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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Theatre & Performance, Room 104

Theatre Costume

1958 (made)
Artist/Maker

Cecil Beaton's costume designs for My Fair Lady added immeasurably to the success of Lerner and Lowe's musical both in New York and London. Set in 1914, Beaton was able to look back on the period of his childhood and to incorporate fashions remembered from relatives, family friends and the picture postcard beauties that he avidly collected. However, the dress he designed for Eliza at the Embassy ball is timeless, and the simplicity and uncluttered line look forward to the 1960s as much as back to pre-1914. The impact of the dress was especially strong as it was first seen not in the ballroom scene, amid many other beautiful dresses, but in the dark, masculine setting of Higgins's batchelor establishment as Eliza descended the wooden staircase to the strains of 'I could have danced all night.'
watch Costume conservation: My Fair Lady Follow the transformation of this shimmering ballgown costume, once worn by Julie Andrews on the West End stage.
Object details
Category
Object type
Materials and techniques
Brief description
Costume for Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Lowe's musical My Fair Lady, designed by Cecil Beaton, worn by Julie Andrews, Drury Lane, 1958.
Physical description
Costume for Eliza Doolittle in the musical My Fair Lady, worn by Julie Andrews, Drury Lane, 1958. Ball dress in the style of ca.1914 of ivory satin overlaid with fine chiffon. The low straight cut boned fitted bodice has narrow diamante shoulder straps (missing) and a fitted midriff simulating a deep belt; the narrow fitted skirt is cut away at the front to reveal an underpanel. At the top edge of the bodice is a line of crystal beads. The bodice is embroidered with a symmetrical pattern of stylized flower sprays in diamante, rhinestones, pearls and crystal beads with a central 'ruby'. The midriff is heavily embroidered with arabesques in silver thread, crystal beads and minute sequins. At the centre front are two square cut rubies outlined in diamante, the whole outlined in pearls. From the top to bottom of the midriff and surrounding the central decoration is a simulated buckle of large rectangular brilliants. From below the buckle hangs a narrow panel of double thickness yellow ivory chiffon, embroidered from top to base panel with densely packed lines of crystal mirrored beads, the side rows being edged with minute sequins; the bottom is decorated with lozenges of pearls, the centre of each having a square cut 'ruby' outlined in diamante, stylized flowers matching those on the bodice in crystal beads, pearls, diamante and central 'rubies' and a row of square cut rubies. From the bottom of the panel hangs a long fringe of looped crystal beads.

The narrow overskirt is fitted to the hips and cut away at the front to reveal a front panel of ivory satin over which is a layer of fine chiffon. From the top to the bottom of the skirt are four densely packed lines of long crystal beads which continue, the front two lines merging, to form three narrower lines around the back. The lower part of the underpanel has three rows of long pale gold bullion fringe. The overskirt is lined with polyester taffeta. The costume fastens at the back with hooks and eyes.
Dimensions
  • Bust circumference: 74cm
  • Waist circumference: 64cm
  • Across the back circumference: 30cm
  • Height: 140cm (Note: from roughly nape of back waist to hem)
  • Base of skirt diameter: 60cm (Note: (approximate))
Production typeUnique
Marks and inscriptions
  • ' M Berman Ltd / 18 Irving Street / Leicester Square WC2 ' (Printed label)
  • ' Miss Julie Andrews ' (Typewritten label)
  • ' Greyson / ?Miss Scott (crossed out) ' (Handwritten label)
Credit line
Given by the Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Object history
Costume worn by Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle in the London premiere of the musical 'My Fair Lady', Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 30th April 1958. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play 'Pygmalion', the music for the musical was composed by Frederick Lowe, and the book and lyrics were by Alan Jay Lerner. The production was directed by Moss Hart, the sets were designed by Oliver Smith, and the costumes were designed by Cecil Beaton. The production also starred Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins.



The costume was purchased from Christies, 20th April 1982, Lot 9b for £500 by the Friends of the Victoria & Albert Museum and presented by them to the Theatre Museum.
Production
Reason For Production: Commission
Associations
Literary references
  • My Fair Lady
  • Pygmalion
Summary
Cecil Beaton's costume designs for My Fair Lady added immeasurably to the success of Lerner and Lowe's musical both in New York and London. Set in 1914, Beaton was able to look back on the period of his childhood and to incorporate fashions remembered from relatives, family friends and the picture postcard beauties that he avidly collected. However, the dress he designed for Eliza at the Embassy ball is timeless, and the simplicity and uncluttered line look forward to the 1960s as much as back to pre-1914. The impact of the dress was especially strong as it was first seen not in the ballroom scene, amid many other beautiful dresses, but in the dark, masculine setting of Higgins's batchelor establishment as Eliza descended the wooden staircase to the strains of 'I could have danced all night.'
Collection
Accession number
S.773-1982

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Record createdAugust 4, 2004
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