Hal Rubenstein’s 100 Unforgettable Dresses

by Tim Young

“Women’s fashion is a culturally pervasive, behavior-altering, trend-inducing, emotion-stirring, perpetually exhausting, psychologically daring, hopefully uplifting yet potentially scarring, and occasionally foolish but undeniably influential celebration of craftsmanship, showmanship, ego and seduction…”

So observes author and fashion director of InStyle Magazine Hal Rubenstein in the introduction to his new book, 100 Unforgettable Dresses.

In this extensive, invigorating survey, Hal Rubenstein touches down across eight decades of dress designs  – original and outlandish, ethereal and eternal. With a critic’s eye and an artist’s vision he interprets these styles in the context of their time and cultural imperatives; he shows how designers (and all the majors are represented here) are influenced by the art, politics and media around them and how, in turn, their designs influence the world far beyond fashion.

Rubenstein also understands that a true and enduring fashion statement is a result of a marriage between the dress and the dressed. The author notes that in nearly every instance a memorable style was made famous by the personal style of the woman inside it. Thus the dresses in these pages are filled with women of iconic and idiosyncratic beauty, from Grace Kelly to Grace Jones; by powerful women tragic and ascendant, from Diana Spencer to Michelle Obama; and by women famous for being famous, fab mononyms from Liza to Jackie to Gaga.

In the words of Edith Head, “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.” Similarly,  a definitive book about dresses should zoom in close enough to reveal the delicate, sensual dance between the designer, their creations and the women they serve. And it should be wide enough of vision to show how fashion design as an artistic discipline drives culture by not only feeding our insatiable hunger for style but by shaping our very perception of beauty though a continual re-illumination of the female form.

Rubenstein, with equal measure of passion and knowledge, gives us both the close-ups and the wide shots.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly in Edith Head’s Cocktail Dress for “Rear Window”


Grace Jones

Keith Haring’s 1987 “Ball Gown” for Grace Jones


Lady-Di, with......and without

Lady Di, with … and without.





CherLady Gaga

Cher at the 1988 Oscars (l.) and Gaga at large (r.)


Hal Rubenstein

Browse through the book on Harper Collins’ site.