D.V. by Diana Vreeland (Da Capo, $17). This is a must-read for the fashion world, but anyone can enjoy its feel for what the business was like in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, and how "Mrs. Vreeland" dominated it. Her energy and enthusiasm for life just radiate from the pages of this book. She writes about meeting Condé Nast, driving to Long Island in a taxicab with Clark Gable, discovering Twiggy. This book lets the reader inside an extraordinary life.

The World of Carmel Snow by Carmel Snow (out of print). To understand the way magazine editors shape fashion—or how they once did—you have to understand the mind and life of Carmel Snow, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar from 1933 to 1957. This book brings to light Snow’s relationship with various fashion icons of the 20th century, particularly Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga, and how Snow discovered and formed them.

The Fashionable Mind by Kennedy Fraser (out of print). These essays on fashion and style from Fraser’s work for the 1970s New Yorker are great lessons on writing about style. When I first started writing for Vogue I devoured everything Fraser wrote, and I learned from it.

Diane: A Signature Life by Diane Von Furstenberg (Simon & Schuster, $20). Very few women in fashion have the drive and courage of Diane Von Furstenberg. She is iconic not only in her style, but also in the story of her entrepreneurship: how she began her company, lost control of her name, and bought it back and built her business into one that thrives today. Hers is the ultimate story of how a style icon makes a name for herself.

Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie (It Books, $40). I thought there was nothing more to say about Coco Chanel, but Picardie’s recent book does a great job of depicting a difficult and compelling 20th-century icon.

A Perfect Union by Catherine Allgor (Holt, $17). As Allgor says in this biography of Dolley Madison, the wife of America’s fourth president was the architect of Washington’s social scene, and she used style to set the tone of that scene. In first lady history, she was the original style icon.

Kate Betts, the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Time Style & Design, is the author of the new book Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style