The world of Hollywood Costume

Isabella Fels
The Hollywood Costume exhibition in Melbourne was a delight to the eye. From the stark black and white outfits used in Charlie Chaplin's silent films to the heavily laced and ornate period costumes used to depict Victorian royalty, the effect was stunning. The exhibition covered many different costumes designs from 1912 to the present. It showed many different trends in fashion, and these fitted the movie genre in which they appeared.
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Isabella Fels on 15/08/2013
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Hollywood Costume is open until Sunday 18 August 2013, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square, Flinders street Melbourne.

Into a different world

Entering the exhibition was like going into a different world. The interior was very dark, almost sinister. This was especially so with the costumes on display, as worn by action and western heroes such as James Bond and John Wayne, complete with guns. These made me feel a little bit paranoid.

The dark setting was not the best for the vision-impaired, but even so some costumes really stood out for me. This was particularly so with a series of bright green outfits worn by such characters such as Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh in 'Gone with the Wind' and Madeleine Elster, played by Kim Novak in 'Vertigo'. Vivien Leigh's seductively plunging dark red gown, also in 'Gone with the Wind', stood out. But for those who were colour-blind, seeing these outfits may have been too hard.

The costume designs were more than just a journey into the past. They were also futuristic. It was amazing to see the foggy bluish skin tight outfits used by the incredibly taut creatures in 'Avatar'. And the black all-leather ensemble used by Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman in 'Batman Returns' was stunning.

From simple to sexy

The exhibition covered many different types of fashion, from the long simple elegant satin evening dresses worn by Hollywood siren Carole Lombard, to the sexy Vivienne Westwood bras worn over the clothing like Madonna in the 1985 film 'Desperately Seeking Susan'. Also featured was the short white interview dress worn by Sharon Stone in the film 'Basic Instinct'. I'm sure even people with memory problems would not have any trouble remembering that unforgettable scene with the crossing and uncrossing of the legs.

Transforming the characters

Through different fashion designs, actors such as Meryl Streep and Audrey Hepburn were able to transform themselves to fit the different characters they were playing.

With Meryl Streep, we could see a complete transformation from the high-fashion magazine editor in 'The Devil Wears Prada' to the very prim and proper Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady'. And again thanks to costumes, Audrey Hepburn as almost a princess in 'My Fair Lady', was barely recognisable from the cockney market flower girl she was.

Getting around

I felt self-conscious at the exhibition. There I was, getting around in my daggy clothes while surrounded by magnificent dresses as worn by perfect figures such as Nicole Kidman and Marilyn Monroe.

I noticed a young girl in a wheelchair who seemed to have difficulty trying to get around the large crowds. I approached her, and she said she had generally enjoyed the exhibition despite having to fight a few tight corners. The exhibition was at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), at Federation Square in Melbourne, and was generally good for wheelchair access. There was an accessible toilet and serviceable ramps and lifts. The place was also well-fitted with emergency exits, and had toilets on both the first and second floors. However for the hearing impaired, the row of television screens could have presented problems.

Good organisation

The Hollywood Costume exhibition was very well organised in the way it presented a thorough history and background into the costumes. There was television footage of interviews with the fashion designers, which gave good insight into how certain outfits were designed and made for a particular film.

I loved seeing and viewing this exhibition. It brought back many memories for me of the good old days as well as showing me the wonders of cinema technology in fashion today. On the whole this magnificent exhibition taught me a lot about the world of high-fashion business in Hollywood movies.

Hollywood Costume is open until Sunday 18 August 2013, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square, Flinders street Melbourne.

It is open daily from 10am to 5pm, and on Thursdays, until 9pm. On Saturday 17 August the exhibition is open from 10am to midnight, with last ticket sales at 11pm.

Tickets costs are full price $19.50; concession $15.50; and for ACMI members $13.50. Tickets for children, from 4 to 15 years, are $10. Tickets may be purchased online at

Readers comments (1)

Thank you, Isabella, for this nice article. I think it's particularly balanced, giving both a description of the show and your personal views. I'm glad you enjoyed the visit, and I thank you again for allowing me to "be" there, too.

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