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Katharine Houghton Hepburn (12 May 1907 – 29 June 2003) was born in Hartford, Connecticut, into a progressive family, deeply involved in social causes. This environment strengthened the early personality of the sophisticated actress. But the tragic suicide of her brother Tom in 1921, in many ways, shaped the character of the vulnerable Hepburn. She found his dead body one day when as she returned from school. She became very shy moving forward and even adopted his birthday as her own. It wasn’t until the publication of her autobiography in 1991, that we knew her real date of birth.
Dressed for The Stage and Screen, a traveling exhibition currently on display at Kent State University Museum, brings to life Hepburn’s couture treasures from her homes in Manhattan’s 49 Street East and Fenwick, CT. Most of the pieces come from her personal collection, which included glamorous gowns as well as her iconic tomboyish casual wear. The exhibit will continue to travel the US, showing off Hepburn’s wardrobe from film, television and theatre, as well as her day to day wear, alongside drawings, commentary, photographs and even handwritten notes from the actress herself.
The garments were found in perfect condition. Curiously, Hepburn kept a large number of them in storage, forty of which make up this exhibition. They reveal the slender frame she kept until her death at the age of 96. A monograph by Jean Druesedow, Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic (Rizzoli), published just in time for the exhibition, portraits Katharine as a fashion iconoclast through mostly unpublished photographs of the woman who defined an era. ■