Review - Hollywood Costume at the V&A

Hollywood Costume is the V&A’s latest show stopping event, dazzling with an immense collection of costumes from silent film  to contemporary blockbusters and a highly thorough insight into the painstaking work that goes into creating costumes. Walking into the exhibition evoked the feeling of walking into a darkened cinema  - spine-tingling dramatic music and a huge screen ahead of you with a montage of popular films from the past century.

Rather than using the orthodox method of showing exhibits in chronological order, Hollywood Costume is laid out according to subject such as characters’ backstory and ever-changing technology so you’d have exhibits made in different time periods placed right next to each other. There are also in-depth case studies such as the research that went into each character’s costume in Ocean’s Eleven - brilliantly displayed with the costumes (with actors’ faces on suspended small screens) sitting around a table filled with projected images of scripts, research materials and post-it notes.

Like a lot of costume exhibitions, Hollywood Costume could have been just another “Ohhh and Ahhh” show but it is far from just a display of glittering crowd pleasers. So much work has gone into showing the intensive production behind costumes such as the social and historical research (who knew that a cowboy wore Wrangler or Levi’s depending on his job?), the craftsmanship, the technology and the creative collaboration between director and designer like that of Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head on The Birds.

Like all grand shows, the most iconic numbers are saved for last. An equivalent to Shirley Bassey singing Big Spender at the end of a gig. The final room is deliciously  indulgent in nostalgia and glamour with a long parade of dearly loved costumes such as Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill yellow tracksuit and Christopher Reeves’ Superman costume flying overhead. The Holy Grail of Hollywood costumes, Marilyn Monroe’s white billowing dress from The Seven Year Itch (even I have a fancy dress copy of this!) and Judy Garland’s blue gingham number from The Wizard of Oz, are displayed at the ultimate end.  

Hollywood Costume plucks at the heart strings of the nostalgic and film fans of all tastes (my companion Hull Girl squeaked at a video of Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit). It’s big, loud and awe-inspiring - just like a Hollywood movie should be.

Hollywood Costume ends 27th January. Visit for details.


  1. I really loved this exhibition. After the disappointingly bland Ballgowns, this was a breath of fresh air and was even better than I'd hoped! Sounds from your description that there were bits I missed (I don't recall seeing Ocean's Eleven), but all the costumes I did see were amazing. It was wonderfully put together, wasn't it? I really want the exhibition book now :-)

  2. The Ocean's Eleven display was opposite The Addams Family in the first room. So much was packed into the exhibition - there was a lot to take in! But that's part of its appeal because a wide variety of tastes and interests were catered for. The V&A has triumphed again - Bring on David Bowie is!


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