Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Theatre costume

  • Materials and Techniques:

    wool jersey, plastic button

  • 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

Any self-respecting 'dressing up' box would have had plenty of standard costume parts and accessories which would be needed for many period or fantasy costumes. 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, while many families would have played charades or sometimes put on plays. The dressing up box and raiding the family attics would have provided most of the 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

Long-sleeved, turtle necked leotard in black wool jersey, fastening under the crotch with a button and handworked buttonhole.

Materials and Techniques

wool jersey, plastic button


Length: 77 cm Collar to hem, Width: 44 cm, :, Weight: 0.8 kg

Object history note

Leotard 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

Long sleeved, turtle necked leotard in black wool jersey, probably worn with fancy dress. Oliver Messel Collection.


Wool jersey; Plastic


Machine knitting; Machine stitching; Hand stitching


Entertainment & Leisure


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.