Enviable Bookmobile Fashions

Derek Attig

Staff Writer

Derek works in graduate student career development and is (believe it or not) one of the world's foremost experts on the history of bookmobiles. Follow Derek on Twitter @bookmobility and on Instagram @bookmobility.

I’ve spent the past seven years researching bookmobiles. I’ve learned a lot in the process—facts, figures, stories, interpretations—but one thing that always stands out is this: a lot of people who visited bookmobiles dressed with some serious pizzazz. It’s not universally true, of course; bookmobiles attracted ordinary clothes as much as amazing ones. But looking through some of the photos I’ve collected, there’s no denying that bookmobiles brought out the best (and sometimes weirdest) in people, sartorially speaking. It may undermine my image as a very serious scholar, but I’ll admit to regularly squealing “Ooh! Cute! Gimme!” while doing research.

You’ll see what I mean.

Check out that hat. Glowingly white (cleverly picking up the bright collar, belt, and pocketed gloves), this cloche-on-steroids narrows peripheral vision and tells you the wearer only has eyes for books. (Though the librarian in that delightfully nubby suit might be worth a second glance.) Really, this whole shot is just brimming—get it? hat pun—with style.

There’s so much to love here, with the great textiles and super-saturated colors. But it’s the glasses on the woman in blue that really catch my eye. Giant, metallic, electrically blue, and they help you see books better? I needn’t go on.

Just look at that coat. You know which one I’m talking about. Big, graphic print on textured fabric with that subtly architectural collar. And smartly paired with that clean, smooth, quiet, bright white purse. (Since the photo is black and white, I’m just going to declare that the coat was magenta and white, which makes it that much better.) Climate control could often be an issue on bookmobiles—libraries didn’t often want to run them during an entire stop, since that could eat up expensive fuel—so it’s good to see someone come prepared, and so fashionably prepared at that.

From the National Archives and Wikimedia Commons

And speaking of coats, both the lacy housecoat of amazingness on the left and fantasy-novel hooded cloak of drama on the right practically scream, “I’m not sacrificing comfort or fashion when I visit the bookmobile.” (Also: love the braid situation.)

Sometimes it’s less the clothes than the attitude that’s so enviably fashionable. The shape of the skirt on the left is wonky but glorious. And then there’s that ludicrous, awesome collar. And sure, the fabric is bunching and pulling, and the shape hasn’t perhaps aged too terribly well. But when you wear something with that much panache, it doesn’t matter a bit. A good library lesson: wear (read) what you want and love it.

For those whose tastes run a bit (only a bit) more butch, there’s this. The tucked-in, high-sleeved, James-Dean-tastic white t-shirt is a classic. But it’s all about the socks. And he knows it, with the jeans rolled up to show off that flashy plaid, and the ruddy leather shoes to anchor them. When you visit a bookmobile, you usually have to climb onto and off of a bus, and this gentleman is definitely dressing to show off his ankles as he does it. How risqué!

I’ll close with this one, since there’s a fashionable kid and one of the most fashionable bookmobiles I’ve ever seen:

That font! That diagonal layout! That bigness! Really, the whole delicious 1970s-ness of it all. And way over on the left, you have the hottest in little-nerd chic, with that hooded coat, cinched around the face to really highlight the print. Like the hat we started with, it narrows the field of vision and says that nothing is more important than seeing that book. Except maybe looking amazing while doing it.

Okay, little kid from the ’70s (and everyone else). Your gauntlet—let’s say it’s one of these crazy steampunk ones—has been thrown. And I’ll take the challenge. Next time I visit a bookmobile, I’m dressing to the nines.


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