Cecil Beaton's costume designs for 'My Fair Lady', made by M Bermans Ltd, added immeasurably to the success of Lerner and Lowe's musical both in New York and London. Set in 1914, Beaton was able to look back on the period of his childhood and to incorporate fashions remembered from relatives, family friends and the picture postcard beauties that he avidly collected. However, the dress he designed for Eliza at the Embassy ball is timeless, and the simplicity and uncluttered line look forward to the 1960s as much as back to pre-1914.
Worn by Julie Andrews at the Drury Lane Theatre, London in 1958, the impact of the dress was especially strong as it was first seen not in the ballroom scene, amid many other beautiful dresses, but in the dark, masculine setting of Higgins's batchelor establishment as Eliza descended the wooden staircase to the strains of 'I could have danced all night.'
The dress is of ivory satin overlaid with fine chiffon. The low straight cut boned fitted bodice has narrow diamante shoulder straps (missing) and a fitted midriff simulating a deep belt; the narrow fitted skirt is cut away at the front to reveal an underpanel. At the top edge of the bodice is a line of crystal beads. The bodice is embroidered with a symmetrical pattern of stylized flower sprays in diamante, rhinestones, pearls and crystal beads with a central 'ruby'. The midriff is heavily embroidered with arabesques in silver thread, crystal beads and minute sequins. At the centre front are two square cut rubies outlined in diamante, the whole outlined in pearls. From the top to bottom of the midriff and surrounding the central decoration is a simulated buckle of large rectangular brilliants. From below the buckle hangs a narrow panel of double thickness yellow ivory chiffon, embroidered from top to base panel with densely packed lines of crystal mirrored beads, the side rows being edged with minute sequins; the bottom is decorated with lozenges of pearls, the centre of each having a square cut 'ruby' outlined in diamante, stylized flowers matching those on the bodice in crystal beads, pearls, diamante and central 'rubies' and a row of square cut rubies. From the bottom of the panel hangs a long fringe of looped crystal beads.
The narrow overskirt is fitted to the hips and cut away at the front to reveal a front panel of ivory satin over which is a layer of fine chiffon. From the top to the bottom of the skirt are four densely packed lines of long crystal beads which continue, the front two lines merging, to form three narrower lines around the back. The lower part of the underpanel has three rows of long pale gold bullion fringe. The overskirt is lined with polyester taffeta. The costume fastens at the back with hooks and eyes.
Museum no. S.773-1982