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Theatre costume - Importance of Being Earnest

Importance of Being Earnest

  • Object:

    Theatre costume

  • Place of origin:

    Worthing (Designed)

  • Date:

    1993 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Crowley, Bob (costume designer)

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Robert Fox

  • Museum number:

    S.108:1 to 9-1993

  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 105, case 10 []

This costume was designed by Bob Crowley for Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in 1993. Stage costumes are not just beautiful in themselves, but give signals, not just about period, but about the character wearing the costume.

The setting is 1895, and this costume at first glance is a simple translation of historical dress, with tailored jacket and leg-of-mutton sleeves balanced by the width of the skirt. The resulting upright posture implies confidence and self-possession - both notable traits of Lady Bracknell. However, the designer touch comes in the exaggerated shoulder-line achieved not just by the width of the sleeves, but the wide lapels; they created a monumental feel, which is not one whit contradicted by the diagonal stripes at the waist, which, in another costume, would emphasise the smallness of the waist and hence fragility and femininity. The costume calls to mind the power-dressing of the 1980s, which became fashionable during Mrs Thatcher's term as Prime Minister, although it may be fanciful to see the 'Iron Lady' also reflected in the dark grey satin. The huge, plumed hat, adds to the upright structure and the impression of iron will and determination that are part of Lady Bracknell's formidable character.

Place of Origin

Worthing (Designed)


1993 (made)


Crowley, Bob (costume designer)


Height: 220 cm, Width: 100 cm, Depth: 100 cm

Object history note

This costume was worn by Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, Aldwych Theatre, London, 1993. The production was directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by Bob Crowley. The cast also included Richard E. Grant, Alex Jennings, Claire Skinner, and Margaret Tyzack.

Descriptive line

Costume worn by Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Aldwych Theatre, London, 1993

Labels and date

Costume for Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest

Maggie Smith’s appearance as Lady Bracknell was
a much anticipated event, and this striking costume
demonstrates a perfect union of character, actor and
costume. The skirt is a simple affair but it is the bodice
that commands the attention and draws the eye to
the grande dame of English drama.

Play by Oscar Wilde, 1895
Aldwych Theatre, London

Satin, silk, lace, braid and feathers
Designed by Bob Crowley

Given by Robert Fox
Museum no. S.108:1, 2 to 4–1993 [March 2009]


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

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