Frankly, my dear, those dresses have seen better days...

They are not quite gone with the wind, but the dresses that the actress Vivien Leigh wore as Scarlett O'Hara in the Old South movie classic are well on their way to falling apart. Curators at a museum in Texas are appealing for $30,000 (£19,000) to restore them.

The effort is beginning only four years from the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind, still one of the best-loved treasures of American cinema and the winner of no fewer than eight Academy Awards. But when it comes to the gowns Ms O'Hara sported, it remains to be seen if anyone gives a damn.

The Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas says that it is planning to bring five of the dresses back to their original glory, including the sweeping number in green velvet that a desperate O'Hara makes herself from curtains in her home. Also waiting for a little love and tender care is the wedding dress worn when she marries Charles Hamilton, the man, of course, who wasn't her real love.

It has been a hectic few decades for the costumes, which for a long time were carted back and forth between assorted theatres and museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to be shown off to movie fans. All this travelling, however, has taken its toll on them. "The costumes are in fragile condition and cannot currently be exhibited," the centre said in a statement.

The museum in Austin acquired them in the mid-1980s from the collection of the late David Selznick, the producer of the 1939 classic, which starred Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. The plan is once again to loan the restored dresses to other museums to exhibit around the world.

The principal problem with Scarlett's home-made gown is its weight. The sheer bulk of velvet used to make it is pulling the seams apart. She wears the dress three times in the film, including the scene where she visits Rhett Butler in jail to beg him for money, and when she walks through the streets of Atlanta with Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel.

"These dresses have been under a lot of stress. Film costumes weren't meant to last, they are only meant to last through the duration of filming," the museum's spokeswoman, Jill Morena, said. "There are areas where the fabric has been worn through, fragile seams and other problems."

The decision to save Scarlett's wardrobe might have surprised William Plunkett, the man who designed them. That he was prone to modesty about them is clear from comments he made 30 years ago for William Pratt's book about the film, Scarlett Fever.

"I don't think it was my best work or even the biggest thing I did," Plunkett told the writer. "But that picture, of course, will go on forever, and that green dress, because it makes a story point, is probably the most famous costume in the history of motion pictures."

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