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Theatre costume

Theatre costume

  • Materials and Techniques:

    straw, paint, wool

  • 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

The hat came into the Museum with no identification, save the connection with Oliver Messel and poses an insoluable conundrum. It might have been designed for a revue, but the painted brim makes it extremely heavy and very unwieldly; heavy headdresses are usually easy to wear, being precisely balanced to stay on and make the performer move well and elegantly. The low crown makes it extremely uncomfortable to wear and difficult to keep on. It may have been made for a fancy dress party, when it could be happily abandoned once it had made its impact and been admired.

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 lry villas.

Physical description

Hat in natural straw with low crown and narrow, undulating brim. The brim has been painted over with white paint with a black line around the edge. Covering brim and crown are huge red pom-poms.

Materials and Techniques

straw, paint, wool

Object history note

The hat was part of the Messel collection, but there is no indication whether Messel in fact designed it or why it was acquired by him.
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

Straw hat, the brim painted white, almost entirely covered with huge red wool pom-poms. Possibly designed by Oliver Messel for a Cochran revue, or worn as fancy dress.


Straw; Paint; Wool yarn


Hand stitching


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes; Hats & headwear


Theatre and Performance Collection

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