First Time on Public View: Scarlett O'Hara's “Barbecue Dress”

The frock, seen early in "Gone with the Wind," will debut at the Natural History Museum.

We're fairly certain that the words "flounce" and "flouncing" appeared in dictionaries prior to 1939, when "Gone with the Wind" was released, but we're fairly certain that no one had embodied sheer flounce-o-sity before Scarlett O'Hara first graced the silver screen.

Of course, the legendary Vivien Leigh had a gorgeous assist in the flouncing department from one of the most famous frocks in the film, the "Barbecue Dress" seen near the beginning of the story.

You know the one: Scarlett's off to a daytime soiree, in the flounciest dress imaginable, and the bigness of her frock, and the flounce-i-ness of her gestures as she flirts with and fends off suitors, mirrors her confidence and bravada. 

That dress, with its dark green details, ruffly shoulders, and hoop-skirted bottom, has never been displayed publicly, but that's about to change: The Natural History Museum will display Scarlett O'Hara's "Barbecue Dress" for a six-month run starting on Friday, Dec. 19.

It may, at first glance, seem like an unusual venue for a movie costume, but the gown will show in the permanent exhibit Becoming Los Angeles. The reason for the inclusion? The film's 75th anniversary.

Daniel Selznick, David O. Selznick's son ("Gone with the Wind" buffs recognize Mr. Selznick as the film's producer), donated the costume to LACMA, and LACMA donated the dress to NHM in 2004. (Also note: NHM, while it is famous for its dinos and science, has a large collection of costumes.) 

Walter Plunkett designed the frock, which comes in three pieces, complete with a kelly green sash.

If you're wondering if this is the dress that Scarlett dons after getting fitted into that tight, tight corset, you'd be correct: It is. This is also the same frock that Miss O'Hara poo-poos to a suitor, saying "I wore this old dress just because I thought you liked it!"

Of course, it was no old dress, and she knew it, too; it's one of filmdom's most recognizable costumes, a sartorial statement of the rich life Miss O'Hara was leading at the start of "Gone with the Wind."

"New conservation" has restored the dress, which has been seen at some private events over the years. The six-month display will give "Wind" fans a closer look at a piece of true film history.

As you stand before the case protecting the dress, ask yourself, or your friends, this: Has any actress used a dress to express such flounce, impertinence, and in-charge-ness before or since? Scarlett O'Hara truly ruled them all, with dash and eye-flash to spare. 

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