John Waters once wisely said, “If you go home with someone and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck them.” Well, judging by the current state of fashion, he was damn right. Reading is hot, now more than ever. While fashion often looks to the wider culture for inspiration, books have become status symbols in their own right. On sunny days, the parks are filled with people pulling their hot girl books out of their hot girl tote bags – most often Ottessa Moshfegh’s. My year of rest and relaxation or something from Sally Rooney.
Indeed, books are markers of taste and self-expression. Choosing which books to put on your bookshelf — or your Insta Story — comes down to choosing what to wear. TikTok, Instagram and Goodreads are full of “sexy girl book” lists, but when exactly did reading become such a popular pastime? The romantic comedies of the 2000s would have you believe that being cool and reading books are mutually exclusive, with popular and hot kids teasing those who spent their lunch breaks with their noses between the pages. However, the tables have since turned, with books becoming another way to showcase our most organized selves online through the culture we consume. Ergo, if you read “hot girl books” you must be sexy.
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On the catwalk, designers interpret this trend through a sartorial lens. In recent seasons, we’ve seen fashion bibliophiles turn to classic and contemporary literature for inspiration. Ottessa Moshfegh has taken up the mantle of fashion’s favorite novelist for AW22, making her runway debut at Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s NYFW show and penning a short story to accompany the show notes at Proenza Schouler. Meanwhile, Jonathan Anderson’s AW22 Loewe show featured a voiceover reciting Sylvia Plath’s poem Fever 103°. For SS22, the designer released three JW Anderson capsules inspired by the quote, “the secret of life is in the art”, from one of the luminaries of literary fashion, Oscar Wilde.
Bookworm Kim Jones is no stranger to bringing literary codes to collections at Fendi and Dior. For Dior Men AW22, he was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s classic On the road, rolling out the original transcription along the track with the stamp of approval from the Kerouac estate. Previously, the creative director drew inspiration from Virginia Woolf for Fendi Couture SS21 in a collection inspired by school trips to Charleston Farmhouse, a beloved retreat from the Bloomsbury ensemble of which Woolf was a part. Elsewhere, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli tapped 17 high-profile authors – including André Aciman, Leïla Slimani and Emily Ratajkowski – to create campaign layouts featuring their writing; and thirsty Parisian menswear brand Louis Gabriel Nouchi named each of its collections after a seminal French novel. To put it simply, literary interests have never been so present. Books tell us where we are, where we were and where we will be, so it’s no surprise that they serve as an endless reservoir of inspiration for the fashion world.
Admittedly, the trend has been gaining traction for some time. When the Hadid sisters were holding paperbacks while off duty at fashion week, the New York Post called their books “the new trendy accessory of 2019”, but the tabloid article received backlash as some suggested it was sexist to imply that women only wear books for ornamental purposes. Later that same year, Kendall Jenner was captured lying in the sun reading cult contemporary classics like Darcie Wilder. literally show me a healthy person and Chelsea Hanson Tonight I’m with someone else. In an article titled “How did Kendall Jenner get a copy of my book?” Wilder surmises that it was probably Jenner’s modeling agent, Ashleah Gonzales, who compiled the model’s playlist. Thus, the concept of the elusive celebrity book stylist was born. It has been revealed that some high profile personalities hire someone to choose which books they read or take with them in public. Makes sense – after all, there’s no greater shame than being seen reading something embarrassing off the tube.
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In 2020, Kaia Gerber launched her own book club, while newsletters from Dua Lipa and Lorde often feature literary recommendations keeping the art of reading cool and alive. When Architectural Summary filmed a tour of Ashley Tisdale’s home, the actress admitted she sent her husband to buy 400 books just to stock the shelves ahead of the interview. She has been criticized for using books purely for decorative purposes, but while the idea of books as props may be offensive to some, to others it can make reading more glamorous and exciting.
When Berlin artist Calla Henkel published her first novel, Other people’s clothes, earlier this year, it was immediately rated as a hot-girl book by content creators on BookTok, TikTok’s literary community focused on book categorization, discussion, criticism and jokes. Calla’s novel follows the story of two art students living in Berlin in 2009 and throwing extravagant parties every weekend. The Guardian described it as “a really good plot-driven thriller dressed in a scintillating jumpsuit”. It’s easy to see where her glamorous credentials are coming from and Calla isn’t unhappy with that perception. “I think there’s a cultural reflex to piss on things that young women like,” she says. “I’m weirdly excited by the creaking of color-coordinated books on a bed with twinkling lights and I don’t think it flattens what’s inside the books. If anything, it frees him from the slumber of academia.
Calla is interested in the “camp of being a writer,” she says. “I mean, my copyright photo shows me serious in my bra by a lake in Switzerland.” Being an author often means assuming a personality, voluntarily or not. The sad recluse writer is such a serious cliché that it becomes a camp. Many contemporary writers fit into the sad girl literary trope, writing sad characters and avoiding the public eye. While many books of this genre still make it onto “hot-girl” reading lists, there is a desire for more glamor in literature, even if it comes down to just the cover art.
Lauren Hower, who makes content at BookTok, freely admits that how a book looks plays a role in her decision to read it. “I was reading a Rachel Cusk book on the subway and I was like, this book goes so well with my outfit!” she says. “I was hoping a New York street photographer would take a picture of me and my hot book.” Speaking on the phone as she walks around town, Lauren says, “I see Ottessa Moshfegh girls everywhere. She’s become so synonymous with being a sad girl. It really is like another accessory. Your Doc Martens platform and your Ottessa Moshfegh book are your whole look.
This wave of literary fashion could just be the latest trend in our endless pursuit of an organized online persona or it could signal that being smart and informed is more important than ever. With all the conflicting information online, turning to books can provide a sense of stability. If a book matches your aesthetic, there’s a better chance you can relate to it. Even academic snobs who might be offended by the idea of books as fashion accessories have certainly read books for weight and validation. Just because what you’re reading sounds good with your oatmeal doesn’t mean you’re too superficial to enjoy its contents.
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