A Review: Dressing the Decades: Twentieth-Century Vintage Style

A relatively fast read by fashion historian Emmanuelle Dirix, Dressing the Decades takes the reader through a brief tour of each decade of the 20th century, highlighting what the major fashion changes were and putting them in context of global occurrences at the time.

The book opens with a introduction, highlighting Charles Frederick Worth as the father of Haute Couture, and drawing instant connections between House of Worth and modern couture houses. Dirix does an excellent job in highlighting notable couturiers each decade and pointing out what their specific contributions to fashion were, including that sometimes the contributions were not fashion, per se, but rather marketing genius and recognizing under served market elements in each decade.

Coming in at just over 200 pages, Dressing the Decades is necessarily brief and does not touch on every couturier who opened shop in the 20th century; however Dirix makes an excellent case for the designers she does include, touching on the provocative and business savvy in one page biographies of contributing designers of the 20th century.

Especially fascinating were the lines drawn between political upheavals and rising and falling hemlines, the loss and reinstatement of corsetry in feminine shape wear, when and how youth culture became The Defining factor in fashion. Dirix takes us through when fashion became so diversified it lost it’s individual voice in the screams of a thousand different styles, all begging for front and center attention, when the taste makers of the day lost out to individuality of spirit in the customer base.

Overall I enjoyed this book. While I was a little disappointed that some of my favorite couturiers didn’t get the solo treatment in the biographies, in the interest of brevity and the story Dirix was telling, I understand why. If you are looking for a quick understanding of changing fashion in the 20th century, I highly recommend Dressing the Decades.