Top 10 Facts about Cleopatra's Costumes

Pin It
Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963
Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

To celebrate Cleopatra's imminent theatrical re-release, in honour of its 50-year anniversary, we reveal our top 10 facts behind the film's breathtakingly sumptuous costumes...

Cleopatra, 20th Century Fox's iconic blockbuster, made its mark on film history for a variety of reasons – from the production's vast over-expenditure which nearly bankrupted the film corporation (they were saved only by the Sound of Music's success two years later) to the great love affair that developed between the leading stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming. But, aside from the couple's smoldering chemistry, it is the film's startling visuals that stick most memorably in one's mind; in particular the breathtakingly sumptuous costumes, which saw Taylor dripping with ornate jewellery and draped in chiffon and silks of vibrant hues – not to mention the famed 24-carat gold cape. Here, to celebrate the film's imminent theatrical re-release, in honour of its 50-year anniversary, we reveal our top 10 facts behind the remarkable Cleopatra wardrobe...

1. Taylor’s 24-carat gold cloth cape, designed to look like the wings of a phoenix, was intricately assembled from thin strips of gold leather and embellished with thousands of seed beads, bugle beads and bead-anchored sequins.

2. A colossal total of 26,000 costumes were created for the film.

3. Taylor had 65 costume changes in Cleopatra, a record for a motion picture at the time.

4. She was allocated an incredible $194,800 (£123,000) wardrobe budget.

5. Costume designer Renie Conley won the 1963 Academy Award for Best Costume Design (along with Irene Sharaff and Vittorio Nino Novarese), for her creation of Taylor's stunning gowns, which placed emphasis on the actress’ beauty and sexuality over historical accuracy.

6. Sartorially, the film was extremely influential, popularising snake rings, arm cuffs, geometric haircuts and maxi dresses, as well as the “Cleopatra Eye” makeup trend – a 60s Revlon commercial promoted Cleopatra “Sphinx Eyes”.

7. According to Rex Harrison's autobiography, Fox custom-made the boots for his character Julius Caesar while Richard Burton's boots were Stephen Boyd hand-me-downs from the previous attempt at making the film. Harrison was amazed that Burton did not complain.

8. The armies of extras alone were issued 8,000 pairs of shoes.

9. Taylor's iconic gold cape sold at auction for $59,375 in 2012. Prior to that it had been stored in a cedar closet, finely wrapped in tissue paper.

10. The female extras complained about their overly tight and revealing costumes, which they said provoked wandering fingers among the male ensemble. The studio eventually hired a special guard to protect them.

Cleopatra is released in select cinemas nationwide from today.

Text by Daisy Woodward
Research by Edward Moore