Hollywood Costume Exhibition

(Warning: long post alert!)

One of the greatest things about watching a movie is seeing the amount of effort that is made into creating the perfect experience for an audience, whether that be through setting, clothing, or simply choice of actor. I was always a keen observer of these elements, but my A-Level Film Studies classes seemed to have permanently distorted my ability to watch a movie without analyzing almost everything about it. This is not necessarily a bad thing – you see things others don’t, you appreciate features such as light, cinematography and music, which in turn makes the viewing experience a more pleasurable one (it’s also particularly fun predicting the ending and sitting smugly with an “I KNEW IT!” face for the remainder of the movie).
Due to this, my taste in cinema has become very particular, which has resulted in weekly invites to the movies being reduced to monthly ones; I just don’t like Jennifer Aniston. I just...I just can’t. Either way, my passion for film and fashion attracted me to a wonderful exhibition in the V&A museum named Hollywood Costume, and with ticket, camera, and notebook in hand, I prepared myself to be enthralled (and although the ticket and notebook came in rather handy, the camera didn't as photography was prohibited...gutted).

Covering almost half a century of cinema, the Hollywood Costume exhibition provides a rare opportunity for the general public to view the most iconic outfits in history. As we stepped into the dimly lit room, I could almost feel the presence of each character coming to life; it was magical being in the company of so many wonderful memories. The first room, aptly named Act I: Deconstruction, showed the transition from design to the final product, and getting to know the character before creating it. For me, costume designers are more than just stylists; they breathe life into a character, providing it with a history, a personality, a family. Outfits that you thought indifferent to others such as Jason Bourne’s plain waterproof jacket and chunky boots in The Bourne Identity are actually carefully deliberated and constructed so that the outcome is exactly what they want – for Bourne to blend with the crowd. The Dude’s camel dressing gown from The Big Lebowski is, in turn, just a dressing gown, but it’s inappropriate and comical use throughout the movie made it one to remember (and had me squealing at how close I actually was to it).
A few others which caught my eye in this room were:
- Indiana Jones – Leather jacket, cream safari shirt, corduroy hat – iconic much?
- Charlie Chaplin – The oversized shoes and flapped trousers almost brought a tear to my eye.
- Elizabeth – Royal blues, satin, velvet, silk, ostrich feathers, paisley....shall I go on?
- Fight Club – Pornographic printed cropped tops and red leather pants – very Soho.

Through a new set of doors, the second room was called Act II: Dialogue, where collaborations with designers, actors and directors were seen. Here, a wide range of cinematic knowledge was thrust upon me as I learned about the design and character research processes of costume, and how frequently movies mirror society. Specially filmed interviews with actors and directors were artistically displayed while viewers walked around the costume, viewing it from every angle. In this room I was lucky to view clothing from The Bride Wore Red, Star Wars (yes, I saw the real Darth Vader costume. I almost died), Gone With the Wind, Taxi Driver, Mamma Mia, and Anna Karenina. My favourite was one from The Artist – as a lover of the 20’s flapper style, I was in awe of the decadent detailing.

The final room was stripped down to minimalistic rows of costumes; simply deemed The Finale, it displayed some of the most celebrated film characters of all time. Each costume had an LCD screen above it bearing the slow-motioned character who wore it, which provoked feelings of realism but also had a ghostly ambiance  Here, I saw the most wondrous of costumes; Nicole Kidman’s diamond encrusted frock from Moulin Rouge, Kiera Knightley’s emerald satin gown from Atonement, Audrey Hepburn’s famous Chanel number from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Marlene Dietrich’s androgynous suit from Morocco. Displayed were also the less glamorous ones of the pack; Arnie’s ripped up Terminator jacket, Daniel Craig’s Bond suit, Keanu Reeves’ leather pants and coat from The Matrix and Daniel Ratcliffe’s tiny Hogwarts uniform among many others. Spiderman and Batman hung from the ceiling, along with a sly Catwoman resting on her side above the exit. The exhibition ended with two of the most famous dresses of all time – Marylin Monroe’s white halter neck, and Dorothy’s chequered pinafore from The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, we spent over 3 hours in the exhibition, and were sadly rushed out nearing the end as the museum was closing. I did manage to purchase a small souvenir in the gift shop – a cigarette holder รก la Audrey Hepburn (I asked the lady if I could actually use it; she advised that unless I want to smoke plastic, it’s not really an option). I exited feeling slightly thwarted, but simultaneously thrilled at the opportunity to view such wonderful pieces of history. The exhibition is on until the 27th of January so get on it! Afterwards, we wondered around outside the Natural History Museum where families were enjoying a huge ice rink and a traditional merry-go-round, and ended the evening with a hearty meal in good ol' Bella Italia. Yum.



  1. Loved this post! I'm so sad I didn't catch this exhibition when I was back in London (I only had one free day and opted for Valentino instead which was completely amazing too - if you haven't checked it out, you definitely should).

    That green Atonement dress is my all time most favourite film costume ever - just stunning!

    1. Thank you so much for reading! :) I really wanted to see the Valentino one, do you know if it's still on?

      I love that dress too! It's so simple but for some reason it's beaaautiful :) thanks again for stopping by!!



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