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Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

TL;DR: Last night at the Met Gala, Kim Kardashian wore the dress Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday to JFK. Fashion preservationists and vintage sellers are angry about it.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

It'd be easy to write it off as a lot of anger directed at the Kardashians in general, as prominent symbols of rich people putting inaccessible excess on display, and also because they're known for disposable fast fashion. And that's a huge part of it! Would people be as irritated if it wasn't Kim? If another billionaire like Rihanna had borrowed it, or a socialite who isn't known for much other than having money, would people be this loud?

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

There's also who owns the dress: Ripley's of Believe It Or Not fame. Since they have a bit of a lowbrow and sensationalist reputation, that seems to be driving a lot of annoyance too. But they paid $5 million for the dress when it was up for auction, so obviously they're going to protect that investment. It's definitely insured to high heaven, and kept in climate controlled storage and handled with gloves.

ripleys.com/marilyn-monroe-dre

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

I'm going to wager that like with any other textiles that aren't on display, the dress is stored flat to prevent stress on the seams or for the weight of the fabric to not pull on itself and tear. When it is displayed on a mannequin, it is handled slowly and gently.

(I have a ton more to say about this, but I have to run off to an appointment now.)

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

The dress is made of silk, which to simplify things can have a bunch of paradoxical qualities: it can be fragile, but also strong if it's cared for properly. Since it's a natural fibre, it's also prone to degradation. (Side note: moths like silk as well as wool because they like to eat things with keratin in them.)

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

Let's use the example of an average person wearing a silk shirt regularly, and wanting to keep it in good condition. First, you want to make sure it fits so the threads at the seams don't pull on the fabric especially if the maker didn't use silk thread. Cotton and polyester are both rougher than silk, so they can damage it if stressed.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

Second, body oils and sweat can slowly damage fabric in a bunch of different ways so you want to make sure your body is clean when you wear the shirt and to air it out (to prevent damage from lingering dampness) and wash it regularly.

Third, light and heat fade dyes and weaken fibres. When the shirt isn't being worn, it should be stored somewhere dry without extreme temperatures.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

Silk also does what is called "shattering." When a fibre breaks, it causes tiny thin tears in the fabric. Any of these things can eventually cause shatters.

So, if this is the standard for being careful with a contemporary shirt made of less delicate silk, it's clear that the standard for handling a 70 year old sheer dress is much higher. And when it's a cultural artifact, with all that entails, people are going to grit their teeth.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

Back to Kim and Ripley's: Rich celebrity decides she wants to wear a culturally iconic dress to an event that is a fundraiser for the textiles department at one of the most famous museums in the world. A different museum agrees to lend her that dress, because people watching the event always talk about the clothes and costumes and designers and the museum wants people to talk about them.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

Once again, it's easy to point fingers at Kim: Rich girl sashays in and demands access to something that should be impossible to get. But Ripley's decided that the risk of displaying it on a human was worth the gain they'd get out of it. She wore it for only a few minutes with assistance from a preservationist to get in and out of it, wearing a replica for the rest of the evening. She'd been coached on how to move in it to reduce the risk of damage.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

Ripley's posted a reel to Instagram about Kim going to see the dress, and there's a closeup of the fabric. This screenshot isn't the greatest, but there's a spot where it's clearly already been repaired, and the weave can be seen separating near the zipper, creating weak points. This isn't a pristine piece, it's value lies in the cultural associations. And that's another point of pique: the people who think Kim borrowing it cheapened Monroe's memory.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

Is it more important to preserve an item to retain the memory of a beloved icon and the era she lived in? Or is it more important to risk damaging that item when that risk means attention will be drawn to an organization whose purpose is to preserve other important items and awareness translates to donations that means they can continue that work?

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee I read that she put it on for a quick behind the scenes photo op, then changed into a replica before walking the carpet. So that bothers me less.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@Beatlesandworms And she had a preservationist from Ripley's help her in and out of it.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

@erinbee This is super interesting, thank you for sharing. I am always conflicted between the desire to see things preserved and the desire to see a thing like a dress (or, say, an old car) actually being used rather than always in an archive. But there's a lot I'd never thought about in the details of *how* it's preserved.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes, notes about silk 

@eldang And some things just have a limited lifespan no matter how they're kept, and decisions have to be made about the most effective ways to get information out of them. Things that are actually used can end up being very useful for study because they don't need to be maintained perpetually after they're examined.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee thank you for this thread.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee this was so interesting to read! Thank you.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee interesting thread, thank you! I also wonder how both bodies fitted in that same dress that was fiting as a glove to MM.

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@mara Marilyn was sewn into it to make it like a second skin. One article I read about it said that Kim carried a fur with her to hide that it was unzipped, so it was more like it was draped against her than firmly fitted. (Later in the evening, she was wearing a fitted replica.)

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee this story reminded me, fondly, of having my grandmother's flapper style wedding dress fitted for my confirmation (as a teen). I felt so special! And my gma wasn't famous, nobody would keep saving it or use it otherwise, so why not? But it calls up such interesting questions - use, value, preservation - also what women's notable achievements are worth cultural preservation (and whose?) Good questions!

Celebrity, archival preservation of clothes 

@erinbee cool thread thanks 👍

@erinbee this is so interesting to me because I always thought of Monroe as lowbrow? Sort of in the same area as Elvis or Dolly Parton. I say it with love, because I love lowbrow, but the idea that some people hold her in higher calibre is fascinating, especially with the context of that particular dress! IMO it's perfect for someone like Kim K, who like Monroe, is trapped advancing & maintaining herself via her perceived aesthetic value vs any earned talent/skill/intellect.

@paparatti Nobody wants to see the similarities! There's a whole cult of personality built up around MM being underestimated in her lifetime, which exactly intersects with your thoughts. So fans get kind of touchy when her more bimbo aspects get remembered. And say what you want about Kim K, she's a savvy businessperson and knows how to play that game.

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