Style on Screen: Hollywood Costumes at the V&A

I haven’t been to a truly awe-inspiring exhibition for quite some time now – there have been a few goodies at the V&A, namely the Baroque and Diaghilev ones, but nothing ever came close to the Golden Age of Couture (Anna-Marie and I were lucky enough to attend the magical opening night a few years ago and it was probably my most memorable experience in a museum ever – there were macarons!) Until now. Hollywood Costumes is huge, breathtaking and really rather emotional – yes, I actually cried.

Ohhh they tease you, they know how to lure you round and then BOOM! The most breathtaking collection of iconic costumes the world will ever see, all together in one place for the first time. Goths will rejoice at seeing costumes belonging to the Addams family (including Goth Idol Wednesday’s dress and two of  Morticia’s!) and I can’t believe I’ve been in the presence of Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress and Charlie Chaplin’s actual real tramp costume AND the Dude’s bathrobe!

Joan Crawford’s blood red gown from The Bride Wore Red was covered in millions of shimmering scarlet beads – that thing was ALIVE, pooling on the floor like liquid blood. I naughtily scuttled past the techy motion capture avatar stuff – borrrring, show me the pretty dresses!

The exhibition’s curators came up with endlessly ingenious ways of conveying the moving pictures that the clothes featured in – dynamic, inventive, witty, making full and imaginative use of technology – script pages turning before your eyes, bringing the clothes back to life, breathing life into hanging fabrics. There are digital ‘mood boards’ and screens facing each other showing an imagined conversation between Tippi Hendren and  Edith Head, costume designer on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

So why did I cry? Well, if you’ve watched a film scores of times, seeing some of these costumes is like encountering an old friend – I got this lovely familiar feeling when I found Lucy Honeychurch’s marvellously Edwardian white cotton frock from A Room With a View – that took me right back to afternoons at my friend’s house watching it on VHS, endlessly pausing and naughtily rewinding the bit where the boys dance naked round the pond in the forest and Lucy encounters them!

V&A Hollywood Costume exhibition

Some delicately embroidered cotton fabric holds so many memories – Lucy Honeychurch’s dress from A Room With A View

And when I saw Barbara Streisand’s golden gown from Hello Dolly I immediately welled up – that was a familiar sight from my childhood and was probably one of the triggers for my lifelong love of fashion.

Hello Dolly V&A Hollywood Costume exhibition

Barbra Streisand’s golden beaded dress from the scene in Hello Dolly where she sings with Louis Armstrong. SOB.

The final room actually made me choke up (again), it was so breathtaking. Seeing the costume Christopher Reeve wore in Superman flying from the ceiling, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers all small and scuffed and faded really brought home to me the vital role clothes have played in creating these characters who are part of our cultural landscape – it’s like looking into the 20th century’s wardrobe.

V&A Hollywood Costume exhibition

Tickets are selling out ridiculously quickly, especially at weekends so I would strongly advise you to buy yours NOW.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A runs until January 27, 2013. For more information and tickets visit

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Co-founder and co-editor of Pamflet. Bookworm, bluestocking, Brown Owl. Loves Garconnes style, reading, writing, ranting and raving. Gin snob.
About phoebe:

Co-founder and co-editor of Pamflet. Bookworm, bluestocking, Brown Owl. Loves Garconnes style, reading, writing, ranting and raving. Gin snob.

Find all posts by phoebe


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