Keeping Up Appearances

Our Hollywood Costume exhibition celebrates a century of glorious outfits that have been worn by the likes of Judy Garland, Mel Gibson and Marilyn Monroe.

But how come it appears as if nothing ages in Hollywood, not even the costumes?  How does Scarlett O’Hara’s green ‘curtain’ dress from Gone with the Wind look just as fresh now as it did when the 1939 film was first released? And how does Dorothy’s blue-and-white gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz (1939) maintain its youthful charm? It turns out these costumes have had a little help along with way from textile conservationists like Rachael Lee.

Rachael keeping the costumes beautiful

Textile Conservator Rachael keeping the costumes beautiful

Rachael is part of the busy conservation team at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It’s her job to make sure the iconic outfits in Hollywood Costume are always ready for their close-ups. From washing the costumes to packing and displaying them, Rachael makes sure these textiles maintain their good looks and age gracefully.

It isn’t just about looking pretty in this Hollywood story, however. Each costume needs to be brought to life just like the characters they represent, to capture the audience’s imagination like they did in the films they first appeared in. To pull this off, Rachael needs to maintain a delicate balance of care for the priceless garments and the amazing underlying supports and structures that give them shape.

When Rachael is doing her work well you won’t notice her work at all. You’ll be too distracted by Superman flying overhead, Batman towering above you and Catwoman lounging beside you to be thinking about how their clothes are in such good nick.

To find out more, watch Rachael chat about her experience as a textile conservator working on the Hollywood Costume exhibition:

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