Assigned Reading: My favourite books on Beauty

I’m trying to read more – it’s so easy to lose the habit, especially if you’re a student who already has to read course lit all day. Luckily, my course lit is exactly the kind of thing I read for fun. While I’m pursuing a degree in fashion theory, I’m trying my best to pull beauty in under the ‘fashion’ umbrella. It’s gone over pretty all right so far. I’ve bought tons of books, from practical guides and academic literature to explorations of perfume verging on prose.

These are my favourites, and would make wonderful gifts to the beauty fanatic in your life!

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Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge
Lisa Eldridge is one of my favourite humans in general. I love how geeky she gets about beauty history, and this book is a beautiful introduction to the topic with gorgeous spreads and fascinating profiles on prominent women in history. Consider this your entry point into beauty geekdom.

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Under the Skin by Alessandra Lemma
Here’s the other end of the spectrum in terms of accessibility. Under the Skin is dense, academic and absolutely fascinating, focusing on body modification as the central topic. However, I see beauty as body modification and Lemma makes fascinating points that apply to tattoos and implants just as much as they do to false lashes and blush.

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Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes
Sali Hughes is a renowned beauty writer based in the UK, and her book Pretty Honest is a witty guide to all things cosmetic, from how to find your foundation match to how to get botox. Her tone is refreshingly to the point, though I think some of her advice should be taken with a grain of salt – though that’s true of all advice. If you’ve already got your skincare routine perfected, this book may be redundant in terms of practicality.

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The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin
If you have any interest in perfume, you’ve probably heard of Luca Turin at some point. He’s a biophysicist scenthead who presents some fascinating insight into how your sense of smell actually works – in his opinion, that is. How our noses work is still somewhat of a mystery, which only adds to the fascination with perfume. This book is witty, accessible and a must read for anyone who, like me, spends too much time harassing perfume counter staff for samples.

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Hope in a Jar by Kathy Peiss
Another book on the slightly more academic side, though still very easy to read, featuring a brief history of cosmetics in the west and their impact on the lives of American women. Very informative and concise.

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Making Faces by Kevyn Aucoin
More or less the bible on makeup application, featuring easy-to-follow guides and celebrity transformations by the inimitable Kevyn Aucoin. It’s older than many beauty youtubers but its message and techniques are still relevant, a great starting point for those looking to try their hand at makeup artistry.

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Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson
My first book on fashion theory, Adorned in Dreams outlines fashion history with a sociological and cultural perspective, touching on topics like modernity, identity and gender. It’s definitely more in the realm of fashion than beauty, but the way it covers self-expression can definitely be applied to beauty as well.

As with any media you consume, remain critical and take every claim with a grain of salt. I don’t agree with every single statement in every single book I love, but that doesn’t make them any less useful a resource – or any less entertaining!

Do you have any recommendations to share? Please let me know!

6 months ago

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