Though I do try to make sure to get in a bit of culture when I travel, I have to admit that I’ve got about a 90-minute attention span when it comes to most museums.  However, give me a well-curated exhibition featuring clothes or say, handbags and I can easily linger much longer, as I did when I went to the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A in London.


The exhibition unfolds in three acts across three ground-floor galleries and features more than 130 costumes.  Each costume has a quote from its designer about its relevance for the character, giving a visual history of the role costumes have played throughout a century of cinema and conveying to the audience that good costume design is not about the clothes, but about creating characters.

Act 1, Deconstruction, reveals how costume design is used to develop a character from script to screen. The costume worn by Harrison Ford in his role as Indiana Jones in Raiders of Lost Ark is one of the highlights of this section. The exhibition’s guest curator, Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, is responsible for creating the hat, khakis and leather jacket worn by Indiana Jones and even aged the jacket herself, using Harrison Ford’s Swiss army knife and sandpaper.
Other costumes featured in this section are those worn by Scarlett O’ Hara in Gone with the Wind, Deena in Dreamgirls and by the cast of characters in Ocean’s Eleven.
Gone With The Wind
Ocean’s Eleven
The Royal Romance section displays costumes seen in films about aristocracy and as colorful and elaborate in real life than in reel life.
Royal Romance
Act 2, Dialogue, examines the collaborative role of the costume designer within the creative team. TV monitors display a classic interview with Alfred Hitchcock and legendary costume designer Edith Head (who Miss P immediately recognized from The Incredibles) discussing The Birds, and specially commissioned interviews with Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese.
Photo credit: Google images
During the interview, Scorsese’s states that “costume is character” and nowhere is that better illustrated than in the section dedicated to Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, where the actors discuss how costumes help them get into character and several costumes from each of their most memorable roles are on display.
Act 3, the Finale, is a celebration of the most memorable characters in the 100-year history of cinema.  Here we see the little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the pinstripe dress worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic, the white polyester suit from Saturday Night Fever, and iconic black suits created by Professor Landis and famously worn by the main characters in The Blues Brothers, which was directed by her husband John Landis. The costumes for superheroes Superman, Batman and Spiderman were also on display.
However, it was the blue and white gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz and seen on much of the press material for the exhibition, and the white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch, displayed on a mannequin specifically made to Monroe’s hourglass proportions, that received the most attention.
The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, which can be on seen on the cover of the Hollywood Costume commemorative book, were briefly on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and on display at the V&A alongside Dorothy’s dress. They are now, however, back at their home in Washington, DC, though the gift shop has plenty of beautifully made replicas available for purchase.
We were fortunate enough to see the slippers at the exhibition. In fact, the little ladies a private tour with their aunt, who was actively involved in the curation of the exhibition and explained to them why the slippers, which were silver in the book, were red in the movie (red was more dramatic on screen than silver).
The exhibition runs through January 27, and even without the ruby slippers, it is worth taking the time to see, which, as I discovered will be well beyond 90 minutes.