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Theatre costume

Theatre costume

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • 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

Fancy dress and costume balls were a feature of social life in the 20th century, especially in the 1920s and 1930s and even into the 1950s and Oliver Messel was a frequent guest. Many families would also have played charades or sometimes put on plays. A dressing up box and raiding of the family attics would have provided most of the costumes. Any self-respecting 'dressing up' box would have had plenty of standard costume parts and accessories, especially cloaks and tights, which would be needed for many period or fantasy costumes.

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

Large circular-cut cloak of mustard wool cut into a narrow round neck with facing. The cloak is unbound at the hem but stitched down the fronts.

Materials and Techniques



Weight: 2.0 kg, Length: 166 cm Collar to hem, Width: 224 cm Widest point

Object history note

Cloak probably from Oliver Messel's 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

Large circular cloak in mustard wool. Oliver Messel Collection.


Wool (textile)


Machine stitching


Entertainment & Leisure


Theatre and Performance Collection

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