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The star of the Michener's summer exhibit is one of the best-known costumes in film history: the elaborate outfit Scarlett O'Hara wears to visit Rhett Butler in a Yankee jail in 1939's Gone with the Wind. Designed in real life by Walter Plunkett, it's fictionally confected by Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) and Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) from antebellum velvet portieres. Today, the velvet is a little faded, but with its heavy tasseled cording, it's still an impressive, slightly bizarre and monumental achievement in costuming.
Oversize black-and-white film stills provide backdrops to outfits displayed on mannequins. The glossy feathers dominating Marlene Dietrich's svelte black ensemble from Shanghai Express (1932) are a perfect foil for her cool, calculating face. Together, photograph and object illustrate that extra dimension a skilled actor brings to a costume — and, equally, the way a great costume can frame a moment in time.
Designs for movies set in the historic past tell us more about the time the costume was made. The man's court coat and vest from Barry Lyndon, for example, helped Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Sšderlund win a 1975 Oscar for Best Costumes, but it's subtly different from real 18th-century clothing. Nowadays we can easily recognize the influence of 1960s fashion on the colorful patterning and the cut of the cuffs.
Legendary artists and actors, like Greta Garbo, Edith Head and Ingrid Bergman (pictured), are represented, and every item in the show teaches us something about film or fashion. Unfortunately, there are so few men's costumes that it might have been better to leave them out altogether.