I sent a costume piece off a week ago and wanted to share the preliminary findings. When the conservator’s reaction started with a sigh and was followed by “she’ll always look like a sick little girl” I knew things were bad.
The blouse was worn by Judy Garland during the “When You Wore a Tulip (And I Wore a Big Red Rose)” number in For Me and My Gal (MGM, 1942). Portraits of Garland in the Kalloch-designed ensemble were used extensively to promote the film as well as in numerous other contexts (for example in a 1945 advertising campaign for General Electric).
The history of the piece is largely unknown to me. What I do know is that it, like most other pieces, left MGM in 1970 and was later auctioned by Sothebys in the 1980s. Since that time, the story is muddled but what is known is that the matching skirt was lost and it spent the greater part of two decades in a barn.
The signs of improper storage are pretty apparent. For one, direct, unfiltered UV light has caused significant fading along the front of the garment (the backside remains relatively bright). This heat has literally cooked the fibers causing significant damage and fraying, particularly at the shoulders. Congruent with its barnyard-storage, there is also evidence that an animal attempted to eat the lining of the peplum.
Clearly, the amount and particularly type of damage makes “restoring” this piece to its original condition impossible. That being said, the deterioration and damage, while saddening and frankly appalling, is part of the story. It also reminds us that these relics of the past will not last forever particularly if allowed (or in this case encouraged) to rot.
The conservator has a big job ahead of her which will involve:
- Removing the collar and red rick-a-rack; wash and restitch.
- Stitch bottom button again.
- Stitch lining in places (including proper right shoulder pad) again.
- Dye sheer fabric and silk filament thread soft green color.
- Using soft green sheer fabric, put as an underlay in the fourteen areas in the show fabric. Using silk filament thread, stitch in place.
- Creat a mount for object using 600D Fosshape. The shape will recreate the look of the photo where the top of the bodice sleeves stick up. Arms will be made of either of fabric stuffed with polyester fill (that does not contain resin) or Fosshape.
- Create an interior structure for mounted object in traveling box.
This process will take some time but I will post information as it is received.