BOOK REVIEW – 100 Dresses

BOOK REVIEW – 100 Dresses
If you love the history of fashion, you can never get enough of it. You could spend hours looking at photographs of vintage gowns, each one a unique confection with characteristics typical of its era.

100 Dresses, published by The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, delivers plenty of eye candy. Some highlights include extreme close-ups of the sequins on an Edwardian era gown, embroidery on a 1953 ball gown by Christian Dior, and ribbon floral designs on a French court presentation ensemble from 1926. The photography is superb.

The dresses are arranged in chronological order, beginning with a magnificent British dress from the late 17th century. The last gown in the book is a “Creation” Ensemble by the House of Dior from the Fall/Winter collection, 2005-06. At least one dress from all major designers was selected for 100 Dresses, including Charles Frederick Worth, Coco Chanel, Paul Poiret, Cristobal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, and Alexander McQueen.

The book is written much like exhibition label text. That is to say, it is succinct and to the point, rather than rambling, tangential commentary sometimes found in fashion history books. As one pages through the book, it is much like the experience of wandering through costume galleries.

Admittedly, the earlier portion of the book will be most interesting for historians. Once outlandish runway fashions took over the industry after the mid-20th century, the fashions pictured become less wearable and more artistic in presentation.

A wonderful glossary in the back of the book helps the novice decode some of the terminology used to describe the details of the dresses.

Choosing just 100 dresses from a collection of thousands was no small task. In his forward, Curator in Charge Harold Koda writes, “…editing to only 100 dresses from the thousands of choice examples was fraught with debate and, on occasion, good-natured contention. Truth be told, establishing a standard for inclusion of one beautiful or elegant dress over another presents, whatever its date and provenance, the same subjectivity that operates whenever we judge others by what they are wearing. Despite the curator’s ability to apply objective criteria and recognized methodologies to identify the history significance, rarity, or technical virtuosity of one gown when compared to another, in the end, it must be confessed, the 100 dresses in this book are often simply the special favorites of one or another of The Costume Institute Staff.”

The staff has, indeed, made excellent choices.

The author checked this book out of the public library and was not compensated in any way for this review.

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