Non-fiction Ametora by W. David Marx , Basic Books. 4.5/5 stars The Japanese have long been excellent reverse engineers, imitating and improving everything from cars to electronics to pop music. As W. David Marx shows, they have done the same with American fashion, assimilating and making it their own. Ametora unpicks the cultural seams of “American traditional” garb, embroidering it to suit Japanese sensibilities, and in the process, shaping culture for the rest of the world. The story begins just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when Japan was preparing to wow foreign visitors. Staining the city’s perfect image, however, were hundreds of teenage men hanging out in the capital’s glitzy Ginza district wearing “strange clothing”: shrunken chinos, extraneously buttoned suit jackets and John F. Kennedy haircuts. Their Ivy League style, Marx writes, could be traced to Kensuke Ishizu, founder of an influential company called Van Jacket. Following a visit to Princeton University in the US, Ishizu returned home knowing what he wanted Japanese youth to copy. Marx examines Japanese counterculture through a parade of the different fashion tribes that have strutted their stuff in Harajuku and other voguish hot spots. He explains, for example, why blue jeans (GI pants, or “jiipan”) became desirable – and so expensive. Nevertheless She Wore It by Ann Shen , Chronicle Books. 4/5 stars Nevertheless She Wore It shows how clothes have been used as political statements throughout time. Opening our wardrobes, Ann Shen pulls out everyday pieces that remain popular (jeans, miniskirts). Then there are occasional items, for some of us, once worn as symbols of protest (tuxedo suits, red lipstick). For those who dismiss fashion as feminine vanity, which Shen believes is sexist, she writes: “Women have historically co-opted personal style as a means of dissent and power.” And how. In her pantheon of stylish women with something to say, Shen introduces everyone from US former first lady Michelle Obama, whose sleeveless dresses declared her right to bare arms; to actor Rachel McAdams, whose Versace-and-breast-pumps magazine cover confronted the stigma of breastfeeding in public; to publisher Amelia Bloomer, whose Turkish-inspired skirt-over-loose-pants combination was adapted to become the feminist movement’s dress code. Another claimed for the cause was the cheongsam. Originating as an ornate robe worn only by the Chinese emperor, a simplified version after the fall of the Qing dynasty rocked the New China Woman look. “Expressing yourself as a woman is a political act,” Shen reminds us. That certainly describes Kiran Gandhi’s decision to run the 2015 London Marathon while free-bleeding. Her comfort-led decision gave birth to the “Free the Period” movement. Audiobooks Project 333 by (and read by) Courtney Carver , Penguin Audio. 2.5/5 stars Look up @project333 on Instagram and you’ll see that Courtney Carver is a true minimalist. Despite having 20,600 followers, she follows only 14 accounts, which suggests impressive restraint. Living with less, she says, is a natural consequence of trimming her wardrobe to 33 main items – not including exercise gear, loungewear, underwear or sleepwear. That somewhat random number apparently equates to 25,000 unique fashion combinations, which should appease most of us. Others, however, might balk at Carver’s advice to eliminate all else, including anything ill-fitting, with shoulder pads or stained. To soften the blow she recommends flexibility while reminding us that most women wear only 20 per cent of their clothes 80 per cent of the time. For peace of mind, she suggests hiding the extra items initially; after three months, she says, you’ll realise “simple is the new black” and want to donate what you haven’t missed. Some listeners may choose to include Project 333 in that pile to make space for other, more useful books on the subject, such as The Conscious Closet (2019), by Elizabeth Cline, or Decluttering at the Speed of Life (2018), by Dana White. Carver herself recommends The True Cost (2015), a documentary about the cost of clothes.