Looks like you’ve enjoyed our 10 of the best books about the sea, time for the style section now. We’ve kept it chick lit free, naturally, we’ve chosen a lot of subcultural stuff and we dug out a couple of old school 1st edition covers for those of you who are visual types (and don’t really read).
1. SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING BY ALAN SILLITOE
Most of the best stuff in British menswear comes from working class subculture, large chunks of which started being systematically destroyed in the early 80s. But Arthur Seaton, protagonist in our favourite “Angry Young Man” Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel still has the money (from skilled factory work, not some random hustling or an underpaid call centre job), the attitude and most importantly the Teddy Boy wardrobe to be a proper old school, boozing, womanising, resilient rebel. “I’m out for a good time. The rest is propaganda.”
2. THE BELL JAR BY SYLVIA PLATH
Sylvia Plath’s only novel is about depression, suicide, and a protagonist, Esther Greenwood, who is suffocated by the pressures society exerts on women. Doesn’t help that Esther is doing an internship at Ladies’ Day magazine. No need for more than an English Literature GCSE to figure out that a women’s mag like that is used by the author to epitomise the suppression of women. It’s also responsible for some stylish New York moments.
3. THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA BY HANIF KUREISHI
Mixed race teenager Karim Amir wants to escape the boring suburbs to find freedom and new experiences in bohemian 1970s London: “There were kids in velvet cloaks who lived free lives.” Kureishi’s coming-of-age novel is about race, class, accents, sex, pretty boys, posh girls, Trotskyists and pop-culture. But above all it’s about identity. And the right clothes. Obviously.
4. THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT BY OLIVER SACKS
Ok, to say that the link to style is tenuous here is an understatement. Apart from the title and the stylish bowler hat cover of course (by none less than Magritte btw). Neurologist Sacks couldn’t figure out why a particular patient needed to see him until the man tried to put his wife’s head on his as he was about to leave. There are also beautifully narrated case histories about a man who’s stuck in 1945 and a woman who emerged from a coma speaking perfect French.
5. THE WARRIORS BY SOL YURICK
It’s hardly a secret that a lot of street fashion trends have their origin in gang culture. Rejected by 27 publishers, presumably for being too radical, extreme and violent, The Warriors is about rivalling NYC gangs who seriously care about their gang insignia. It became the inspiration for a very stylish film adaptation that gained cult status, admiration by the Wu Tang Clan and was subsequently transformed into a computer game. But Sol Yurick, the book’s author hated it for being trashy and sentimentalised. The working class political activist who’d worked for the welfare system (and came to the conclusion its programmes were solely invented to control the poor) had enough first hand experience to know the gritty reality of gang life.
6. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X BY MALCOLM X WITH ALEX HALEY
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is undoubtedly a brilliant, culturally hugely important book about a hustler turned charismatic Black radical leader and human rights activist. But it’s also about Malcolm’s years as a hustling teenage hipster, when he’d wear a zoot suit that was “sharkskin grey, with a big, long coat and pants bellowing out at the knees and then tapering down to cuffs so narrow that [he] had to take [his] shoes off to get them on.” Pretty sharp! And a highly appropriate outfit for the 1943 Harlem zoot-suit riots he was part of.
7. LESS THAN ZERO BY BRET EASTON ELLIS
The obvious Bret Easton Ellis for the style category might be Glamorama with its models and celebs and endless descriptions of outfits, but we have a soft spot for Less Than Zero. The fashion credits are shorter, but the kids are still tan. They’re also nihilistic narcissists who live in a vacuous world of hedonism and dispassionate sex. Ellis’ first draft was reportedly super emotional. After talking to his creative writing teacher (he published the novel when he was 21) he decided to go for the hyper minimalist approach that’s become his signature style.
8. POPISM BY ANDY WARHOL AND PAT HACKETT
Pop art icon Andy Warhol turned style into art, or art into style. He also knew everyone. So if you want to find out about the cultural revolution of the 60s, about its protagonists and its random extras, about Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, a selection of drag queens and about the style/art/music avant-garde that would hang out at Warhol’s studio, POPism isn’t a bad place to start.
9. FROM A TO BIBA BY BARBARA HULANICKI
We can’t possibly only feature the American 60s and ignore Swinging London. From A to Biba, Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki’s autobiography, gives you a witty insight into the goings on at her tiny boutique in Kensington and its super famous clientele which included the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot.
10. STREET STYLE BY TED POLHEMUS
Perfect reading (with lots of pictures) for those of you who need to seriously brush up on their subculture knowledge. Anthropologist, photographer and major authority on all things street style Ted Polhemus’ style tribe crash course shows that “where once culture was the monopoly of the upper classes, it now, more often than not, bubbles up from those on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.” We agree and are the proud owners of a signed copy.