News from the Costume Chair

by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair


Lana Turner trench coat from "A Life of Her Own"In 1950, Lana Turner wore our Spring display costume portraying “Lily James” in the film, A Life of Her Own. George Cukor directed the film which was made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City. In this postwar story about an independent career girl, Lily leaves small town life in Kansas, begins a career as a model in New York City and promptly falls in love with a wealthy, married, business man.

The coat is a version of a classic style known as the “trench coat,” based on a rain coat worn by officers in WWI. The style is worn by both men and women and has come to signify “tough professional life in the big city” which Lily experiences in the film story. It features a notched lapel collar, deep patch pockets and long cuffed sleeves on a loosely fitted long coat. The trench coat also includes a wide belt at the waist.

This version of the coat was designed by famed designer Helen Rose. The gently rounded collar points and softly gathered waist of her design give the coat a slightly feminized look. It’s made of soft peach colored wool fully lined in silk crepe color.


Our second costume on display is from the film Words and Music, a musical eulogy to songwriter Larry Hart, as told by his partner Richard Rodgers. The film was released in 1948 by MGM. In it, Ann Sothern, portraying Joyce Harmon, wears a two-piece dress ensemble also designed by Helen Rose.

The top includes long raglan sleeves, a fitted waist and peplum extension to hip length. It is constructed of navy blue crepe silk with an intermittent garden pattern of pale pink flowers and green leaves; the flowers are rather like “lilies of the valley.” However, the best “not-to-be-missed” pattern detail is the matching pink Venus de Milo statue visible at the far end of the garden. The ensemble skirt is navy blue, plain silk crepe in a “straight” style.


Many visitors to the ARC ask why all of the costumes in our collection are not on permanent display. They would like to see more of the collection. The answer is that the idea is wonderful but not feasible to implement. And here’s why:

  • Most of the costumes in our collection are made of materials which have a kind of “inherent vice.” Silk and wool fabrics will eventually become extremely fragile, no matter how well they are stored and cared for. They are made of proteins, just as we are and have versions of the same aging attributes. (Alas!)
  • Also, all of the costumes in our collection were made for performance. Think of all the movement required for dancing, singing and acting in film and theatre productions, often staged over and over again.

Even the Fiesta Ballona Court dresses were subject to performance. All of the costumes show signs of wear such as broken zippers, burst seams and of course, sweat stains just to name a few concerns. Many have unrepaired damage. Often minor conservation repairs must be made before a costume can be safely displayed.

  • Display also requires a certain amount of handling which can include surface cleaning, padding out of sleeves, etc. Even the most gentle professional handling adds to the “wear” history of a costume.
  • Also, the display of historic costumes requires special mannequins chosen to support the costume without stress to construction, materials and exposure to harmful reactive surfaces. The museum currently has only five mannequins which can be made ‘archivally’ acceptable to support a variety of costume types. Mannequin display is one of our biggest challenges.
  • While on display, the costumes are exposed to light, humidity, airborne soils (dust and dander for example), and even the possibility of insects in our unfiltered museum environment.

All of these factors can accelerate aging and potentially cause damage. The longer the display period, the greater likelihood of damage. The recommended maximum display period for historic costumes is about three months and the museum does observe that recommendation.

Finally, a sincere thanks for all the enthusiastic support the membership has shown for our costume display efforts. We would need a Super Lotto-sized amount of funding to display most of the museum costumes at once. In the meantime, we will continue to make slow but steady progress.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


News from the Costume Chair

by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair


As some of you might know that clues to the production history of many costumes in our MGM collection can be found in the hand written cloth tags that we find sewn inside.

The tags are inscribed in ink with various information such as a film production number, the name of the actor who wore the costume, size measurements, an original inventory number and even a dry cleaning number.

The production number is especially important because it can be referenced in directories of production numbers paired with film titles.


Unfortunately, not all of our MGM costumes have any or all of the above tag information. A case in point is the spectacular emerald green silk velvet and ivory taffeta gown featured in this season’s costume display.

The gown is reminiscent of an 1830s era evening dress with fitted velvet “outer” dress including a wide shawl collar ending at the waist in points marked by silver beaded buttons. It is open at the front to reveal an ivory “inner” panel and matching ivory sleeves.

The round puff shaped sleeves, aptly called “beret sleeves”, are supported inside by a clever combination of celluloid ribs and pleated organdy. Ruched green taffeta with pinked edges is applied to the cream silk front inset panel and sleeves in a lattice pattern. Rows of ruched and pinked taffeta in fawn color embellish the velvet skirt and collar edge.

A careful examination of voluminous layers of linings reveals tags that tell us only the size, Bust 34, Waist 26 and an inventory number #65. Additional information about the film origin for this very romantic and sumptuous silk gown would be extremely welcome!


In contrast, thanks to label tags we have lots of information on the other costume on display. This dance costume with renaissance period details includes a deep blue tunic with short sleeves and “slashed” details and gold metallic embroidered belt. The tunic is worn over a lilac colored shirt with pointed collar and long sleeves.

The costume not only has a tag identifying Helen Wood as the actor but also a tag with the film production number for Give a Girl a Break.

This romantic musical comedy features dance scenes by Marge and Gower Champion, Bob Fosse and Helen Wood and stars Debbie Reynolds. The costumes are by designer Helen Rose.

In the film story Broadway producers vie for their favorite performers, who are showcased in a series of musical and dance scenes, in order to chose a replacement to star in an upcoming Broadway production.

Give a Girl a Break was filmed in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios at 10202 W. Washington Blvd. and truly was “made in Culver City”. It was released on December 3, 1953.


One of the unwanted surprises following those special holiday dinners is discovering drops and dribs of candle wax stuck on your holiday clothing and linens, whether it be a favorite tie, a new silk scarf or heirloom lace tablecloth.

Yes, grandmother did say to apply a hot iron over brown paper to melt and disperse the wax onto the paper. However, all too often the result is a stiff spot of wax residue absorbed into the cloth or worse yet, a burn spot.

Give this method a try instead. Tightly wrap an ice cube in a thin towel and apply it to the wax spots until they are frozen. Then gently pick off the frozen bits of wax with tweezers. Any small bits of wax left in the cloth weave will probably be flushed out with the next washing or dry cleaning. Best of all, the process is infinitely less dangerous to you, your clothing and linens.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“Meet Me At The ARC”!

News from the Costume Chair
by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair

Visitors to the ARC are in for a treat from the golden age of musicals!

IMAGE.CostumesOur costume display features a one-piece worn in Meet Me in St. Louis, a film made by MGM in 1944.  This romantic musical starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien portrays the story of a family who lived in St. Louis in 1904 just before the opening of The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair.The film, which depicted a forward-looking and exciting time of expansion in United States history, was made during a dark period with the nation involved in World War II.  Directed by Vincent Minnelli, the film was very successful and won many awards and accolades.  It has been designated as culturally significant by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.

Dress Styles Reflect Optimistic Spirit Of The Early 1900s

Western dress styles in 1904 reflected a spirit of exuberance and opulence with wide brimmed hats supporting huge arrangements of flowers and feathers, as well as elaborate “day” and “afternoon dresses made of gathered and pleated cotton voile emphasizing tiny waists and mono bosom bodices.  The peach-colored dress in our display reflects the period style of the “day” dress with contrasting turquoise trim, a tightly cinched waist and puffed sleeves.  It has a high collar with yoke-like design below made up of rows of applied trim at the bodice.  The gathered skirt and sleeves are embellished with rows of ruffles.

The costume design for Meet Me in St. Louis dress is attributed to Irene Sharaff and worn by Jean Francis (as noted on the costume’s sewn-in label).  The attributions are recorded in original provenance notes in the archives but are not confirmed by other sources at this time.

Historic Information Welcomed

The Culver City Historical Society is fortunate to have had this dress included in the MGM collection and would welcome additional information about the dress as used in the film to add to our meager provenance notes.  If you happen to have such information, please send it to the attention of the Costume Committee Chair, Culver City Historical Society (see email and US mail address on the last page of the newsletter).

Costume Care Tip For Fall

Family keepsakes and or family heirloom collections often include a textile which is too fragile to store with the rest of the collection or one considered important enough to warrant special treatment. It might be a grandmother’s wedding veil or a boy scout uniform and the value it holds is usually not defined by dollars alone (or not at all). One of the most important considerations for storing these textiles is the wrapping used inside the box, drawer, bag or other container chosen.  The best wrapping consists of archival white tissue paper in sheet form.  Unlike white tissue gift wrapping paper, the archival tissue paper costs around $1.00 per sheet, depending on quantity purchased and source.  It is manufactured to be chemically non-reactive in contact with textiles and has no brightening or other additives.  It is soft, semi-transparent and often referred to as “acid free” (actually it usually falls somewhere around 6.0 to 7.0 on a pH meter) and UNbuffered. A second type of archival tissue paper is “buffered” but for chemical reasons beyond the appropriate boundaries of this column, it is not safe for use with most textiles.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Summer 2012 Costumes Message

News from the Costume Chair
by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair

Rare Esther Williams Costume

Summer 2012 Costumes MessageWhen you stop by the ARC this summer be sure to see the body suit worn by Esther Williams in the film Neptune’s Daughter, produced by MGM in 1949.

This might be the one and only opportunity we have to display this spectacular but very fragile costume made of delicate gold elasticized net studded with gold sequins.  Due to the inherently unstable chemical makeup of most stretchy pre-polyester era fabrics, the net is dry and somewhat brittle overall. In order to protect the suit from further deterioration during the current display period, it is loosely fitted on a partial torso form and gently draped within the display case.

However, when worn by Esther Williams, the suit would have fit “like a glove” right down to the tips of her toes, as illustrated in our copy of a color drawing by the famous costume illustrator Walter Plunkett.

“Bathing Beauty” Wear

Also included in the summer costume display is an emerald green one-piece swim-like costume embellished with a white starfish made of glass studs and sequins.  Although the film attribution for the costume is unknown, it is another reminder of the glamorous “bathing beauty” films made in the 1940s and ‘50s.

A Dress Fit For A Fiesta “Princess”

From the same era, made in 1951 by Rosalie Utterback, is one of the Historical Society’s collection of six Fiesta La Ballona dresses displayed on a mannequin on the center platform in the museum.  The dress would have been worn by a “Princess” attendant in the Fiesta Queen’s court and features a skirt with several deep layers of flounce.  The fitted lace-covered bodice with short cap sleeves and point at the center front waist is exemplary of a popular 1950s cocktail dress style.

Costume Care Tip For Summer

Make time to empty and vacuum out boxes, drawers and bins of your costume and textile collection before the summer arrives.  Those insects most likely to cause damage to your collection – namely moths, carpet beetles and silver fish – thrive in dark undisturbed spaces (such as the lowest drawer in a chest where wool sweaters might be stashed during the summer).

Often a gentle shake and refolding of each item after cleaning out drawers, boxes or bins, will be enough to encourage the pesky few to leave the premises.  The clean-out will also reveal any seriously entrenched infestation, hopefully before structural damage has occurred.

If an infestation is serious, you might want to consider seeking the advice and/or help of a professional collections manager, museum conservation staff, etc.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New displays, Women’s History and Spring Cleaning

by Sharon Shore, Costume Committee Chair

Our latest costume display is an homage to women’s history in the West represented by many diverse items.

Lillian Roberts CulverOne special display included photos and historic references to a little known “woman behind the man.” Lillian Roberts Culver, an actress who married our city founder, Harry Culver in 1916.

Also included in the presentation are personal keepsakes from a locally prominent 19th Century lady represented by a decorative hair comb made of horn and faceted jet stones – and an authentic cattle branding iron that she applied for personally (not as a “wife” of) certified by the state for her exclusive use in 1892! [This is on loan from the Carlos Lugo Collection.] Certainly a woman well ahead of her time, be sure to stop by and see who this formidable woman was!

Women’s History Takes Stage

From our extensive film history costume archive is a corset work by actress Gwen Verdon, a former resident of Culver City, in the MGM musical, The Merry Widow, and a silk scarf from the personal wardrobe of Greta Garbo donated by Historical Society member Maxine Mytar.

A red and white striped dress worn by Julie London as Joan Blake in 'Saddle the Wind'Finally, with a dazzling nod to the fictional ‘Wild West,’ our center stage mannequin is dressed in a red and white striped dress worn by Julie London as Joan Blake in Saddle the Wind, and MGM film produced in 1958. This 1880s-style dress, features a bustle with a bouffant red bow at the back and tightly fitted waist.

As part of our Spring cleaning effort at the ARC, we have successfully cleaned the original custom-sized case and rearranged the set of seven miniature Gone With the Wind costumed figures. Look for them now at top level of display/bookcases in the museum.

Your Costume care Tip For Spring-cleaning

Your Costume care Tip For Spring-cleaningAs you peruse and cull through your collection of family heirlooms, vintage clothing and accessory keepsakes during this year’s Spring cleaning, be sure to remove those clear plastic dry cleaning bags! They are provided as a courtesy by dry cleaners for short term storage and all us to keep the item clean and dry while traveling from the car to the house.

However, they are not intended for long term storage. If left in contact with clothing and accessories for long periods of time, the plastic changes chemically and can cause irreversible discoloration and even degradation to some textile fibers such as silk and wool.

Cloth garment bags and even improvised clean sheets as covers are a safer bet for long term textile storage.

More tips to come in future columns.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email