When I was ten years-old, among my favorite outfits was a long, maroon dress embellished with tiny, floral bouquets, and an oversized, lace collar. This, ladies and gentlemen, was not a dress that changed the world.
With a better eye than my young self, London’s Design Museum undertook the ambitious task of naming the Fifty Dresses That Changed the World. The result, a collection of brief histories and full-page photographs, lays out the dresses and designers that revolutionized fashion these past one hundred years. Beginning with Mariano Fortuny’s 1915 flowing Delphos Pleated Dress, the book attempts to lay out the importance of what we wear as women, and how these chosen dresses reflected, and in some cases, initiated social and cultural changes. Blending the wacky (the ‘Buried Dress’, which was left to decompose in the designer’s garden), with the classic (everyone’s favorite ‘Little Black Dress’), Fifty Dresses provides a fairly comprehensive timeline of women’s wear, while reflecting on the social, technological, and historical movements that got us where we are in fashion today.
Read more about Fifty Dresses That Changed the World after the jump.
While most dresses included in the book are notable fashion contributions, you can’t help but wonder as a reader if the book’s title is a tad too grand. Were these fashion statements changing the world, or merely reflecting the brewing movements of their decades? At times, the author doesn’t go as deep as he could into his explanation of how these dresses’ contributed to the world fashion scene, making the overall tone of the book somewhat uneven. Each dress’ history is told in an incredibly straight-forward manner and lacks the flair that each fantastic design deserve. You can’t help but wish for a more narrative touch when dealing with characters like Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, and Cher. The age-old adage might say that the woman makes the dress, but you lose that intimacy in the book’s pages. Despite its flaws, Fifty Dresses is educational (Have you heard of the topless dress? I certainly hadn’t.), and will make a lovely, little addition to any fashionista’s coffee table. It also provides a handy overview to a younger generation who may not know the origin of their favorite wrap dress (Thank you, Ms. von Furstenberg).
The tried and true designs of the earlier part of the twentieth century certainly have cemented themselves in fashion history, but those mentioned later in the book, still may have something to prove. It is difficult to tell the staying power of the more current trends – will they remember balloon and galaxy dresses when the next volume of ‘Dresses that Changed the World’ comes out in one hundred years? Fifty Dresses wraps up with Hussein Chalayan’s 2007 LED dress, a vibrant, glowing manifestation made of Swarovski crystals and over 15,000 LEDs. With 2010 rapidly approaching, you can’t help but wonder what fashion has in store for us tomorrow. I only hope they go easy on the lace collar.