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Letter: Alice B. Toklas’s Fashion Sense

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To the Editor:

While I enjoyed your article about the updated “Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” (Styles,, June 6), I can’t help cringing at the characterization of her as a “notoriously frumpy hausfrau.”

Miss Toklas, as she was known to the many visitors to the home/salon that she and her life partner, Gertrude Stein, maintained at 27 Rue de Fleurus, may not have been pretty in a conventional way, but she was well known for her fashion sense.

Over the course of nearly four decades, she designed and created many chic matching outfits for herself and Gertrude — hers more “feminine” and Gertrude’s more “masculine.” She was also well known for her exotic accessories and jewelry — eccentric at times perhaps, but by no means frumpy.

I am also a little uncomfortable about your use of the word “wife” in quotes, which might suggest irony or condescension rather than historical description. The couple embraced the idea and used the word between themselves, though it was of course not a legal reality in their lifetimes. Their queer partnership, like their dress and the roles they played, was an act of bravery in the first half of the 20th century.


The writer is a professor of the history of American art and co-director of the Architecture Program at Wellesley College.


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