism, and disguise, and offers a creative realm in which fantasy and new forms of socializing carry as much importance as costume. 

A Coat of Many Colors: Immigration, Globalism, and Reform in the New York City Garment Industry edited by Daniel Soyer 

For more than a century and a half, the garment industry was the largest manufacturing industry in New York City, and New York made more clothes than anywhere else. In this book, historians, sociologists, and economists explore the rise and fall of the garment industry and its impact on New York and its people, as part of a global process of economic change. As a comprehensive portrait of New York's signature industry, A Coat of Many Colors also offers valuable perspectives on the shifts that affect all cities and economies struggling with global transformations. 

Fashion Crimes: Dressing for Deviance edited by Joanne Turney 

In this interdisciplinary volume, scholars propose new ways of seeing everyday dress and the body in public space. Garments and individual or group wearers are used as case studies to explore the codification of clothing as criminal – hoodies, trench-coats, Norwegian Lustkoffe sweaters, low-slung trousers and hip-hop styling are all untangled as garments with criminal significance. The book questions the point at which morality as a form of social control meets criminality, and suggests ways to renegotiate established dress codes and terms such as “suitability” and “glamor” through the study of what people wear in response to notions of criminality. 

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour that Changed the World by Simon Garfield 

In 1856, 18-year-old chemistry student William Perkin was working on a treatment for malaria when he discovered mauve dye by chance. Perkin’s discovery of the first artificial color derived from coal is significant for the far-reaching impact it has made on modern chemistry and its industrial applications. This fortuitous discovery has inspired remarkable advances in medicine, perfumery, textiles, food, explosives, and photography. This book celebrates Perkin's ingenuity, perseverance, and extraordinary ability to see beyond the obvious. 




Singer Diana Ross stars as a young African-American woman who suddenly leaves a life of poverty when she is discovered and becomes a hugely successful fashion model. But during her fast rise to the top, she learns that money and fame do not bring happiness. Ross also performed the soundtrack for the film, and its theme song was nominated for an Academy Award. 

Paris is Burning 

This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, Paris Is Burning offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women, Paris Is Burning celebrates the joy of movement, the force of eloquence, and the draw of community. 

House of Gucci 

In Lady Gaga’s second appearance in this month’s column, House of Gucci is inspired by the shocking true story of the family behind the Italian fashion empire. When Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately…murder. 

The True Cost 

The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. This documentary film pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider: Who really pays the price for our clothing Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, this unprecedented project invites us on an eye-opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes. 


This film offers a personal look at the life and career of British fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. Through exclusive interviews with his closest friends and family, recovered archives, exquisite visuals and music, McQueen is an authentic celebration and thrilling portrait of an inspired yet tortured fashion visionary.