Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Theatre costume

  • Materials and Techniques:

    facecloth lined with plush, braid and metal buttons

  • Credit Line:

    Acquired with the support of the National Lottery Heritage 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 high social life for many years, even in the depression years of the 20th century, and 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

Full length circular caped cloak in black facecloth, the fronts and cape trimmed with black braid. The fronts are faced with a deep band of scarlet plush and at the neck are two gold metal buttons with a hook and eye fastening

Materials and Techniques

facecloth lined with plush, braid and metal buttons


Length: 119 cm collar to hem approximate, Width: 50 cm approximate, Weight: 3.5 kg approximate

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 bright reddish-orange cotton twill. Oliver Messel Collection.


Wool (textile); Plush; Braid; Metal


Hand stitching


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.