Exhibition Review-‘Hollywood Costume’- Part Two


Hi there. Good Morning. God Morgon. That’s Swedish for ‘good morning.’ I’m a little bit obsessed with all things Swedish but that’s for another time and another post.

So yesterday, I posted my thoughts and review on the ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition. Today, I shall present an analysis on the layout of the exhibition and my thoughts on it.

I won’t deny I was in film geek heaven. I love old Hollywood films from the Golden Era of movie making. Gone With the Wind & The Wizard of Oz just happen to be two of my favourite movies. Oh and I might be a little bit obsessed with Scarlett O’Hara. Just a little.

Without further ado I present a Museum Standard production, ‘A Review of the Hollywood Costume,’ exhibition. Sorry, couldn’t resist a movie reference there.

Hollywood Costume

The first process is designing the character, and what influences the costume makers and the writers. The exhibition text itself states that anything from literature, art to the actor or actress playing the role itself influences the way the costume is developed and eventually produced. This part of the exhibition has been carefully displayed to give examples of initial planning of costumes, including design sketches, notebooks of ideas and recordings of the input of actors themselves. It gives the viewer the sense that the process of making the costumes is an intricate and lengthy process, with such examples of beading, lace work and corsetry for period costume pieces.

 This particular part gives several examples of the design process. From Morticia Adams (see below) in the Adams family movies to Heath Ledger’s character in Brokeback Mountain, it portrays the care and detail that went into these characters outfits. These brings us on to the second part of the exhibition, and the relationship between costume and other elements of production i.e. censorship, directors and what period the film is in.

A text panel instructs us the viewer that there are many constrains on how costume designers do their work. It tells us that the wardrobe department works close with the director to idealize his vision of the characters, often doing painstakingly long hours of research.

This is particularly true in historical pieces, where the time, the feel and the era have to be conveyed in every costume. This exhibition lays out examples of this in Bette Davis‘ ‘Queen Elizabeth 1st’ costume. The exhibition texts explains the costume makers traveled to England to study costumes in the portraits of Queen Elizabeth 1st. The detail is astonishingly accurate to the portraits, and was constrained to a time of non-digital, low budget movies in the ‘Golden Era of Hollywood.’

queen (2)                           Bette Davis, ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex,’ 1939.

The curators of this exhibition have emphasized particularly in this ‘second’ section, of the exhibition how the evolution of technology and society has influenced the costume makers role. The exhibition explains the restraints of only working in black and white, having to find costumes that would last under hot studio lights and even the transition from sight to sound in the late 1920’s. It explains how the digital age has reduced the need for thousands of costumes for extras, and how the costume maker can concentrate on the main stars of the films.

The curators have sought out examples of costumes to best display this change in the nearly 120 years of cinema history. With examples of costumes from early silent pictures right up to the modern day. They have examples of Marlene Dietrich’s  (see below)costumes from the silent era, costumes from ‘Film Noirs,’ costumes from great epics such as ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Gone With the Wind’ and finally costumes from more modern movies. They have strived and been successful in explaining, perhaps to someone who is not knowledgeable of cinema history, the changes brought about with technological changes and the way society acts and thinks.

The third and final stage of the exhibition seeks to invoke memories and thoughts of the viewers of the costumes. The exhibition text panels, explain how certain parts of costumes can evoke certain memories. Or make the actors and actresses seem bigger than life. Often, making people think the the actors are more like the characters they portray than the actual human being themselves. This particular part of the exhibition displays such iconic costumes as the Batman movie costumes, Jack Sparrow from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and Audrey Hepburn’s costume as ‘Holly Golightly,’ in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys.’


The text argues that often we recall the costume before we recall the actor, as I have addressed in the opening paragraphs of this analysis. And that these costumes have a lasting impression on us as movie goers. Nowhere is this truer than Dorothy’s ‘Ruby Slippers.’ These slippers have lived on through 70 plus years of cinema history for every little girl and boy (and adults alike) to love and reminisce about. I personally feel this way, as part of the allure of this exhibition were to see the original ruby slippers. There were many people crowded round the ruby slippers evoking memories of watching Judy Garland singing in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I was included in these people, as seeing these slippers reminded me of my childhood.

 With this notion in one’s head, perhaps the curator’s wished to invoke this sense of ‘nostalgia,’ within the viewers of the costumes. To make one feel how connected cinema is with our every day life and memories and how these costumes are pivotal to this. And how much work actually goes into some of these costumes just to invoke a time or place that many hold dear to their hearts. ‘Hollywood Costume,’ seeks and does this beyond recognition and it is recommended for many film lovers and film newbies alike to visit this wonderful and informative exhibition.

I leave this post with a video from the V&A’s Hollywood costume website, of Dorothy’s ‘Ruby Slipper’s.’ Please tweet me @NylonsAndAll with any feedback!



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