You’ve Only Got Four Dresses to Save the World

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.


About Sarah

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  1. Avatar
    aire 12/28/2009 at 6:03 pm #

    I just received this book for Christmas and I can’t wait to read it…I mean I was excited, but now that I’ve read your review..I’ll be rushing home to start it tonight! 🙂

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    Natalie B. 12/28/2009 at 6:18 pm #

    I dunno, Sarah. That oversized lace collar may have shifted the fashion universe just a little bit…

    Btw – I’m glad that you give your honest opinion on this books and point out some of the negatives, as well as positives. The well-rounded reviews are awesome! 🙂

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    Katharine 12/28/2009 at 7:21 pm #

    Is Björk’s swan dress in there? I never understood why people thought that was such a failed outfit; I loved it!

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    GingerSnaptoit 12/28/2009 at 9:11 pm #

    It’s funny how we can remember certain dresses in our life…I can still remember the dress I wore to my 8th grade dance. It might have been my favorite ever, not because I look back and think that it was stylish (it wasn’t) but because of the way I felt in it (invincible). 🙂

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    kristar 12/28/2009 at 9:23 pm #

    I WANT THIS BOOK sooo badly now.
    thanks modcloth for telling me about it! 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Tracy 12/29/2009 at 10:28 am #

    Going to go buy this! thanks

  7. Avatar
    Diana 12/29/2009 at 10:28 am #

    This book is definitely going on my Amazon wishlist.

  8. Avatar
    Jen 12/29/2009 at 11:30 am #

    I must say, this review is wonderful, but the Madonna allusion in your post’s title is really the icing on the cake!

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    Kate 12/29/2009 at 1:36 pm #

    I totally want to read this book now! Also, this could become a fun parlor game, when applied to your own history…

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