the red dress … holds with all its fibers onto the fabric of the visible

As we come to this case – please stand a little to the side there, thanks so much – you’ll see a very special specimen. This is a dress that went mad. It dates from the last century, and was donated by the estate of…please, young lady: please, if you would, don’t touch the glass. Thanks so much.

Now, as I look out at the sea of sensible grey slacks and tops that most of us are wearing – that’s a beautiful green shift you have on, Ms. Jones, and your chiffon strapless is just gorgeous, Mr. Jones, you must tell me, after this, where you found it – I know that you all understand how difficult it can be to find a dress that you want to take home with you. Dress adoptions can be so tricky these days. (I won’t even get into those horrible stores at the mall where you can buy a little purebred designer dress – how awful, every time my children walk by the window there’s the staring and the cooing and the pointing and I have to tell them to just push on because those places are just so dreadful – the conditions they’re kept in! those little racks, all stuffed together – heavens, I’m starting to tear up just thinking about it – and those sweatshop dressy mills where they’re just churned out – thank you for the tissue, Mr. Jones, I appreciate it – sorry, I’m just getting all a mess, over here. Excuse me. Where was I. Even if you’re lucky enough to find the right dress at an adoption center, and the home visit goes smoothly – and the cost of bringing one home with you, the trips to the dry cleaner for regular grooming – it’s just, it’s really a commitment. And you just don’t know how it’s all going to work out until you get it home – how this new one is going to get along with the other dresses, who’s going to take care of it, check on it in the closet, take it to the groomer – and some times, I don’t know about you, I just don’t have the time to take it out as much as I’d like.

This red dress is one of the stars of the collection. You can see, if you come around to the side here, that it’s just an incredible job of preservation that’s been done here – an expert taximetaxist must have done this. Do you see how its fibers there are reaching out? This dress was owned by a wealthy family that had a house full of them. One of the daughters, as far as we can tell, developed a special relationship with this one. She apparently refused to take it off. For weeks and then months, she slept in the dress, bathed with it – she wore it everywhere. Now, you can guess what might happen if one of us tried to do that. You, Ms. Smith: you look like you have a very close relationship with that orange tulle you have on. You must give me the name of your groomer when we’re done. Now imagine spending all day every day with it: not so good for the little guy. And what happened, after several months of this, was that the daughter and the red dress grew inseparable. Over time, as the dress got older, it eventually completely stopped being able to function on its own. One day, and we don’t exactly know what happened, but the girl decided that she had had enough, and she tried to take the dress off and put it away. The dress wasn’t having any of it, and it took several members of the family an entire day and a night to separate the two. The red dress clung for dear life to the girl – it frayed its own edges and tied itself into knots – and when it finally was forced off, it no longer know how to stay on its hanger. The daughter would open the closet door and the dress would be on the floor, its fibers tangled with those of the rug… and she would try to put it back, but it always ended up on the floor, trying to get back to her body. (Look over here, and you can see here the tailor had to sew it up after it injured itself in a particularly bad fall. I know, Ms. Jones – it’s very difficult to look at. But this is a science museum, after all. It’s important that we understand and learn from these things. Yes, you can look away if you need to. Here’s a tissue.) Eventually, this dress had gone completely mad, and they had to take it to a vintage dealer and put it up for adoption. It never recovered, and ultimately ended up here. If you look closely, you can see what happened over here, where its fibers were holding so tightly…

Ok, I think that’s enough of this one. Now please follow me down this hall, and I’ll show you our exhibit on the paleontology of red. Come along this way.


[Return to “Reading Notes: The Intertwining – The Chiasm”]