Friday, December 18, 2009

"I saw it in the window …”

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
When I was a teen the days would be spent at school, then sports, then homework and finally some down time with the TV and chatting on the phone with friends. My best buddy Sheila and I would even watch TV together while on the phone. Our favorite show was Carol Burnett. Her spoofs on famous films and stars were legendary.

The crème de la crème for us was the Gone with the Wind routine. Carol as “Starlet O’Hara” tripping (literally) down the big staircase in her over-the-top southern bell dresses. The climax being a send-up of the famous scene from the original Gone with the Wind when a down but never beaten Scarlet makes a dress from the window curtains. Of course, in the Carol Burnett version the dress still has the curtain rod in it. A brilliant touch topped by her comment that she “saw it in the window and just couldn’t resist it!”
Carol Burnett as “Starlet O’Hara”
Dress, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

This little vignette has been tucked at the back of my mind since those halcyon days of endless phone chats with Sheila. So, I should not have been surprised when some of the dresses for our upcoming Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace exhibit brought it all back for me. We have one dress with such an accumulation of fringe and eye-popping colors that I could hear Miss Burnett’s dialogue as if it were yesterday. By the late 1870’s women were not just considered the light of the home, their dresses often resembled a decorative accessory for the home. With gathered drapes of fabric, tassels, and sculpted silhouettes, women’s fashion might have been worn, or, one could imagine it working equally well as household drapery or a throw for the couch. Wouldn’t “Starlet” be delighted!
Portrait of Miss Grady by Smith and Telfer, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

Godey's Fashions, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

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