Tag Archives: fashion exhibition

Everyday Clothing

It seems as if “everyday clothing” is having a moment. Several weeks ago I posted a link to the New York Times article about the collection of everyday clothes at Smith College. Then last week there was a conference in the UK on the topic of everyday clothes. And the latest episode of the fashion podcast Bande  à Part  is also about everyday clothes.

One of the first questions that Rebecca and Beatrice of Bande  à Part  discuss is, just what is everyday clothing. It might be pretty obvious to some, but think of the population as a whole; one person’s everyday is another’s special occasion. For discussion here, I’d suggest that everyday clothing means the clothes the 99% of us wear everyday. It does not include couture garments and ballgowns. For the most part, it does not include the avant garde.

In  short, everyday clothes are the things that one does not expect to see in a fashion exhibition at the Met, or any museum that is dedicated to the idea that fashion is art. On the other hand, you would expect to see everyday dress in a history museum. And many museums, such as dedicated fashion museums, will often have both couture and more commonly worn garments in their collections.

Personally, I prefer the historical and cultural (as opposed to artistic) approach. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a stunning Dior gown, because I do. It’s enlightening for an everyday clothing collector like me to occasionally see the work of an artist like Dior. The truth is there are plenty of topics about everyday dress that need to be explored, but do we really need another book on Coco Chanel?

I still find the study of what women wore – and why they wore it – to be the most fascinating part of fashion history.  The choice of a couture ballgown is based on what one’s favorite designer has to offer combined with trying to stand out from the other couture-clad ball goers. But in 1922 the decision to wear a pair of knickerbockers to a fall picnic could be full of gender-bending anxiety.

I can vividly remember the first day I dared to wear jeans to school. It had been stressed to us in the sixties and seventies that young ladies wore dresses and skirts, and so it was hard to ignore the disapproving voices in my head. How much stronger must that message have been to girls in the early 1920s!

It doesn’t get much more “everyday” than the school girl’s middy. My matching set is linen and was worn by a college girl. But even families with few resources could buy cheap cotton middies or make them at home.

This knit sports dress was made by a moderately priced knitwear maker, Sacony.  The silk blouse was most likely made at home, and the California Sports Hat was sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog. Even though this ensemble is far from couture, it is still important as it shows a step in the increasingly casual way people were dressing in the 1920s.

Bathing suits were becoming a necessity, and they were available at many price points, from less than a dollar to more than twenty dollars. A woman needed a cover-up. but that could be borrowed from her own boudoir.

These two garments were probably beyond the budget of many 1920s women, but this would have been everyday wear for a woman who had a bit more to spend on her clothes.

And here is an example of a more aspirational garment. This is from French fashion house Babani, and would have been priced at a level that most American women could only dream of.

I think it is great that historians are giving everyday clothing a closer look. What people wore is important in understanding the times in which they lived. It’s interesting to think of clothes as artifacts, and not just what one wore each day.

 

 

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Museums, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Dressing for the Occasion at the Carl Sandburg Home

The last home of writer Carl Sandburg is located in Flat Rock, NC, and I’ve visited the home, now a national historic site, many times. Besides taking hundreds of fifth graders to see where the great poet lived, it’s a great place to hike and have a picnic. The last time we took the tour through the house, it was a bit disappointing because most of the furnishings had been removed for renovations. The house felt naked.

When Sandburg died in 1967 his widow Lilian sold the house and most of the contents to the US Department of Interior, with the goal of opening it to the public. As a result, the house has the feel of the family having just stepped outside. Someone on today’s tour called it a time capsule, but it is much more than that. It’s almost as if the house retains the spirit of the Sandburg family.

With the renovations complete, I wanted to see how the newly spruced-up house looked. To my great joy and surprise, for the first time clothing of the Sandburgs was also on display. Most are the property of the house, while some are in the possession of the Sandburgs’ granddaughter, Paula.

The house, Connemara, was built in 1839 as a summer home for Charlestonian Christopher Memminger. The house has been altered somewhat by subsequent owners, but if you look closely, you can see that this is an antebellum house. Memminger was quite wealthy, and he served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy from 1861 to 1864. And while the Wikipedia article on Connemara refers to them as “servants”, Memminger kept enslaved persons on the property. A building identified as the wash house, and later a chicken house, was originally the slave quarters, which is acknowledged by a Park Service sign.

But to visit Connemara today, you don’t get the feeling that it is a fine house. It simply feels like the Sandburg home. I loved taking my fifth graders here because they always questioned how someone so famous could live in such an ordinary house with ordinary furnishings.  They were amazed at how “lived-in” the house was.

But back to the present, I must say the old house looks great with its new paint and freshly cleaned rugs, and whatever else was done. In the living room we see Carl’s chair, and one of his many hats. And books. The house contains thousands of books, all cataloged by the Library of Congress, and many still retaining the small slips of paper Carl used to mark the place of  passages he liked.

Probably the grandest thing in the home is this grand piano.  Carl often played his guitar in this room in the evening. And he was quite fond of plaid shirts.

Carl’s office is next to the living room, and in it are more books, of course.  I learned not to make assumptions after seeing his sweater and set of silk scarves. I assumed they belonged to Lilian, Carl’s wife.

But no, these belonged to Carl who enjoyed a bit of silk around his neck! He also wore the green visor, a holdover from his days as a newspaperman.

This denim chore jacket and skirt belonged to Lilian who wore them while working with her herd of prize-winning goats.  Mrs. Sandburg never wore pants.

These two garments belonged to Sandburg daughter Margaret, and were on display in the dining room. Yes, even the walls of the dining room are covered with books. This room has a wall of windows, and the family also used it for bird-watching. The brown suede jacket was Margaret’s birding jacket. Margaret was the family librarian, and often served as her father’s editor.

Carl had a small room beside his bedroom which he used for writing. He wrote at night, went to bed around 5 AM, and then joined the family for lunch at noon.

The house curatorial staff did a good job showing the Sandburgs wearing similar clothing in photographs. Note Carl’s green visor.

This dress belonged to daughter Janet. Janet helped with the goat farming. This looks like a quite youthful style, but Janet would have been in her sixties when she wore it. Neither Janet nor Margaret ever married, and they remained in the home until their father’s death. The third daughter, Helga, lived in the house with her two children until 1952, when she remarried and moved to Washington, DC.

This is Margaret’s bedroom. I wonder if this dress was made on the sewing machine in the background.

Lilian had the best room in the house.

The dress shown in this room was worn by Lilian on a visit to the White House. That’s her wearing the dress, with Carl on the grounds of the White House.

When the Sandburgs bought the house in 1946, the kitchen was located in a separate building, a practice common in antebellum houses. Lilian had a modern 1940s kitchen installed inside the house.

This is a view of the guestroom, which featured Lilian’s dressy silk frock from 1935. And, look! Another sewing machine!

Carl often took his books and writing to the out-of-doors. What could be a nicer place to write?

I have a few words to add about visiting historic sites. While the group which which I toured the house was small (fifteen), there were some things that probably drove the volunteer docent to drink. The last thing she said was to silence phones. We stepped into the house and, you guessed it, someone’s phone rang. The guy ignored it, and so the person on the other end began yelling into the voicemail. The docent finally had to unlock the front door and let the guy out to take his call.

Then there was the family – two little boys of around two and four and their parents. I usually cut parents of small kids some slack, but the docent had to continually tell the kids not to climb on the furniture, swing on the rope barriers, and keep hands off the artifacts. And the parents did nothing at all to keep the two in line.

In comparison, there was another family of older kids, maybe six and eight, and they were really well-behaved, and even asked questions. It was fun being with them, or would have been if not for the other family. I got the gist of the real problem as the tour was coming to an end and the docent asked if there were any other questions. The father piped up, “Yeah. Can we leave now?”

It was perhaps the rudest thing I’ve ever experienced in a museum or historic setting. But boy, does it not explain a lot about his kids?

 

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Part II

You might have guessed that the next theme addressed by Fabulous Fashion is color. First up is this 2013 dress which is a reinterpretation of a 1952 dress made from fabric designed by artist Ellsworth Kelly. This dress was made by Calvin Klein Collection.

If it is difficult to imagine that dress as originating in 1952, the museum has kindly provided visitors with a photo of the original dress, along with Kelly’s study for it.  Anne Weber, the woman in the photo, actually sewed the dress using the Kelly-created fabric.

I am sorry about the fuzziness of this photo. I am working on this; I promise.

Left to right:

Charles James, 1955 Pagoda Suit. There are solid color versions of this suit, which better show James’s trademark structure. I actually did not recognize this as a Charles James until the docent pointed it out.

Issey Miyake, 1994 Flying Saucer Dress. This style of Miyake’s folds flat like a paper lantern.

Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, 1971 bodysuit and skirt. Haute Hippie.

This 1962 palazzo pants ensemble was designed by Italian Irene Galitzine. The difference in color of the skirt and the jumpsuit is due to the jumpsuit being beaded. This piece was getting a lot of attention from the crowd, and it deserved it.

This cheerful top and skirt was one of my favorites. It’s by Stephen Burrows, made in 1971 for his boutique within the Henri Bendel store in New York. Burrows is one of those designers that I remember fondly from my teen years, and I still have a very soft spot for his designs.

Here we have moved from color to metallics.  It’s always fun to see a Paco Rabanne creation (left, 1966), though I’m also reminded of what Audrey Hepburn said about the Rabanne dress she wore in Two for the Road. She referred to is as the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever worn, and that it was impossible to sit in it.

On the right is a late 1960s dress by Norman Norell. Even though this dress was ready-to-wear, the beads and sequins were each sewn on by hand, taking about 250 hours to bead one dress.

I felt like this Geoffrey Beene dress from 1994 was the star of the metallics section. It’s hard to compete with a dress named “Mercury” that truly lives up to its name. I hope future generations remember the Beene name.

I say that because so many in the tour I was in had never heard of the designer of this gown, Anne Fogarty. Now I don’t really put Fogarty in the same category as Beene, but she did play a big role in keeping the big skirt with crinoline look alive throughout the 1950s.

I wanted you to see just how lovely that metallic lace is.

At this point I felt like the whole structure of the exhibition of design elements, sort of fell apart. This was a mini-section of black and white, and while I was puzzled at its inclusion, I was also delighted by it. How can one not love a classic Chanel suit sandwiched between a skeleton ensemble of 2011 by Bernhard Willhelm and a 2018 coat (yes, this is one piece) by Rei Kawakubo. The unexpectedness of this display made it all the more relevant.

And then there were hats! This Bes-Ben hat, circa 1965, was the subject of much subject speculation. I’m pretty sure it is a rooster, but others saw more exotic birds.

By Stephen Jones, this hat was based on the London Tube (subway) map. 2008

Here we were treated to the mistress of draping, Madame Gres. This dress, circa 1981, is truly about the back, but I would have really loved a peek at the front as well.

 

And like any good fashion show, this one ended with wedding dresses. This circa 1959 gown was designed by Pierre Balmain.

Every fashionable bride in 1968 should have worn a dress like this one from American designer Gustave Tassell. Unfortuanately that was not, if my own recollections of late 60s wedding can be trusted, the case.

And finally, because this is Philadelphia, we have some of the wedding ensemble of Grace Kelly, who married in 1956. On the left is her copy of – not the Bible, as I expected – but of  Bride’s Manuel: A Manuel of Catholic Devotion with Mass for the Marriage Ceremony and the Nuptial Blessing. 

The cap which anchored her veil was designed by Helen Rose and was made by the costume department at MGM. The shoes were from David Evins. Princess Grace donated these items to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with her dress, which is, according to the docent, too fragile to mount and display. That’s a pity because many of the visitors were looking for the dress.

And there you have it. If you are going to be in the Philadelphia area anytime this fall or winter, treat yourself to an afternoon of Fabulous Fashion.

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Over the past twenty years I’ve seen dozens of fashion exhibitions. Each one is different, and with each one I always learn something. I was really happy when I learned that Fabulous Fashion:  From Dior’s New Look to Now was opening on our last day in Philadelphia, and that I’d get to finally get to see some of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s fabulous fashion collection.

Fashion exhibitions have changed quite a bit over the past twenty years. It’s just not reasonable for a museum to throw together a bunch of pretty dresses and call it a show. There has to be a theme. In Fabulous Fashion, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has tried to do both, and has succeeded somewhat in this mission.

Simply stated, this is a show showing the highlights of the museum’s holdings from 1947 through the present day. It’s not based on chronology, but on design themes like shape and color. Thrown into the mix were cases of accessories, which may or may not have added to the themes. The exhibition ended with a bit of bridal fashion.

The most  interesting part of the show – to me at least – was how so many of the objects were connected to the city of Philadelphia, with either the designer or the original wearer being from the city. In this day of super-block-busting Met extravaganzas, I appreciate it when a museum can rely on its own collection to mount an exhibition of this size. I felt like this was both a fashion experience and a Philadelphia experience.

When did museums start thinking that putting fashion on huge spaces and above eye level was a good idea? As a person who is always concerned with the details, I hate this method of display. Yes, I know a big wall of stunning clothes makes a big impact, but to me having the objects so inaccessible makes it hard to appreciate the fabrics and the techniques the makers used.

Please, museum display people, let this trend die.

Even though he got billing in the exhibition title, there is only one (that I noticed, anyway) Dior garment in the show. It’s a real beauty, though, and so typical of what Dior was doing in 1948. What looks like stripes in the skirt is actually little rows of top-stitching. This is why I love being able to get close to the clothes. That detail would have been lost if it were mounted on that big wall.

Who else but Balenciaga? This 1951 dress perfectly embodies the theme of shape and volume. This was a gift from John Wanamaker, the best known Philadelphia department store. It had been purchased for a special fashion show at the store.

Ralph Rucci, 2001. I didn’t realize that Rucci is from Philadelphia. This is an astounding dress, with its stingray-like structure.

Here’s a lovely creation by Jean Dessès from 1958 or 59. This one has an interesting donor, Mrs. Claus Von Bulow.

After seeing the Pierre Cardin exhibition at SCADFASH, I always give his work a second look. I loved this dress with those trademark circular ruffles. 1983

That dress with the puffed sleeves on the left is an Adrian. There was no way to photograph this one so you could see the lushness of the fabric.

There’s that Adrian again, in the background where it does not belong.

The dress in front is Smoke, by Roberto Capucci. He did a matching dress in red that he named Fire. 1985

One of my favorites, and a true treasure is this hand-painted gown by Philadelphia native Tina Leser. Leser began her career making hand-painted textiles, and her blouses come up for sale fairly often. I’d never before seen a dress in this technique though.

And what could be better than having Leser’s original sketch? She donated both the dress and the sketch to the museum.

Sea Fan Fantasy, 1947

Next up was a case of footwear. This pair was made by Philadelphia shoe company Newton Elkin, in 1947. After wartime dye restrictions, women must have gone crazy over such colorful shoes!

Vivienne Westwood, circa 1993. The docent leading the tour said that the original owner never wore these, as she bought them as a work of art and displayed them as such.

So simple, but SO influential, these 1966 boots by Andre Courrèges were copied far and wide.

The next theme is embellishment. Those of you who know me and how I dress know that I’m not big on highly-embellished clothes, but I can appreciate an embroidered frock with the best of you. Like the one above.

This circa 1961 dress was designed by Italian designer Emilio Schuberth, of whom I’d never heard. But what a dress!

So much embellishment! Left to right: Giambattista Valli for Ungaro, 2004; Geoffrey Beene, 1968; Emanuel Ungaro, 1989. Yes, the Beene is a dress. He had recently declared that ballgowns were passé, and so this little thing is an evening dress.

On the left, Oscar de la Renta, 1999. On the right, James Galanos, 1957.

I was surprised to learn that Galanos was born in Philly, as he is so associated with California. For those of you who will be in the Philadelphia area, don’t miss the Galanos show at Drexel University, which holds his archive. I missed this one by only a few days.

There is no way for me to show with my simple camera and middling photography skills just how wonderful this textile is. It’s completely hand sequined and beaded on a layer of sheer silk.  And this was ready-to-wear!

I’ll continue my tour later this week.

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University

One of the highlights of my recent trip was The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby at the Fashion Archives and Museum at Shippensburg University. I’d never been to Shippensburg, but I know of their collection due to an exhibition I attended at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, a few years. In that show, some of my favorite garments had been loaned from Shippensburg, and I’ve been wanting to visit ever since.

I got my chance when the Costume Society of America Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions planned a symposium at Shippensburg. I’ll be posting more about the symposium, but today is all about FA&M.  As you can see above, the curator, Karin Bohleke, chose seven works of fiction, and then illustrated the characters through the use of the types of clothing they would have worn. This is not a new concept, as it especially pertains to Jane Austin, but the choice and range of the novels was interesting in that it also presented a sort of fashion timeline, with a few gaps.

It was also interesting because not all the characters were rich, and not all were white. I liked that there was a mix of female and male authors. There was not only women’s clothing, but also that of men  and children. It really helped that I had read five of the seven works, and I’ll go ahead and suggest that any of you who might be visiting Shippensburg before this exhibition closes in April, should have read all seven novels.

I had not read Pamela, but there was a short synopsis of each novel, and notes concerning how garments were important to the story.  Pamela had been a lady’s maid, but she inherited finer things when her mistress died. The blue silk gown dates to circa 1750, but was later refashioned. The petticoat was made by Mary Marsh Leggett, and dates a bit later.

Detail of gown and petticoat

Accessories play a big role in Pamela, with pockets standing as a symbol for  concealment. This lovely pocket is wool on linen, circa 1750. The shoes were worn by Hannah Breck for her 1737 wedding in Massachusetts.

This is a housewife from the early nineteenth century. Every lady’s maid would have carried one in her pocket.

Men’s clothes were also important to the story. Pamela finally shows her love for her mistress’s son by sewing a waistcoat for him, this after he tried to impress her with a fancy gold lace waistcoat. This silk with gold embroidery coat was stunning.

Ourika was a young Senegalese woman who had been taken to France and who was educated by a rich family. All’s well until she realizes that as a black woman she has few prospects in the marriage market, regardless of her accomplishments.

The brown gown dates a bit later than the white, circa 1795. It shows the coming fashion associated with the last years of the eighteenth century, and the first ones of the nineteenth.

You can barely see the shoes associated with both dresses, but they too are antique. I hate exhibitions where the accessories are so in one’s face that they overshadow the clothes, but this was an instance where I wished for a little more shoe.

Ourika’s gown is made from silk woven in the famous Spitalfields of London, circa 1770. Can cloth this fine even be woven these days?

I’m guessing there are few among us who have not read Jane Eyre. My big confession is that I really did not care much for the book; even after three readings I’ve not been able to warm to Jane and her Mr. Rochester. But no matter, as the clothes make up for the story.

Left to right:

The white wonderfully embroidered dress (circa 1815) represents the haughty Blanche.  I really wish you could see the purple checked shoes she is wearing.

Mrs. Dent is wearing a black cotton and net gown, in keeping with her more conservative character. Circa 1818. Her embroidered shawl is circa 1805.

Mr. Rochester makes his appearance in his paisley banyan, or dressing gown.

And then there is Jane:

My best dress (the silver-gray one) was soon put on: my sole ornament, the pearl brooch soon assumed. I perceived my sandal was loose; I stopped to tie it, kneeling down for that purpose. I heard the dining-room door unclose; rising hastily I stood face to face with him: it was Mr. Rochester.

Having these snippets of text from the works represented added so much meaning to this exhibition. Note how Jane’s shoe ties are loose.

One of my favorite dresses in the exhibition was this one – a circa 1800 embroidered silk evening gown. How about that purple!  The turban and sleeves are reproduction, but add much to the way the dress is presented.

I’ll finish this tour in my next post, but I have a few words to say about cooperation. Even though the Fashion Archive and Museum has a very large collection, sometimes one needs a bit of help to fill in the gaps. I mentioned earlier that I first saw some of the Shippensburg collection at the DAR Museum. They in turn, have some objects represented in this show, as does the Chester County Historical Society, collector Mary Doering, and the Maryland Historical Society. I think it is great the smaller collections can work together like this so visitors can have such a delightful experience.

Next time, more stories.

 

 

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Exhibition Journal: Pucci in America

Click to enlarge.

Last October I traveled to Athens, Georgia to the Georgia Museum of Art.  They were having a special exhibition on Emilio Pucci and the business relationships he had with firms in the United States.  Pucci had spent some time as a student at the University of Georgia, also located in Athens, and so an exhibition about his US relationships seemed appropriate.

While the museum did not allow photos for this show, they did provide a nice place to sit and sketch.  I’ve talked about sketching in museums before, and unfortunately,  it is not always possible to sit with a pencil and paper and draw.  Some museums don’t have benches, and others are so crowded that trying to sketch is impossible.

If I’m visiting a new-to-me museum, I will usually take my sketchbook and pencils, but I never know until I get inside if the place is drawer friendly.  I also take a small notebook, because sketchy notes are sometimes all that is possible.  From my notes and from photos (hopefully ones I was able to take) I then do my journal entry at home.  In this case I was able to do the main sketching onsite and then I finished it when I returned home.

There is an excellent article in the latest Dress journal from the Costume Society of America about fashion displays in museums and the problems associated with displaying on a static form clothing that was meant to be seen on a moving human body.  Author Ingrid Mida brings up some very interesting points about how different it is to see a garment on a mannequin than it is to see it on a human body.

In the not too distant past it was considered to be okay for museum garments to be worn by models, but today it is against museum and preservation standards.  Museums attempt to make the clothes more dynamic by showing video of the clothing in action, and even, as in the case of the recent John Paul Gautier exhibition, by using animated mannequins.  I can see why this would add to the understanding of a garment by people who are viewing it in a museum.

At this point I’ve been to dozens of fashion exhibitions, and to be honest, I just expect to see static forms displaying the clothing.  But then, I’m all about taking a close look at the garment and noting the details.  We all take something different from an exhibition, whether it be clothing or painting or furniture.  At this point I’m just glad that fashion is being seen as worthy of exhibition.  I can remember a time when clothing exhibitions were very rare indeed.

Click.

 

 

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Looking Forward to Seeing Mr. James

Charles James, that is, and seeing his work, not the man himself.   You probably have heard by now that this year’s exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan in New York is on the clothing of James.  I can’t think of a more appropriate designer to have his work on display in an art museum than James.  His work really did transcend fashion and entered into the realm of something higher.

I’ll be writing more about James when the exhibition opens, and hopefully I’ll be visiting New York this summer so I can see this show.  But today I want to talk about the Costume Institute.

I’ve written about how after Diana Vreeland was fired from Vogue, she was asked to be the director of the Costume Institute.   Under her direction, the Costume Institute blossomed, with the exhibitions being theatrical and extravagant productions.  You can say that her work there has set the tone for what the Costume Institute does today.  It helps when going to their shows to remember that it is after all, an art museum.  We history people tend to want a strict historical accuracy, but the shows, both under Vreeland and today, are about visual impact.

Vreeland’s vision for the Costume Institute continues today.  She’s probably the most important person in the history of the institute.  What a shame that the newly remodeled galleries have been named for Vogue editor Anna Wintour.  I realize that Wintour, as the chairperson of the fund-raising gala has raised millions of dollars for the Met.  It’s just one more example of the person who gives the money, or in this case, coerces it from others, gets the building named for her, instead of the woman who made the institution what it is today.

I feel that the Metropolitan is a bit too cozy with Vogue and its editor.  One of the biggest criticisms of the most recent shows has been that they are too commercial. The idea that a magazine whose mission it is to promote the fashion industry, and to help sell clothes should have such influence over the one show a year that the Costume Institute produces seems to me to be a big part of the problem.  I’m just hoping that with the Charles James exhibition, this will not be an issue, as there nothing to be sold.

The photo of Diana Vreeland was taken at the Costume Institute and was published in Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, 1978.

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