Classic men’s style is well suited to scholarly erudition, based as it is in so much history and the trends that speak of centuries rather than seasons. But reading the history of men’s clothing won’t get you very far towards knowing what to wear yourself. You need both. And the best books that have been written on classic men’s style include a mix, albeit with varying degrees of success in the mixture.
It is important to know what kind of book you’re getting, and hopefully this guide will give you a decent place to start.
Dressing the Man, by Alan Flusser
The first book I ever read in this area and still by far and away the best in my opinion. It is a practical guide to what suit to wear, what colours to wear and what combinations to make with the other parts of your clothing, all seen through the perspective of history and tradition. Entertainingly written and the only book to include pull-out sections with shirt and suit swatches, this is your starting point.
Savile Row, The Master Tailors of British Bespoke, by James Sherwood
The other side of the historical/contemporary spectrum, this book will tell you almost nothing about what to wear other than to be inspired by the sumptuous photography. It is a big book, almost a coffee table in itself, and it makes full use of that size to dazzle and delight with sartorial detail. It is also a fantastic history of Savile Row’s tailors, informed by Sherwood’s work on the archives of many of the Row’s finest houses. Entertaining, despite its potted-history approach, and the best place to learn about British tailoring.
Elegance, A Guide to Quality in Menswear, by Bruce Boyer
Sadly now out of print, but available second hand online at very reasonable prices, this is a collection of essays written during Boyer’s time as fashion editor at Town & Country magazine. He takes narrow topics for each chapter (the polo coat, packing, polyester) and expounds its history and rightful place in contemporary menswear. Elegantly and amusingly written, this manages to find a unique voice and unique subjects in a crowded market.
A History of Men’s Fashion, by Farid Chenoune
Again out of print but available online and on the library circuit. Chenoune’s history is extremely thorough and runs from 1760 to the 1980s. His French perspective on fashion (this edition is a translation by Deke Dusinberre) gives a fresh angle on almost every trend of the past 250 years, but is particularly valuable during the eighteenth century discussion and exploration of the 1960s in France.
Sharp Suits, by Eric Musgrave
Listed lower down only for its likelihood to overlap with books you have already read, and those above. Musgrave’s book contains great imagery and excels as a rapid history of the suit in the twentieth century. That is really what it should be sub-titled.
Also worth of mention:
Style and the Man, by Alan Flusser – More of a series of essays on quality, followed by a list of the best stores (Boyer’s Elegance is also good on that point, though a little out of date now)
The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style – An entertaining explanation of the rules of menswear, it is let down by the slightly odd style that is intended to mimic Machiavelli, and the lack of illustrations
Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion, by Bernhard Roetzel – Very good on the best men’s stores and with good illustrations, it pales in comparison to Flusser for guidance on what to wear
ABC of Men’s Fashion, by Hardy Amies – Exactly what it says, an alphabetical list of menswear with pithy takes on each one. Worth adding to any list. Amies’s The Englishman’s Suit is also worth picking up
History of Men’s Fashion, by Nicholas Storey – Not really a history, but packed full of unusual facts and particularly strong on evening wear
Hand of the Artisan, by Jonathan Lobban – Commissioned by The Rake magazine, this is a whistle-stop tour around the great craft houses of Italy. Best of its photography, and includes furniture, jewellery and cars as well as clothes