It is just natural when visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC that the gift shop be loaded down with various books about fashion. Since 1948 in late spring the MET has hosted the Costume Institute Benefit Gala which for the last several years has been overseen by Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue magazine). My choice was between a book about shoes and The Classic Ten by Nancy MacDonell Smith…I should have run with the shoes.
It’s not as if The Classic Ten is a bad read per se, it is just that the information feels dated beyond it being published in 2003. The book is broken down into ten classic fashion pieces: the little black dress, the white shirt, the cashmere sweater, the trench coat, the high heel, lipstick, pearls, jeans, the suit, and sneakers. Smith gives her audience the history of each of the items along with her personal testimony and references to quotes and images of said item in the past. It is when she talks about photos of an item from an era gone by that she runs into trouble. In my experience many books of this nature refer to advertising and photo layouts in fashion magazines, but usually they have a copy of the image of which they are chatting about so that the reader is literally on the same page with them. I guess Smith and her publisher were on a budget because all her book had were illustrations at the beginning of each chapter of the various things she wrote about. Despite, or maybe even more because of her descriptive abilities, it was even more frustrating because imagination will only take you so far. Overall, if Smith couldn’t obtain the rights to the images then her book would have been better off editing the descriptions out.
Another irritating element was how NYC fashionista focused Smith was in the chapters. The whole attitude that New York City is the center of the world plays off as a perfect demonstration of the attitude of certain people who have traveled the earth yet haven’t really seen it. More specifically I’m making reference to the category of people who think it is reasonable to spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on a clothing item where a comparable piece can be purchased at a local Target (and probably made in the same factory) simply because it has a designer label and/or is associated with some status amongst other sad small minded individuals.
What The Classic Ten did right was give a short but interesting history lesson on each item. Smith talked about how pearls went in and out of vogue along with the significance of lipstick and why different generations of women either favor reds or pinks.
The Classic Ten is the type of book that if I had picked it up at the library I would have liked more. I suppose paying for it put me in the position of thinking that it wasn’t worth the money and despite being my one souvenir from the MET it is going in the bag of books to be sold sack.