Best Style Books of the Last 20 Years

Photo: Dash Snow © Dave Schubert, from Abandon Ship.

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it,” novelist Zora Neale Hurston famously quipped. “It” is that special something, that inimitable je ne sais quoi, the ineffable head turner than leaves people in awe. It’s more than mere beauty: it is the space where individuality meets a certain edgy grace.

Also: The Best Fashion Photography of the Last 20 Years

We describe it as “style,” a manner in which one’s appearance and actions meld into one that give shape to something that is as particular as it is pleasurable. Style can be of the times, or it can be far ahead, revealing itself years before the world is ready. With the benefit of hindsight, which books often bring, we can reflect back, in search of time past, amazed at the ways of former days are even more significant now. Crave has compiled a list of the best style books of the last 20 years, each a celebration of a time and place that is long, long gone.

Photograph by Jamel Shabazz from Back in the Days

When Back in the Days dropped in 2001, the world wasn’t ready—but they quickly caught up. Jamel Shabazz’s seminal street portraits perfectly defined New York City in the 1980s, when young men and women defined their style on their own terms. Despite the horrors of the time, manifest in the twin plagues of crack and AIDS that were ravaging the African Americans an Latinx communities, the youth were determined to persevere. Back in the Days is a tribute to more than style—it is a story of innovation, originality, and self-respect.

Photo by Janette Beckman from El Hoyo Maravilla

Same decade, Left Coast. In 1983, British photographer Janette Beckman made her way out to Los Angeles. She came across a newspaper story about the East L.A. gang scene; after warnings not to go, she hopped in her rent-a-wreck and began hanging out in El Hoyo Maravilla, a local park, where she got to know the people in the neighborhood. She photographed them going about their daily lives, capturing the beauty of the culture and an incomparable sense of pride. There is a purity that pervades the work, as Beckman captured a sense of family and the resilience of the human spirit.

Dash Snow, photograph by Dave Schubert from Abandon Ship

In just one week in New York City during the early 2000s, Dave Schubert came to town, photographed his friends, and turned the work into the perfect little paperback that he produced in an edition of 500. The book, Abandon Ship, takes us inside his world, a New York City on the verge of sliding off into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a world filled with emotion and angst, with a sense of effortless style and youthful insouciance perhaps best illustrated by the late Dash Snow, who wrote the introduction o the book.

Poison Ivy of the Cramps, photograph by Jim Jocoy from We’re Desperate

When you think of punk, New York and London quickly come to mind, with the famed scenes that quickly made headlines. As punk caught fire, it made it’s way out to San Francisco and Los Angeles, quickly captivating a small group of radical youth who loved the D.I.Y. style that it espoused. They shunned the beige shade of prog rock and embraced this underground scene, quickly creating a look and sound all their own. Photographer Jim Jocoy made the rounds, shooting a collection of portraits that broke it down. The book is a true who’s who, but only if you’re in the know—without captions you can simply read the pictures and enjoy the show.

Polaroids by Maripol, from Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood by Maripol (Damiani/D.A.P.)

Picture it: Downtown Manhattan, 1979. French-born stylist, jewelry designer, and It-Girl extraordinaire Maripol comes to town and takes the city by storm with her outrageously sexy style and her iconoclastic savoir faire. Whether collaborating with the likes of Jean-Paul Goude on his photographs, co-producing Downtown 81 with Edo Bertoglio, or styling Madonna, Debbie Harry, or Grace Jones, Maripol was a force of nature all her own. This is the woman who invented the rubber bracelet, y’all. Little Red Riding Hood is a wild wide through her mind, bringing together drawings, sketches, photographs, Polaroids, and collages that reveal the wonders of her creative process.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.


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