Iconic Scarlett O’Hara dresses restored, displayed

AUSTIN, Texa — It turns out there will be another day for Scarlett O’Hara’s green curtain dress. Many of them.

The iconic dress and Scarlett’s burgundy ball gown from the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” have been saved from deterioration by a $30,000 conservation effort by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.

The dresses worn by actress Vivien Leigh are now on display for the first time in nearly 30 years at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum as part of a Hollywood costume exhibit.

Ransom Center officials announced the project in 2010, noting the dresses were in danger of falling apart from age.

The dresses were made of heavy fabric and were not built to last. Weakened stitching and sagging waistlines had to be repaired and conservators also had to remove some previous alternation work and additions, such as feathers placed on the burgundy gown.

“All of those areas would have gotten worse. All the vulnerable parts have been stabilized,” said Jill Morena, the Ransom Center’s assistant curator for costumes and personal effects. “It has been a success. We would not be able to display them without this effort.”

Morena stressed the project was not intended to restore the dresses to looking brand new, but to save them so they could again be viewed by the public. For example, the green dress has long faded streaks and conservators did not try to restore its original color.

The Ransom Center acquired the dresses with the collection of film producer David O. Selznick in the 1980s. Conservators wanted them ready in time for a 2014 Ransom Center exhibit to mark the film’s 75th anniversary.

The costumes are among the most famous in Hollywood history and played a key role in one of the most popular films ever. The green curtain dress and the burgundy ball gown were completed in time to join the London exhibit which began Oct. 20 and runs through Jan. 27.

Other pieces, including a blue velvet night gown and Scarlett’s wedding dress and veil, were too fragile to handle and will go back into storage. The Ransom Center plans no additional work on those pieces.

“The wedding veil, once you touched the tulle you realized how brittle and fragile it is,” Morena said.

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