Dust Ho!

by Erin on June 16, 2008


Punch Dust Ho!

Whenever I need a good shot of righteous indignation, I like to search through Google Books on keywords like 'ridiculous dress' or 'ludicrous gown', because I'm never disappointed. I can always find some man who has decided that the only thing wrong with the world is women's dress, and that of course he, being far above the vagaries of fashion (and who is, of course, wearing that completely rational item of dress, the necktie) is ideally suited to pass criticism upon it.

This example is wonderful — it's not that the streets of London are filthy, or that men should perhaps not throw their cigar butts in the gutter — no, women's dresses are too long. (Why can't both things be true, I wonder?)

SOCIAL CATECHISM.
Q. WHAT is the dirtiest creature you know?
A. The English fine lady.
Q. What are your reasons for saying this ?
A. Her habits.
Q. Explain yourself more fully.
A. When she walks she drags behind her a receptacle for dust and dirt of every kind.
Q. What is this called?
A. A long dress, or train.
Q. What is its action?
A. It sweeps the ground, collects mud, dust, cigar-stumps, straws, leaves, and every other impurity.
Q. What happens next?
A. This accumulation rubs off to a certain extent upon other portions of her dress, or upon the legs of any person who may walk beside her, and when she gets into her carriage, the objectionable matter spoils the lining ; besides that, the dust is most offensive.
Q. Why does she wear such a ridiculous dress?
A. For one of two reasons. Either because she aims at a servile imitation of certain great folks, or because she owes money to her milliner, and dares not order any kind of dress except that which this tyrant sends home to her.
Q. Why does she not raise, or loop up her dress to keep it from the ground?
A. Because, being a lazy person, she has thick ancles [sic], or being a scraggy person, she has skinny ones, which her vanity forbids her to exhibit.
Q. Is there any other reason?
A. Yes; she has probably ugly feet, disfigured by corns or bunions caused by wearing tight boots.
Q. Is there any cure for such habits?
There is none, until her husband has been nearly ruined by her extravagance, when she is compelled by economical reasons to dress like a rational being, and at once becomes clean and charming as the British female was intended to be.
Q. What sensation is caused to man by the sight of these dresses ?
A. Contemptuous pity for the woman, and pity, without contempt, for her unfortunate husband.
Q. Does she know this ?
A. Yes, but as she dresses less to please men than to vex women, the knowledge has no effect upon her dirty habits.
Q. Where can the animal be seen?
A. At the Zoological Gardens on Sunday afternoons, in the Park and Kensington Gardens, and in most places where fine clothes can be successfully exhibited.
Q. What lesson should you deduce from this ?
A. That of thankfulness to Providence that, (if married at all) you are married to a sensible woman and not to a fine lady.
Q. What will you take to drink ?
A. Anything you like to put a name to.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Latter-Day Flapper June 16, 2008 at 7:53 am

[Cue sarcasm] . . . because it’s not as thought men were the fashion designers and dictators of what was modest, moral, and respectable, right?You know, there was a “Simpsons” cartoon recently that was a spoof of Tom Sawyer. There’s a carnival log ride with a camera at the end. One character says, “This young lady is flashing her private parts!” and the photograph shown is of a woman showing her ankle.

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libbylondon June 16, 2008 at 8:16 am

I love the part where it says she doesn’t want to show her ankles out of vanity, because they’re too thick or too skinny – not because, of course, he’d call her a slag if she did!

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Sally June 16, 2008 at 8:50 am

What a rendition of hatred of women! The assumption that she is spending all her husbands money on clothing, etc., etc. Ah, the charm of the historic era!Not that the same attitudes don’t exist today, but at least they are not so prevalent.

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Eirlys June 16, 2008 at 9:47 am

Skirting the subject of womankind being blamed for everything, whatever her conduct (it was ever thus), when my mother asked her father (born 1876) what it had been like back in the days when women (or should that be “ladies”?) wore long skirts (which she imagined to have been terribly romantic), his reply surprised her. He said it was pretty filthy, the worst thing being the amount of horse-sh*t that would attach itself to the hem area. It’s easy to forget that there was an awful lot of it lying around the streets in the late 19th century. And quite a bit of it conjured up by the gentlemen at Punch who should really have known better. Tsk, tsk!

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WhiteStone June 16, 2008 at 11:00 am

I’ve often viewed the long skirts in movies and wondered how in the world those women kept their gowns clean? I thought perhaps in the “real” world the hems were slightly above the surface of the ground and perhaps it was only in the movies that these “romantic” dresses dragged the ground. I stand reproved on that thought. In today’s world we change clothes daily. But surely in those days they didn’t wash those yards and yards and yards of fabric after a single wearing? Cough! Cough!

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lorrwill June 16, 2008 at 11:06 am

I agree the original author smacks of misogyny.Wait – What? You mean our childhood tales of the sum of all that is virtuous and beautiful, the epitome of femininity, the unsullied, virginal fairy princess in her long, flowing gowns is actually repugnant?But not ironically I wore a full, ankle length full skirt a couple of weeks ago and it swept the stairs outside my apartment building as I went down them – even that gave me a little gross out.Horsepatties – ewwwwwwwwwwwww.Seriously, this why platform shoes were invented. (For as pointed out, raising the hem would have made the woman a harlot.)Neckties – LOL!!!!!

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Zoltar Panaflex June 16, 2008 at 11:57 am

I used to work at this law firm in Seattle in the earliest 90′s. One day, I wore suit pants, a pure white shirt and a tie (I am a girl…)I spent the day observing the rather nervous, confused male herd observing my tie, and each time I’d walk the long hallways, each man would reach up and grasp his symbolic tie in a very Freudian way.

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La BellaDonna June 16, 2008 at 12:06 pm

If my memory serves me correctly – and I know it does – these were the same “rational folk” who went into flipping CONNIPTIONS at the possibility of ladies shortening their long skirts, revealing neither ankles thick nor ankles thin, but perfectly modest, fully gathered, Turkish trowsers – that is, the Bloomer Costume.Misogynistic creep. Eirlys, it’s why the little boys would be paid a penny to “sweep the crossing” – so that the ladies didn’t. One writer reminisced about carrying a banana skin into the house in a hem which had come half-undone! The REALLY awful part is looking at some of the crude sketches of early San Francisco, when the ladies would pay some man to carry them across the street because the streets were open, running sewers – and running with rats, scampering/swimming down them. Even as late as turn-of-the-century (1900), herds of pigs would roam the streets of New York. And some of what you’d find on the open garbage heaps I won’t mention here.Whitestone, the ladies would sew wool/mohair braid around the hems of their skirts – that is, the hem itself would be INSIDE the “braid sandwich” (the braid was really just flat tape, a little like our hem bindings). This was called “brush braid,” and it was expected to pick up the worst of the wear and tear and … whatever else got picked up. After the lady was done with her errands, and when her skirt dried, she would then BRUSH OFF whatever had encrusted itself on the brush braid. Hem lengths varied with fashions; if you weren’t a lady with a carriage, you weren’t SUPPOSED to be dragging a train in the dirt! But sometimes there weren’t a lot of options available, and in periods when even “walking skirts” had trains, the ladies could buy detachable ruffles that were meant to go on the underside of the the hems of the trains (in addition to brush braid). The French called them “balayeuse;” in plain English, “street sweepers” or “dust ruffles.” And there were plenty of women at the time who thought hours spent brushing dirt off long skirts was a perishing waste of time! No, they certainly did NOT wash their skirts or dresses every time they wore them; this was a time period when a gown would be made up out of material that had NOT been preshrunk (because how wasteful to wash something that wasn’t dirty!), and it might be worn all summer before it was washed (if it was a washable fabric). And then it would be ripped apart and remade, because, as often as not, it would have shrunk. Wools, of course, were not washed. It’s not quite as horrible as it sounds, either; remember, women kept the WASHABLE fabric – layers and layers of it – between them and the uppermost gown, which would be aired, brushed, and spot-cleaned as needed. The washable layers, of course, WERE washed.

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jen June 16, 2008 at 1:39 pm

that is AWESOME. (besides this brief comment, i am speechless. and amused.)

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Anonymous June 16, 2008 at 2:36 pm

I think this man was just hoping he’d get to see ladies ankles and knees. He is really reaching for an argument in favor of shorter skirts, that it makes me think there was an ulterior motive. I notice that he’s not suggesting trousers as a less unsanitary alternative to a dress with a train. This is merely a guy hoping for the development of miniskirts. Pretty transparent, I’d say.Shaun

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Cookie June 16, 2008 at 2:54 pm

A few sad women actually died from wearing hoop skirts/crinolines, which had metal hoops. I read of one that was blown of the deck of a ship in a heavy gale, and another whose skirt caught fire, and she couldn’t escape it. 1) This priggy man would have even more of a conniption if he saw a woman walking (comfortably) down the street in a halter top and shorts. 2) He doesn’t acknowledge that fashion styles were arbitrated by what was acceptable to men. Queen Victoria had a huge influence as well, yet her modesty was shaped by a patriarchal society. 3) Women — and men — aspired in whatever way they could to wear what was “in fashion” because the class structure was so important in England that people were always trying to copy the nobles, in an effort to somehow better their lives.DIAGNOSIS: SAD

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La BellaDonna June 16, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Cookie, more than a few. One Christmas Eve, a fire swept a cathedral in South America, leaping from crinoline to crinoline; more than 2,000 women died in that one incident. England, the U.S., South America; pioneer ladies and English nobility died as a result of fire tragedies directly linked to wearing crinolines (and I’m referring, now, to multiple instances, not just the one great tragedy).

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Cookie June 16, 2008 at 4:39 pm

DEAR LORD! Yiiiiiiiiiiiiikes!

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Anonymous June 16, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, hold your horses! Said quote comes from the Victorian equivalent of today’s The Onion. The piece in question is more a comentary of “ladies” vs. “sensible women” than it is on women in general. This journal was written from a middle-class point of view and as such, takes a punch or two at the upper classes, among other things. More information here: http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/punch/pva44.html

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Anonymous June 16, 2008 at 5:52 pm

And then there was the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900, and the story of the woman who died when she couldn’t pull herself out of the floodwaters because of her long, heavy, wet dress. Wow, clothing that’s actually dangerous. I hadn’t thought about the getting dirty part, though. Yuck. And truly, how much could a woman get away with putting herself in more functional clothing. Look how upset people were when Katharine Hepburn wore trousers, and that’s fairly recent history.Dawn

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Cookie June 16, 2008 at 6:06 pm

The clothes under Napoleon were quite comfortable…and risque! They were thin chemise dresses and I think they were worn without corsets. Sometimes the ladies damped them down to make them even more clingy and see-through. Not that they were really see-through to begin with, but you know those jaded royal courts….maybe for parties?

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lupinbunny June 16, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Osacr Wilde’s wife, and Oscar Wilde himself (ironically, given his reputation for dandyism) were proponents of sensible dress for women. Together they founded a group/ society that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. They promoted the Aesthetic style of dress for women (which aesthetically for the majority of Brits looked rather like you’d popped out to the theatre in your dressing gown). Long skirts weren’t their concern, from memory, but they favoured pants/ culottes hidden under an overskirt, or visible for exercise, and no corset (or other supportive undergarment) whatsoever.

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Anonymous June 16, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Apparently, Oscar Wilde’s 2 half sisters died in a freak accident when their ball dress crinolines caught on fire:http://www.hoganstand.com/general/Identity/extras/gaels/stories/wilde.htmCMC

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lorrwill June 16, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Highly informative and humorous at the same time. I love reading these comments as much as Erin’s posts.

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Beth June 16, 2008 at 11:15 pm

la belladonna,You are amazing. How do you know all this?

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the_lazymilliner June 17, 2008 at 8:13 am

Crinolines aside, can I just say how I hate the word ho?

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Lavon June 17, 2008 at 10:14 am

I made a long gown once. Sweeping the ground.I had to throw it away after one wearing.So yes the women who conformed to the men’s idea of modesty had every right to spend their husbands money on new dresses.Show the ankles! Save the gowns!

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Toby Wollin June 17, 2008 at 11:16 am

I recall being told that during the 1830s in the US, fully a third of women died because their skirts caught fire from cooking either over open fires or at fireplaces. The invention of the stove was a major improvement.

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La BellaDonna June 17, 2008 at 11:19 am

Anonymous, my information does NOT come from Punch; I’m referring to a fire that took place in Santiago, Chile: the Iglesia de la Compaa de Jess caught fire during an 1863 church service, and over 2000 people died.Beth, Heh. I’m hoping that’s a compliment. I think the correct answer is “compulsion.” I’ve been interested in historic dress/folk dress/clothing and construction since I was about six; I remember looking things up in the Britanicca, since it was all I had access to at the time. I have hundreds of volumes in my library, which is always expanding. If I’d spent as much time studying medicine, I’d be a neurosurgeon by now. C’est la guerre.

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Cookie June 17, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Together they founded a group/society that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. They promoted the Aesthetic style >> Was this the Bloomsbury Group? Incidentally, Liberty of London was a big supplier to fans of the Aesthetic Movement. They originally purchased their decorative fabrics from the Far East, then eventually began weaving their own when the market took off. (Or so says Wikipedia)

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Patricia June 17, 2008 at 12:27 pm

La belladonna: Anonymous was not responding specifically to your comment, but to the original excerpt that Erin presented here –from Punch, the London Charivari, which was a Victorian satire and humor magazine that actually poked fun at the upper classes. The “Long Dress Nuisance” is actually a piece of satire, so it’s meant to be ironic. Thus, it is like something from today’s Onion. I think that because of the proximity of Anonymous’ comment, you may have construed it to be a response to yours, but I think it’s supposed to be a response to the general discussion here.Anyway, peace to all, and Erin: I love your blog; it makes my day!!

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Cookie June 17, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Whoa! Someone started a category for Butterick’s “4 Yard Line” (which Erin discussed recently) at Vintage Pattern Wiki! There are 6 examples so far. I must say, again…the line is sort of on the DOWDY side! (Or maybe it’s the prints they use?) It looks like they recycled an idea from the Walkaway Dress into one of the bodices. I’m STILL a fan of 2241, though, and looking for it! Would be good in white linen with bright red top stitching and red shoes. I’m loving the wiki, because where else would we be able to research a collection of the obscure 4 Yard Line???

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Eirlys June 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm

My old grey matter is only just beginning to warm to this scatological theme… there was ALSO another cause for the filth around female skirt hems. Please look away now if you’re of a delicate disposition.Female undergarments were often split down the central seam (only held together by the waistband from front under crotch to back) so that a not-so-ladylike wearer might relieve herself (truly!) without so much hitching up her full, gathered ankle-covering raiment. Makes you think.I thought of this blog entry when I heard the coverage of Ladies’ Day at Ascot. If a barometer were needed to show that the British female no longer knows how to dress in sober fashion, it came today. To keep the female race-viewers in line, there have apparently been dictats this year about what must/must not be worn in the Royal Enclosure. Knickers (underpants) must be worn. However, they must not be visible. There is a prescribed length to skirts (a little above knee level, but well below the navel, as far as I understand), and a prescribed width to shoulder straps (a fairly strapping one inch, I thought I heard). Sorry not to be terribly precise, but I didn’t find the story readily on the BBC website, though they were wittering on happily about it on BBC Radio 4 this morning (too early/pre-school busy for me to take good notes).Oh, I bought a pair of the aforementioned bloomers once in a stack of household linens. Still have them – just to wonder at, frankly. Have been told they’re quite collectable, and why not! These ones are clean, btw.

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velvet plaza June 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm

George Sand was a woman who dressed like a man, I think during the enlightenment.

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velvet plaza June 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm

George Sand was a woman who dressed like a man, I think during the enlightenment.

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Velvet Plaza June 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm
Cookie June 17, 2008 at 2:55 pm

OMG…split bloomers…public physical evacuation…interesting way to wile away a boring conversation in the merry olde streets of London, and no need to worry over the state of public toilet seats. HELP HELP HELP! DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, SAY IT WASN’T TRUE! (So often I find myself thinking, “Now I’ve heard it all.” I was sooo wrong!)

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lorrwill June 17, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Actually as gross as it is, the split bloomers solves a mystery for me: how the heck you would use the bathroom in that battle armor of skirts, petticoats, cages, etc. when it seems that even sitting down was impossible.

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Anonymous June 18, 2008 at 7:40 am

It wasn’t just the 1800s when women’s socially dictated clothing could get them killed, unfortunately. In the tsumani that struck southeast Asia on boxing day 2004, thousands of women were dragged under water by their yards and yards of sari cloth – and the cultural conditions that made it impossible to learn to swim. (No bathing suits, no women-only pools to learn in.)

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La BellaDonna June 18, 2008 at 8:24 am

Patricia, whew. And “oh.” That, um, makes more sense. I think I’m a little “troll sensitive” after recent unlamented events; I didn’t want people to think I was making it up! Eirlys, I actually have a couple of pairs that I have used for re-enacting; it’s the only way to manage in a PortaPotty without pulling some major muscles!And may I say that I am completely gobsmacked at the necessity for publishing the Royal Enclosure (heh!) requirements – specifically, about what needed enclosing. And I’m sorrier than I can say, first, about all the folks affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, but that so many should have died for such a reason as that – so unnecessary. Like the ladies who died in the Shirokiya Department Store fire in 1933; they either wouldn’t jump, or couldn’t hold onto the ropes, because they didn’t have undergarments which covered their privates, and were trying to use one hand to hold their clothes closed.Clothing: not worth dying over, IMO.

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Cookie June 18, 2008 at 12:52 pm

In the movie Cries and Whispers, there’s a scene where a wealthy woman is undressed by her maids, and she isn’t wearing any panties/bloomers under her slips/stays, etc. I believe those might have been a necessity with hoop skirts, in case you tipped over, but otherwise, I’m not sure that type of lower undergarment was worn. So….at least that would make powder room visits easier.

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Margaret. June 18, 2008 at 3:11 pm

In the age of the crinolines, at least two petticoats, one under the crinoline, and one over the crinoline, and an ankle length pair of bloomers had to be worn for modesty.I love these kind of comments Erin, (note the sarcasm) because I myself wear ankle length skirts! Punch magazine….gotta love it!

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melodie June 18, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Cookie–Napoleonic/Regency gowns were worn with short stays. Those corsets provided support and the shaping wanted for the fashion silhouette. The shaping wasn’t as extreme as that achieved by Victorian corsets, accounting for many people assuming corsets weren’t used.

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Cookie June 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm

Oh! Thank you, Melanie!

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dawnrenee June 19, 2008 at 7:08 am

As usual, these comments are fascinating and informative. I am particularly interested in these stories of women dying for fashion (literally). I’d love to read more about this; does anyone have particular books or magazines articles to recommend for further reading?

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MadeByAmanda June 19, 2008 at 9:01 am

Speaking of dying for fashion – it’s not like former times and other cultures have a monopoly on stupid fashion-related behavior. I wonder what the stats are on women who’ve died of skin cancer that they would not have gotten if they hadn’t felt the urgent need to (a) wear skimpy clothing and (b) have a dark tan?There are women who KNOW that their sun-worshipping could affect their health, and yet prefer that risk to looking pale.

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lorrwill June 19, 2008 at 9:38 am

No that it is deadly (but could be) don’t forget what the sky high heels do to the tendons, etc.

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Sarah June 19, 2008 at 9:43 am

I think the society Wilde was a part of was the Rational Dress Society (founded 1888); the Bloomsbury Group was early 20th century, and I don’t think they were an official society, just a bunch of artists/writers who knew each other. Also, George Sand lived during the Romantic era, not the Enlightenment, which was in the18th century. Not trying to be snippy, just wanted to make sure the eras were in the right order :)

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Sarah June 19, 2008 at 10:00 am

Toby -One third of women died from their dresses catching on fire? That number sounds awfully high I mean, if that were the case then one in every six people in the US burnt to death accidentally, and I dont think even smallpox took that big a chunk of humanity.Also, this is just my opinion, but I think the Punch writer was being humorous, but not ironic. Punch was both satirical *and* the arbiter of upper-middle-class mores – it’s not like mockery isn’t an effective way to enforce social rules.

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Cookie June 19, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Not trying to be snippy, just wanted to make sure the eras were in the right order :) >> Thanks, Sarah!

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