Welcome to the latest edition of Looks from Books, which aims to prove that you can look smart, while still being book-smart, too. Fashion inspiration can be found between the pages of your favorite stories, on well-designed book covers, and in your favorite characters… if you read closely enough.
This week, we’re examining another work of nonfiction, a biography of arguably the most well-known playwright that ever lived: William Shakespeare. As it turns out, Will took a lot of inspiration for his plays from his personal life, and so too, can we take a lot of fashion inspiration from his works. Let’s take a look!
Will in the World via Amazon
Inside Cover: a Little Bit of Background
Will in the World is a nonfiction account of Shakespeare’s life, written by noted Renaissance and Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt in 2005.
Instead of focusing explicitly on the known details of the Bard’s body of work, or even digging up any additional evidence than what is previously known about Shakespeare himself, this book utilizes facts about the outside realm of the world the legendary writer existed in, using the context of his life – current religious turmoil and educational practices, Stratford society and London largess, for instance – to furnish new theories.
The work has been well-received by Shakespearean experts both in the United States, as well as across the pond, and was one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography the year it was published.
A Fashionable Literacy
Plenty of movie adaptations have covered Shakespeare’s works, including the likes of 2010’s The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren, and, most recently, the Joss Whedon-directed Much Ado About Nothing, which premiered in theaters June 7th. Some films have even explored the possibility of Shakespeare not having been the true writer of his works, such as this past fall’s Anonymous.
A far fewer number of films have tackled the life of the actual writer himself. Perhaps the most famous of the few is 1998’s seven-time-Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love, starring Joseph Fiennes as the legend himself, Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I, and Gwenyth Paltrow as Will’s fictional lady love, Viola de Lesseps.
Primarily based on fiction, Shakespeare in Love does include some accurate details of the Bard’s life, but the realism is far more spent on the sumptuous costumes, incredible set design, and moving musical accompaniments, all of which garnered Oscar wins of their own. While I wouldn’t recommend breaking out a hoopskirt or flared bejeweled headpiece for every day wear, you can channel this extravagant film in similar extravagance within your own outfit, using brocade fabric, bright colors, and ruffled flourishes.
How to Add the Bard to Your Wardrobe
By integrating some of the key periods of Shakespeare’s life into your outfits, you can find inspiration for awesome summer outfits in the same ideas that inspired the works of the Bard himself!
Growing Up – Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare grew up in the rural town of Stratford, as the son of a wealthy glove maker and public figure, and likely received a dedicated education, focusing on the Latin language and Greek classics. Elements of such an upbringing come up in his works, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which includes witty, intricate wordplay and silly manipulations of Greek mythology, a rural setting, and mentions of sheep and leather in metaphor.
Highlight these elements of Shakespeare’s youth in an outfit that utilizes intricate patterns – like the patterns of Latin he learned at school – in a lace top and patterned shorts, and his rural upbringing in a floral headband. Tasseled leather shoes and embroidery on the clutch signify elements of his father’s craftsmanship, and the gentle fluting in the peplum shirt mirrors the fluting at the end of a fancy glove, a popular embellishment during that time period.
The New King – Macbeth
One of the most pivotal moments in Shakespeare’s career came when Queen Elizabeth died, and King James (VI of Scotland, but I of England) ascended the throne. Faced with the promise of a unified Europe, but unsure of his status with the public, the King assumed Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and gave them the title of the King’s Men instead, in an effort to win public support, as well as support his own passion for plays. For the newly-minted monarch, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, featuring one of James’ ancestors (Banquo), and an implied threat of what would happen if anyone tried to create any royal unrest against the king.
Integrate these elements into an outfit fit for Scottish royalty, by playing up the royal signifier of the crown and the color gold, present in the jewelry and the sequin beading on the collar of the shirt. The skulls of the bracelet represent the string of less-than-lenient rulers who came before James (Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, in that order), while the combat boots represent the bloodshed and warfare in Macbeth. The tartan skirt similarly references the new King’s origins.
Legendary – The Tempest
Throughout Shakespeare’s career, he was often criticized for the unique crafting and style of his plays, which often departed from, and deliberately manipulated, the style and format of Latin and Greek classics. In response to these accusations, at the end of his career, Shakespeare crafted The Tempest, which not only perfectly fit the classical mold which some had boasted his works might never fit, but also included a character in Prospero, that closely resembled the man who wrote him: all-powerful in what he could create, but with a career that is on the wane, and whose “magic” – as is spoken to the audience in a monologue at the close of the show – is dependent on applause.
Use these elements in your own outfit,by drawing on the magic of Prospero: the pattern of a tie-dye maxi dress styles a storm like the conjured one that set in motion the events in The Tempest, while a hot pink blazer makes for a fitting magic coat, like Prospero’s. A feather necklace and liquid eyeliner reference the quill and ink that Shakespeare used to pen his works, while leather sandals keep the look grounded as a reminder of humble beginnings.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever read Will in the World, or any other similarly minded books about Shakespeare? What about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, or The Tempest? Were you ever assigned Shakespeare for a class, or consider taking it as a class itself? What do you think of the outfits and styling tips? Let me know, in the comments below!