I finally made it to the Edith Head exhibition in Bendigo. It’s crazy it took me this long to get there, particularly seeing as I only live a 30 minute drive away. I was going to go on the 3rd with some of the girls I studied costume with, but I ended up with tonsillitis on the day so I missed out. I went on Wednesday with my mum instead which was lovely.
Much to my delight photography was allowed in the exhibition – without flash, of course. It was a bit tricky taking photos of the costumes behind glass due to the reflections, but that didn’t stop me. Strap yourself in for a deliciously photo-filled read!
After leaving our bags in the cloak room (I do love a cloak room – I’m always paranoid I’ll knock things over when I have my bag) we made our way through the gallery to the exhibition space. On our way in we made sure to switch our phones to silent, and lady checking the tickets told us that there was a woman in earlier who was talking on her phone for 40 minutes through the exhibition! Can you imagine?!
The first room was dedicated to suits. They were just gorgeous! The costumes were in a big glass case in the centre of the room which made it really easy to view them. It also meant you could see more than one angle which is always a plus in my books. The fabrics were so scrumptious and everything was put together so beautifully. Of course you wouldn’t expect anything else from Edith Head, but it’s still a pleasure to see them up close.
The next room had quite a few sketches of the designs along with four costumes on a platform. It surprised me a little to see that most (possibly all, actually) the illustrations weren’t done by Edith Head herself, but by other (sometimes unknown) illustrators.
Barbara Stanwyck's wedding dress for Sorry Wrong Number was one of mum’s favourite costumes in the whole exhibition. It was so beautifully made. There is so much fabric in it, but it still looks so sleek and elegant.
The black beaded number, again for Barara Stanwyck but this time when she appeared in The Lady Eve, had one of my favourite details in costumes from the Golden Age – the soufflé fabric which gave the illusion of bare skin but allowed the costume to pass the censors. It also has blue, green, and yellow beads mixed in with the black which I hadn't noticed until I was looking through my photos!
This room also had the famous sarong dress as worn by Dorothy Lamour (the colour was so beautiful!), and a Victorian style dress worn by Olivia de Havilland with a scalloped layers for the skirt which reminded me a little bit of a Victorian style Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
Next up was a room dedicated to showgirls, circus performers, dancers, and the like. This collection was also behind glass which made photography a bit tricky, but it didn’t effect viewing them at all.
A bonus of the glass is it allowed you to get up a bit closer to the costumes without fear of somehow falling into them or something (surely that can’t just be me who worries about that, right? Hello?). The details were stunning! I find embellishments can be tricky sometimes – it can be easy to get the balance off – but these were all perfect. Edith Head certainly was a superbly talented lady, especially when you read that making this style of costume really wasn’t her thing!
Unfortunately because it was such a small area, and they had a screen playing clips in the middle of the wall across from the long case a small crowd formed and made it hard to get to the rest of the costumes. Thankfully the clips didn’t run for very long so the little group of people moved on fairly fast. That’s really the only problem I found during the whole exhibition which is pretty fab.
Next we went into another small room. This one had many of the exhibition’s historical costumes. This was another behind glass area. Two costumes from Casanova’s Big Night sat in one case – as you can see in the photo above – whereas the rest of the costumes were in another that jutted out from its wall. This meant that the costumes could be seen from both sides, just like in the suit room at the start.
These costumes were some of the most fun to look at. Especially looking at the difference between the eighteenth century style gown for Natalie Schafer and the one for Bob Hope! It was a beautiful example of how the choice of colour, cut, and embellishments can help tell the story.
I loved soaking up the details in the costumes. Things like the beautiful soutache embroidery, the pleating, the ruffles, and also bits like the zip closures on Yul Brynner’s breeches! Zips are definitely not historically accurate, but much more practical for a costume as they’d be hidden behind his boots anyway.
We continued on to a room with two costumes from Samson and Delilah and two from The Ten Commandments. One of the most famous pieces was in here – Hedy Lamar’s peacock dress from Samson and Delilah. Unfortunately the cape that goes with it is too fragile to travel now, but there was a little picture of it and a decent clip on the screen. This room seemed to have the longest clips for each costume.
It was a pity that we couldn’t see the peacock cape, but in my mind the velvet cloak more than made up for it! It was easily one of my favourite pieces in the whole exhibition. It looked like the midnight sky – a deep inky blue peppered with silvery thread which sparkled as you moved around the room.
It’s probably worth noting here that because these are costumes they aren’t all going to be 100% historically accurate. Sometimes it might be changed to make it easier for the actor – just like Yul Brynner’s zips – sometimes it’s because someone somewhere along the line wants a particular something – like the peacock feathers for Hedy Lamar’s costume – and sometimes it’s changed to help tell the story in the best way, which is what costume is all about really.
Medieval style dress for Shirley Temple in ‘Little Miss Marker’ (1934) | Victorian style costume for Janet Leigh in ‘Houdini’ (1953) | Edwardian style gown worn by Natalie Wood in ‘The Great Race’ (1965) | dress for Corinne Calvet in ‘My Friend Irma Goes West’ (1950) | Ball gown worn by Jane Wyman in ‘Here Comes the Groom’ (1951)
Next was the big open space which had a large number of costumes in it.
The room held both historically inspired and contemporary costumes. They were displayed between four platforms – two rectangular ones on either side of the room and two circular ones in the middle. The way it was set up meant that it was really easy to get a look at the pieces. I particularly liked the circular set up because it allowed so many angles to be seen.
One of the things I love about seeing costumes in person is you get the chance to see details that you may not have been able to see otherwise. Details like the print on the robe worn by June Allyson in Strategic Air Command. The little pink dots are actually tiny rosebuds!
Another one of my favourites was in here too – the gorgeous red velvet cocktail dress worn by Joanne Woodward in A New Kind of Love. I adore the silhouette. The buttons and buckle at the back were so charming! The rich colour and the texture of the velvet really helped to bring it up to the next level.
After the big room there wasn’t much of the exhibition left to see. There was a room with another six costumes that was otherwise dedicated to Edith Head’s well deserved Oscars. It even included her Oscar for Roman Holiday!
There were small screens and headphones so you could watch and listen to the award presentations in this room. When we walked in no one was using the headphones. I’m not sure if people didn’t want to be the first to pick them up, or just didn’t realise they were there so you could hear the presentations properly. Either way that meant there were plenty free for me to grab one for mum and one for me.
Sadly next was the final room. It had screens covering three of the walls, each with a different clip which were played one at a time in a loop. There was also a case with some Edith Head designed patterns and her well known book The Dress Doctor.
The clips were really interesting. I especially liked how Edith explained how it’s important to see yourself (or people you’re dressing) objectively. She suggested cutting out eye holes in a paper bag and popping it on your head to help out. She even demonstrated it!
I liked the clip on the back wall the best though. It ran through the costume design process. I really liked how they demonstrated how different looks affect the feel of the shot, and how they showed that each design illustration had an estimated time and price breakdown on the back.
Overall I loved the exhibition! The gallery did an excellent job with how they set up and displayed it all. From the screens in nearly every room (and the seats that went with them), to the blown up pictures and quotes on the wall, to the lush velvet curtains which really added to the theatrical feel of it all, it was fantastic. I was also really impressed that they didn’t overbook the exhibition which gave everyone there a good chance to see everything properly rather than being squished in together.
I think if it wasn’t the last week (the day I post this is the last day) I would have gone again. Still, I have the catalogue and my photos. I think a good ol’ film binge is on the way too!
Until next time xx
I'm Beth the human behind Little Grassbird. Welcome!