Using the children's classic as a point of embarkation, "The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time" pays homage to 100 seminal dress styles in witty and often unpredictable fashion, alongside equally colorful illustrations by Donna Mehalko, whose clients have included upscale women's boutique Henri Bendel.
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Erin McKean, the best-selling author of "The Secret Lives of Dresses" and a lexicographer who writes the blog A Dress A Day, singles out not just the prototypical wrap dress by Diane von Furstenberg and the little black dress by Chanel. She also calls out less intuitive choices, such as "The Airship Hostess" ("vaguely 1930s, vaguely 1940s, but with a distinctly official air"), "The Turtleneck-Hooded Cowl Dress" of Grace Jones, Rihanna, Lindsay Lohan, etc., and "the Jersey Shore" —
"Tight, bright and ready for a fight," as McKean describes the staple of the eponymous reality TV show. "It doesn't wait for your attention — it steps up to you and pokes a (slightly inebriated) finger into your chest, and says, "'Sup?"
Fittingly, Mehalko renders this style against tanorexically orange skin.
At the opposite pole is "The Laura Ingalls Wilder."
"Although the Laura dress is not often worn today (at least, not worn by people who aren't in plural marriages), everyone who grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder's books still has a fondness for them, and for Wilder's meticulous descriptions of them," McKean writes.
Other entries, each covered in no more than a page of commentary, made me smile and nod in affectionate agreement: "The Pretty Woman," Julia Roberts' pivotal brown-and-white polka-dot dress worn in the movie's polo match scene; "The Wench" (I think of St. Pauli Girl beer labels) ; and even "The Peggy Olson," named for the character on AMC's "Mad Men," a style which McKean equates to "the fruity drink of dresses ... the sweetness covers up the kick."
Which is not a bad way to sum up this book, a refreshing sashay through the history and pop culture of the dress.
Wendy Donahue is a Lifestyles reporter for the Tribune.
The Hundred Dresses
By Erin McKean, Bloomsbury, 224 pages, $23Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun