If there is a stereotype of a fashion-conscious woman, I'm its direct opposite. I work at home, so there's no reason for me to dress up -- or to get dressed at all, really. My usual outfit is a polo shirt and jeans. Nonetheless when I saw this book on a library shelf I grabbed it, because it is simply fun to look at.
The 50 dresses in this collection (from the London-based Design Museum) are intended to be representative of dresses that changed the world... or, at least, the *fashion* world. They're all from the last century, and two thirds are from the 60s until now. Each dress has two photos and several paragraphs of explanatory text, giving the reader a context for the outfit and explaining why it was so important. There are two types of dresses shown: dresses worn by a prominent woman whose fashion sense made a difference, and designer dresses that impacted the way ordinary women dressed or otherwise had an impact.
In the former category is the obvious choice of the Jackie Kennedy look, and also Queen Elizabeth's coronation gown. My favorite of these is the Wallis Simpson wedding dress, which immediately caused women everywhere to want copies; I don't blame them, as it's very attractive. And as the book points out, "[Designer] Mainbocher's gown achieved that most difficult of sartorial feats -- the marriage of restraint and glamour."
The designer dresses with an impact include the Midi dress, the "moon girl collection" dress, and Christian Dior' 1947 "New Look" dress.
Some of these dresses are unquestionably classics that affected how women dress and reflected (or contributed to) a societal change. Chanel's suit *did* define how, as the text put it, "no-nonsense but chic businesswear for women for decades," and the miniskirt was part of a new fashion freedom. However, some of the choices make me wonder if it's possible to say the dress "changed the world;" can you say that about Alexander McQueen's Samurai dress from 2001? Really?
Nonetheless: It's fun to look at the pictures, which is why I took the book out of the library. I'm enjoying the hour-or-two it's taking me to flip through its pages... as I'm dressed in an old ratty sweatshirt. Serious fashionistas may see this book with different eyes, but I think it's a great fantasy read.