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Theatre costume

  • Materials and Techniques:

    felt, glazed cotton, cotton braid, leather

  • Credit Line:

    Acquired with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Like many designers, Messel was fascinated by costume and crafts. He collected items not particularly because he was researching for a specific production, but simply because they took his fancy. He amassed a collection of hats and headdresses, including ethnic examples from Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and others from various periods. This particular example is in the style of an 18th century tricorne (i.e. having three points).

Inside the hat is the label of B J Simmons, a famous theatrical costumier. It is possible that the hat was used in a Messel production, but Simmons also hired out costumes for costume and fancy dress balls. Fancy dress balls were a popular recreation among high society in the early and mid 20th century. Alternatively, many society families kept costumes for use in private theatricals or charades and it is possible that Messel hired the hat for a ball and it then found its way into his 'dressing up' box.

Oliver Messel (1904-1978) was Britain's leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, working in every aspect of entertainment - ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue - as well as in interior decoration and textile design. His lavish, painterly and romantic designs informed by period styles, were perfectly in tune with his times and earned him an international reputation. By 1960, however, Messel's style had become unfashionable, having no sympathy with the new 'kitchen sink' school of theatre. He increasingly concentrated on his non-theatrical painting and designing and eventually retired to the Caribbean, where he began a new career designing and building highly idiosyncratic luxury villas.

Physical description

Black felt tricorne hat, the edge bound with cotton braid. The hat is lined with black glazed cotton with a cardboard stiffening beneath the central crown. Around the edge is a leather sweatband.

Materials and Techniques

felt, glazed cotton, cotton braid, leather

Marks and inscriptions

B. J. SIMMONS & Co 7 & 8 King St. Covent Garden'
printed on tape label sewn to lining

'marca regestrada' + illegible
stamped beneath decorative shield on sweatband

Object history note

This tricorne hat belongs to Messel's collection of costume artefacts, which he acquired mostly out of interest in dress and crafts, not because he was necessarily researching a for a particular production. Given the Simmons label, it is possible that he hired it for a costume ball and it then found its way into his dressing up box.
Lord Snowdon, Oliver Messel's nephew, inherited Messel's theatre designs and other designs and artefacts. The designs were briefly stored in a disused chapel in Kensington Palace before being housed at the V&A from 1981 on indefinite loan. The V&A Theatre Museum purchased the Oliver Messel collection from Lord Snowdon in 2005.

Descriptive line

Black tricorne felt hat. Oliver Messel Collection.


Felt; Glazed cotton; Braid; Leather


Hand stitching


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes; Hats & headwear


Theatre and Performance Collection

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