By Sofia Weddle
It’s a worldwide phenomenon by now. The music, rap battles, witty dialogue, and innovative story of Hamilton: An American Musical has captivated the hearts of both young and old. While its musical score has been raved about since Hamilton’s opening night, the costumes within seem to be overlooked. Set in the period from the Revolutionary War to the writing of the United States Constitution, the show features period costumes representative of each character’s prominence and stature in society. Through the implementation of historical fashion created by the Hamilton costume designer himself Paul Tazewell, he develops a symbolic twist within the clothing that gives deeper meaning to what the musical itself, and its characters, represent.
During Act I, each stage character develops their personalities and aspirations through sharp humour and dialogue, as well as through their dress. Alexander Hamilton can be seen wearing brown cotton clothes, while his enemy Aaron Burr is dressed in the kingly color of purple. This stark difference in style presents the embedded plotline of the entire musical: the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr. Glenelg Sophomore Olivia LePage is one of many super fans entranced with this rivalry and the musical, and believes that, “The appeal of Hamilton is, for most people, the music, and I think that it has been so successful because Lin-Manuel Miranda infused the typical Broadway music with the modern genre of hip hop/rap”. Hamilton and Burr’s entanglement and the upbeat raps that come along with it provides for much of why Hamilton has become such a spectacle.
The remaining ensemble is clothed in drab, beige pauper clothes, which “emphasizes lack of personality as they’re the anonymous crowd” (Frankel). Although, the ensemble’s revealing breeches add a scandalous touch that may point toward Hamilton’s bachelor tendencies, specifically concerning when he cheats on his wife with Maria Reynolds, a red-dress-clothed seductress. This lackluster clothing contrasts sharply with the outrageously cliched royal garb worn by the equally as flamboyant and entertaining King George.
As the musical progresses, Alexander Hamilton increases his relevance in society as a strong political source, which is supported by his wearing of a vibrant green coat broadcasting his cocky success in the Revolution, writing the Constitution, and scrawling 51 of the 85 persuasive Federalist Papers. Additionally, the political standing of the many Founding Fathers and Revolution heroes, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and James Madison, is shown through their ornamental, bright garbe they begin to wear after the Revolutionary War is won. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler may be one of the most symbolic characters of the group, as her style represents both her emotions and experiences. From the introduction of her character at a ball in a soft peach dress, Eliza presents herself “as a nurturer happy to tend her garden” (Frankel), or stand loyal beside her future husband. Eliza endures many inconceivable events in her life, such as the death of her only son, where she (along with Hamilton) wears mournful black, the infidelity of her husband, in which she dons an angelic soft blue dress depicting her innocence, purity, and kindness.
While Hamilton: An American Musical may seem unprecedented solely by its music and narrative substance by any past Broadway spectaculars, the costumes themselves are ground-breaking to the theater community, both on and off the famed street of Broadway. The thoughtful symbolistic qualities of each character’s garb provide the reason for the eminence Hamilton holds over all who see it. With each emotion, society ranking, and historical event that were taken into consideration when Tazewell designed the costumes, it may very well be that the featured clothing is as revolutionary as Hamilton himself.
Frankel, Valerie E. Who Tells Your Story?: History, Pop Culture, and Hidden Meanings in the Musical Phenomenon Hamilton. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 15 December 2016.
Spivey, Robert. Personal Interview. 18 May 201