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The Last Resort

Caroline Rennolds Milbank's new book offers up a new view on vacation fashion.

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If the old adage that you are what you eat holds water, what of the things we wrap around our exteriors?

What do our sweat pants, prom dresses, suits, ties, bikinis and muumuus say about us? The study of fashion through the ages, apart from being a contemplation of fabric, pattern, fitting and style, shows an evolution of a people, from how we present ourselves to who we are.

Caroline Rennolds Milbank, a fashion historian and author who has worked as a curatorial consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as an expert for Sotheby's and Doyle New York, veers away from the main land in her newest book, “Resort Fashion: Style in Sun-Drenched Climates.” The former Richmonder explores the evolution of beach wear, from the bizarre “bathing machines” of the 19th century to nude beaches, the bikini and finally modern suits tailored around the notion of protecting you from skin cancer.

“This is the first and only book to pay homage to the glamorous, escapist fashions worn on holiday,” says Milbank, making her point by traversing decades and continents of vacation time with 200 color and black-and-white illustrations that accompany her text. Happily however, most of these wardrobes do not cost more than a plane ticket to the South of France. “Resort fashions … are usually relatively affordable and I can rationalize buying something much more bohemian or dramatic than I would wear in real life,” Milbank says. “Thus resort fashions are a fantasy that can actually be achieved, which in my mind makes them infinitely more appealing than unrealistic runway.” 

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