Romeo and Juliet: Costumes
1250 costumes were designed by Adrian and Oliver Messel for the MGM production of Romeo and Juliet, the largest number of costume sketches ever assembled for a single production. Not only the principals in the cast were carefully provided for: costumes were also designed for the extras appearing in the mass scenes. The costume sketches and set designs were inspired by works of Benozzo Gozzoli, Sandro Botticelli, Vittore Carpaccio, Fra Angelico, Giovanni Bellini, and other painters who provided a wealth of details for the costumes and settings. For instance, the dress worn by Norma Shearer in her first scene with Leslie Howard was inspired by Botticelli, and the cell of Friar Laurence came from Carpaccio’s St. Jerome.
One hundred acres were set aside to provide a site on which to rebuild Verona, and Cedric Gibbons designed fifty-four models inspired by historical Veronese buildings, from which the mammoth settings required for the production were constructed, trying to recreate a faithful atmosphere of the fifteenth century Verona.
It was a magnificent production. Leslie Howard gave his impressions in an interview for Film Weekly magazine of May 30, 1936, Romeo Talks! (you can find it in the Archives).
Far from providing an exhaustive catalogue, I have gathered here images and descriptions of various costumes and sets for Romeo and Juliet, from different sources – mostly library and auction catalogues. Some pictures are my own edits and/or recolours of images taken from the film, or my own drawings.
Romeo Montague (Leslie Howard)
Black silk velvet doublet with heavy gold bullion embroidery and brass embellishments. No label.
Black wool pants with codpiece, with embroidery on sides and suspenders. Western Costume label handwritten “Leslie Howard 29 ½ stamped 10617” and Western Costume white stamp.
Ivory silk dickie with black ribbon.
Worn by Leslie Howard as Romeo when he first meets Juliet at the masquerade ball, falls in love with her and appears at her balcony.
Pair of black wool twill leggings with codpiece, with cream embroidery work on sides. Western Costume stamp and a Western Costume label inscribed “6626 #4A L.Howard 30.”
Wool fencing jacket with padding and quilt work. Western Costume label inscribed “6496 L.Howard 76.” Post-production alterations are present.
Similar to the jacket Leslie Howard wore in the last scene (duel with Paris and death) but less padded and embellished.
Provenance: Leggings: Lot 1556, “Highlights from Western Costume Star Collection,” Butterfield & Butterfield, Los Angeles, October 10, 1993. From the Collection of Glenn Brown. Previously exhibited at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibition space in Beverly Hills, California.
(Catalogue: Julien’s Live Auctions -Hollywood Legends 2014 (#41214) 04/11/2014, Lot 263 )
Black wool fitted pants with tan swirl embroidery down one side, hook & hide side closure. Western Costume Co. label handwritten “6476 #7 Leslie Howard 30” and stamped “24 54”.
Worn by Leslie Howard as Romeo when he goes to Juliet’s tomb, fight and kills Paris.
(Auction Catalogue: Profiles in History, Hollywood Auction 62, Dec. 21, 2013, n. 679)
Pair of black trousers with cream embroidery along the legs. United Costumers label bearing Howard’s name and #59 sewn into the waistband.
Worn by Leslie Howard as Romeo when he goes to Juliet’s tomb, fight and kills Paris.
(Auction Catalogue: Heritage Auctions – 2010 November Beverly Hills Signature Music & Entertainment Auction #7022, Lot 47159)
Ivory leather doublet with blue stamped pattern and blue velvet lapel, has Western Costume label handwritten “6598 L. HOWARD Romeo” and stamped 24.
Gabardine wool period pants with embroidery. Western Costume stamp and 43.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds – The Auction, June 18, 2011, n. 63).
Worn by Leslie Howard as Romeo, but not in the final film. There is a publicity still of Leslie Howard on horseback, wearing a similar jacket.
Juliet Capulet (Norma Shearer)
Purple silk velvet period gown with train, with gold bullion bird design, faux pearls and ivory chiffon sleeves. By Adrian. No label.
(Catalogue: . Sold for 20,000 $, June 18, 2011)
Worn by Norma Shearer as Juliet when she visits Friar Laurence and he gives her the magical potion.
Mercutio (John Barrymore)
Ivory-colored leather tunic with a brown hand-painted abstract floral pattern overall. The center front ruffled panel and cuffs have pleated crème silk insert with black velvet cord and gold button detail ornaments. Western Costume label, “Barrymore #2 Mercutio 10-2-25”.
This costume was additionally worn by Barrymore in Playmates (RKO, 1941) where the costume was altered to fit the more mature Barrymore.
(Auction Catalogue: Julien’s Live Auctions – Icons & Idols 2012: Hollywood (#110912) 11/09/2012, Lot 616)
Scarlet red wool cape made for John Barrymore as Mercutio. The cape has gold bullion raised embroidery work to the collar, a gold bullion cord to neckline, and a vintage brass button. Costume design by Adrian and Oliver Messel. Western Costume label (“Barrymore 4C”) and stamp. Post-production alterations are present, including dying of the cape from the original ecru color.
While the piece is not seen in the film, it was worn for publicity images and believed to have been later worn in Playmates (RKO, 1941). A
(Auction Catalogue: Julien’s Live Auctions – Hollywood Legends 2014 (#41214) 04/11/2014, Lot 262)
Mercutio (John Barrymore) screen worn, ‘Western Costume Co.’ custom made vest. The vest has a lace up front with black lining and metal beads. (Western Costume Co. logo on the inside with the numbers 1007578 on the inside)
(Auction Catalogue: Premiere Props – Hollywood Extravaganza II Session 2, July 31. 2011 – Lot 1015)
Tybalt (Basil Rathbone)
Steel grey short wool tunic with three padded sections along tops of arms, decorated with oval silver metal dots along arms and hook & eye front closure. Red “Western Costume Co. 15” stamp. Designed by Adrian and Oliver Messel.
Worn by Basil Rathbone as Tybalt in a fight scene with Mercutio and then with Romeo.
(Auction Catalogue: Profiles in History, Hollywood Auction 62, Dec. 21, 2013, n. 680)
Under-vest with metal almond-oval dots that completely covered the sleeves. Western Costume stamp (number 46) and label, with “Rathbone” written in the original ink.
This costume is seen in many sequences, especially the ill-fated sword fight he has with Romeo.
(Auction Catalogue: Premiere Props – Hollywood Extravaganza X, June 15, 2013 – Lot 79)
The Tunic is done in a magnificent white doeskin with black velvet sleeves. The doeskin has a textured pattern pressed in it. T are strips of black sueded doeskin woven diagonally to look like slash marks throughout the body of the doublet. It has a peplum style bottom with a longer scooped center front than the sides or back. The long black velvet sleeves are gatd and puffy above the elbow and snug below the elbow with a few hooks and eyes at the wrists. The doublet fastens in the front with hooks and eyes. It is fully lined in a quilted pattern material – the peplum bottom is lined in a soft brushed cotton. It has a label and stamp from Western Costume Company. I am showing a picture of the label. This Tunic / Doublet is tagged a size 34.
(Hollywood Movie Costumes Inc. Ebay Online Auction, June 20, 2010)
Lady Capulet (Violet Kemble-Cooper)
Ivory satin period gown by Adrian, with gold lamé thread and burgundy velvet appliqué accented with white beads. Handwritten label “Red & White #2.”
Worn by Violet Kemble Cooper as “Lady Capulet” in the scene where she asks Juliet if she would marry Ralph Forbes “Paris” and when she visits Juliet on the eve of her wedding and the next morning to find her “dead”.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds The Auction – Part II, Dec. 3, 2011, n. 27)
Costume design for Lady Capulet, Romeo and Juliet. Signed ‘Oliver Messel’ (lower right), watercolour, 48 x 24.5cm (18 7/8 x 9 5/8in).
(Auction: Modern Pictures London, Knightsbridge, July 13, 2010 – Auction 17914, Lot 37)
Paris (Ralph Forbes)
Black silk velvet doublet with gold leather collar, silver bullion cherubs embroidered on chest and pouch with gold tights. No label.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds – The Auction, June 18, 2011, n. 67)
Worn by Ralph Forbes as Paris at the Capulet’s masquerade ball and his wedding day.
The Nurse (Edna May Oliver)
Costume design by Dan Sayre Groesbeck for Edna May Oliver as the Nurse.
(Catalogue: Folger Shakespeare Library, Shelfmark ART Box G874 no. 1).
Rosaline (Katherine DeMille)
Dark green velvet short puff sleeve, round neck period gown with train decorated with large gold sequins. Intricate gold lamé lace waistband. Waist, cuffs and neckline trimmed with gold, copper and red metallic twisted cord around gold glass beads. Nude chiffon along shoulders covered in silver metallic lace, garnished with black velvet strips and gold metal starbusts. Nude chiffon neckline accented with large faceted bright gold glass beads. Flanking the neckline are pale yellow round and diamond shaped cabochon stones with a few clusters of small white swirl beads. Hook & eye with zip and snap back closure. MGM label handwritten, 983-100 1804″. Designed by Oliver Messel and Adrian.
Worn by Katherine DeMille as Rosaline when Leslie Howard steals a kiss at the ball.
Also worn by an extra at the ball in Conquest (MGM, 1937).
Balthasar (Maurice Murphy)
The Tunic is done in a beautiful blue wool with white trim. The front of the tunic has a white eagle (or similar bird) with a crown above its head. The tunic fastens up the center front with hooks and eyes and has this top layer with the eagle over that. This piece fastens up the right side seam, around the armhole and across the right shoulder seam with hooks and eyes. The tunic underneath has a stand up collar that wraps to the right side and fastens at the back right – it is edged in white piping. The front layer with the eagle has the white piping around the neckline to give it a double white row around the collar as you can see in the pictures. The short peplum bottom is edged in the white piping also with a split in the center front. The long sleeves have sheer white pleated ruffles around the cuffs. The tunic is lined in a beautiful dark blue silk or satin. The sleeves are lined in an ivory satin. The lining does have some fraying, but only to the lining – not the tunic. The It has a stamp from Western Costume Company in the sleeve with ‘M. MURPHY’ written in.
(Hollywood Movie Costumes Inc. Ebay Auction, June 19, 2012)
Grey textured woven period gown by Adrian, red velvet sleeves with gold dome sequins and feather design drapes on shoulders. Paper tag label “V-5.”
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds – The Auction, June 18, 2011, n. 66)
Worn by an extra at the Capulet’s masquerade ball to the left of Leslie Howard when he dances with Norma Shearer.
Metallic tri-color gold metal (very heavy) long sleeve period dress with train decorated in crisscross pattern with large and small faux pearls, gold metallic braid, ivory chiffon and black velvet tie along bodice with waistband, gold lamé shoulder ties with copper sequined ball ends. Hook & eye back closure. Internal bias label handwritten, “Bust 38 Waist 29”. Designed by Adrian and Oliver Messel.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds, The Auction Finale, n. 265)
Black silk velvet period gown with long dome sleeves, round neck and long train garnished with spectacular intricate Jacobean floral pattern in gold bullion. Lined in black silk. Replacement hook &eye with zip back closure. No label. Designed by Adrian and Oliver Messel.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds, The Auction Finale, n. 267)
Black silk velvet period gown with beige long sleeves and collar, V-shaped long shoulder drapes lined in gold lamé and accented with large gold sequins. Gown is heavily decorated with gold sequins and round wooden balls in a circular pattern. Hook & eye with snap back closure. No label.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds, The Auction Finale, n. 268)
Gold brocade period gown by Adrian, with square sequins on bodice and fish scale design on shoulders.
Worn by an extra in the balcony observing the sword fight scene in Romeo and Juliet
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds – The Auction, June 18, 2011, n. 68)
Montague Pole Bearer
Montague pole bearer tunic by Adrian from Romeo and Juliet. Green and purple felt tunic with dark purple velvet sleeves. No label. Worn by one of the pole bearers escorting Lord Montague to the cathedral in Romeo and Juliet.
(Auction Catalogue: Debbie Reynolds – The Auction, June 18, 2011, n. 61)
The Tunic is done in a beautiful ivory wool. It is open at the sides with a black elastic piece at the side waist. The tunic fastens on the left shoulder with hooks and eyes. The body of the tunic has pointed panels on the front and back chest which continue to a pleated ‘skirt’ below the waist. The panels are alternating with gold bullion ribbon trim in a zigzag pattern on one side with the opposite side plain. The plain panels had a design sewn on them which had been removed. The belt loops are still intact. The tunic is fully lined in a soft brushed cotton and is very heavy as it is pleated (tacked together) and layered. It has a label and stamp from Western Costume Company. I am showing a picture of the label with ‘Capulet Guard’ on it. This Tunic measures about 21″ across the top of the shoulders and is 30″ from back neckline to hem.
(Hollywood Movie Costumes Inc., Ebay Online Auction, August 25, 2013)
The Doublet is done in black and a camel colored short napped velvet or brushed velvet. The body of the doublet has the black velvet on the left chest and left shoulder; the right chest and shoulder have the lighter velvet. It has a peplum style bottom with the black and camel on opposite sides. The neckline has 6 lengths of satin rope with 4 lengths of the black rope closest to the neck and 2 lengths of ivory rope below them. The center front chest has 4 applied loops of a light gold velvet attached – I am showing a close up of them. This doublet has a 2 tone snug sleeve done with a yellow gold velvet on the bottom side of the arm and a rust colored velvet on the top side. It also has a padded shoulder (black on the black side / camel on the other) with slashed velvet fringe hanging from the puffy shoulders. Attached to the puffy shoulder are long ‘hanging sleeves’. They are done in the yellow gold velvet and have the black velvet fringe (and camel respectively) attached in 2 rows lower down on the ‘sleeves’. The doublet fastens in the back with hooks and eyes. It is fully lined in a soft brushed cotton. It has a label and stamp from Western Costume Company.
(Hollywood Movie Costumes, Inc. – Ebay Online Auction, 2011)
The Tunic is done in a beautiful gray wool. It is open at the sides with a black tie at the side waist. The tunic fastens on the left shoulder with hooks and eyes. The body of the tunic has padded, pointed panels on the front and back chest which continue to a pleated ‘skirt’ below the waist. There is a appliqued design on the front chest done in black and a purple-gray. Below the waist, the tunic is pleated and originally had a zigzag design sewn on, however it has been removed. There are stitch marks and small tears where this zigzag design was so it would be easily put back to its original look. The tunic is fully lined in a soft brushed gray cotton and is very heavy as it is pleated (tacked together) and layered. It has a label and stamp from Western Costume Company and has very clearly been used in more than a few productions.
(Hollywood Movie Costumes, Inc. – Ebay Online Auction, 2011)