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Society Lady Celebrates in Style

Babs White is celebrating her 40th year at the Darien Historical Society in style – 19th century style. White is the curator of "The Ladies of Prospect Avenue," an exhibit of clothes from the 1870s and early 1900s.

The exhibit, which began Saturday, matches women's clothes of the period to the date many of the homes along Prospect Avenue in Darien were built. Furniture, prints and accessories are also displayed at the Historical Society.

"I had always been interested in the fact that this historic one-block street still has so many of the original houses," White said, explaining the inspiration for the exhibit. "I thought it would be fun to show what people were wearing at the time they were built. And I hope I got that across."

White and her volunteers have been working on the show since April. "It takes a while, we had to do a little restoration," she said. "I love to do this. It's very exciting for me to think this is the best artifact anybody can have from history. You can touch it, you know a person wore it. It's not a photograph, it's not a document. It's very exciting."

White got a degree in art history from Smith and worked in New York as a fashion artist for Women's Wear Daily before moving to Darien in 1964. She started volunteering at the historical society six years later. She recently moved to New Canaan after the death of her husband, but says "my car knows how to get to the Historical Society every day."

Much of the fashion of the time was imported from Paris. "People from Darien went to New York," White said. "We have a document that says, 'Mama went to New York today and bought me two gowns.' I never realized how cosmopolitan Darien was back then, but they were."

As for her take on current styles, she said, "I have trouble relating to Fashion Week in New York. I'm saying to myself, 'Am I going to see these girls out there wearing those things?' "

The "Ladies of Prospect Avenue" runs through October, Tuesdays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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