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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Feb 10, 2023

In this episode, Adam MacPhàrlain, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Missouri Historical Society details the career of a woman who was key in the fashion industry in the St, Louis area. Just press play to hear the whole story.

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam MacPhàrlain, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History, on 88-1, KDHX. ———

Who is one of the most fashionable people you know? Someone who is always chic and stylish.  ------

In the mid-20th century in St. Louis, one name was always at the top of the best dressed list: Alice Topp-Lee. ———

You might say that it’s no surprise to see her on the list, as she was in the fashion industry herself. Topp-Lee spent much of her career as the executive designer at Doris Dodson Dress Company, a clothing brand produced by Forest City Manufacturing here in St. Louis. The brand was one of the mainstays of the junior wear market, which grew from the city in the late 1930s. ———

From 1947 to 1990, Alice Topp-Lee donated garments from her personal wardrobe to the Missouri Historical Society. The donations included famous names like Christian Dior and Balenciaga. But one name stands above the rest: Charles James, a designer known for his sculptural approach to dressmaking. MHS holds 12 James ensembles, all from Topp-Lee. In her own words, a James dress “had no time, year, season. It expressed only the woman it was made for, her attitude, her styles, her requirements.” ———

One of the donated dresses in particular is a testament to James’s timeless style. The designer called this one “Green Eyes.” It is a white wool evening gown with hints of dark green velvet at the bust and lower back, which complimented Topp-Lee’s green eyes. She wore the gown multiple times from 1949 through 1960, including aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner and to a dinner honoring New York socialite Millicent Rogers. Topp-Lee went so far as to call Green Eyes a “true friend.” ———

Throughout her life and career, Alice Topp-Lee had an indelible sense of style, which is beautifully represented in the Missouri Historical Society collection. ———

Here's History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam MacPhàrlain, and this is 88-1, KDHX, Saint Louis. ———