Rebel, Rebel, Rebel – Three Books on Fashion’s Rebellious Style Icons

What makes someone a fashion rebel? Is it about bucking trends to find a personal style, dressing in really out-there, head-turning garments, or about doing everything that rock stars do in terms of getting dressed?

While surfing Amazon lately, I came across three titles that purported to be about rebel fashion. Two of them ended up being books intended for kids, and none of them really came close to what I was expecting in terms of rebellious fashion icons or rebellious style in general. (I think Michelle Obama is awesome, and definitely is/was a fashion icon for this generation, but I don’t think her style of mixing high- and low-end garments to be particularly “rebellious”).

In any case, the first two titles would be good books for kids with an interest in fashion who want to learn more about personal style and fashion history. I’m still not sure what to make of the third one.

Bad Girls of Fashion
Jennifer Croll, illustrated by Ada Buchholc

This collections of style icons is geared towards young, middle school readers, and does a decent job of explaining their individual styles and influences on fashion through the ages from Roman times to modern day. The illustrations are truly fabulous but I’d love more of them. The writing style is simple and straightforward and gives a clear explanation of each person featured without talking down to its intended (young) reader. Unfortunately, the layout is weirdly confusing with chapters on the greater influencers being broken up with shorter pages or sections about other (sometimes) related stylish women. This makes for disjointed reading. Croll also steps away, possibly intentionally, from discussing cultural appropriation, such as how Cleopatra has always been portrayed in Hollywood by white women, or how Madonna made Hindi style cool for the pop culture masses. Points for forthrightness about gender issues with the inclusion of George Sand and Kathleen Hanna, and also points for including some fairly subversive and not well known characters like Rose Bertin and Beth Ditto.

Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World through Fashion
Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia

Similar to Bad Girls of Fashion, this book is intended for kids. Amazon shows the intended age group to be 3 – 7, which might be a bit young but it would be a good read for pre-teens. Bios are more simplified, the author avoids referencing Coco Chanel’s Nazi ties, for instance, and are more US-centric with a feature on fashionable US First Ladies. Many of the most well-known fashionistas overlap with Bad Girls (Marie Antoinette, Madonna, Lady Gaga), and the differences here are more mainstream – Katherine Hepburn instead of Bad Girls’ Dietrich, and Michelle Obama and Dolly Madison instead of the more challenging Hanna and Ditto. The collection is well-organized and after each bio, Cerniglia Beccia includes a page with suggested items on how to achieve a specific style – while I love this feature, this is partly why I find Fashion Rebels more suited to older readers; I don’t know many 3-year-olds looking to add a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat to their wardrobes.

Rebel Rebel Anti-Style
Keanan Duffty with Paul Gorman

I feel as if I should know who Keenan Duffty is. Apparently he’s been around since the 70s UK punk scene, designing punk-inspired fashions and working in bands with folks such as Clem Burke (Blondie) and Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols). He designed the line of Bowie-inspired gear that was sold at Target back in 2006. But until I picked up his book, I had never heard of him.

Divided into sections based on the various items a “fashion rebel” might wear (jeans, t-shirt, biker jacket, cool belt) Duffty talks about the history of each item, cites examples of classic usage (Joey Ramone’s ripped jeans, every rock star and a black leather jacket). But then every chapter comes back to Duffty’s own career, either his designs (lots of stuff with punk influences in the form of silk screens or patches) or his band. So while his rebel fashion history ticks all the actual rebel boxes for me in what I was expecting from this trio of books, it’s a bit too self-promoting.