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When did French women first coin the phrase, “Il faut suffrir pour être belle (One must suffer to be beautiful)”? Judging by the historic costumes and illustrations on display at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, it could have been any time in the last three centuries. Here are fashions that demand (literally) breath-taking girdles, ankle-grabbing skirts, plunging necklines and an endless variety of sartorial strategies to attract attention.

Equally impressive is the effort that has gone into producing fashion plates: from the detailed, hand-colored engravings of the 1780s to the innovative Art Nouveau graphics of the 1900s. The show’s curator, Makiko Komiya, has found fashion illustrations to match as closely as possible the actual costumes on display, and the combination conveys the meeting of dream and reality that makes fashion through the ages such an interesting subject.

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