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Warning: You'll never look at a red carpet the same.

Who exactly is Charles James? And why should we care about the new Met show in his honor? Well, he was America?s only real couturier. And it was he--not Christian Dior--who inspired the legendary nipped-waist silhouette of the ?40s.

Okay, sold.

Before you brave the Costume Institute crowds, here?s a little primer on what to expect.

It?s by no means flashy You aren?t being wooed by fancy displays: There are no replicated CBGB bathrooms like at ?PUNK,? nor any dramatized dinner chats between Schiaparelli and Prada. Here, the architectural gowns (and, more important, their construction) are the stars of the show.

It?s for sewing nerds (and just may turn you into one) In the minimalist all-black galleries, each dress is simply accompanied by a video screen that shows CGI animation of how the various pieces of the garment came together. And it?s crazy cool. Now you will know exactly how a bustle defies gravity.

It?s too much for just one gallery Be sure to hit both the newly dedicated Anna Wintour Costume Center on the ground floor as well as the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the first floor. (Have a guard point you to the next group of mindblowers.)

Through August 10; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. (at 82nd St.); 212-535-7710 or

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