When we picture Juliet, who do we see?
“There’s been a lot of similarity in costumes,” says Denise A. Walen, who curated the Folger exhibition Here Is a Play Fitted: Four Centuries of Staging Shakespeare, on display through January 12.
Part of the Here Is a Play Fitted exhibition visually takes us back to a more Edwardian-Renaissance look with a costume worn by Shakespearean actress Julia Marlowe, whose portrayal of Juliet in the early twentieth century defined the part for a generation.
When conservators were arranging Marlowe's costume for the exhibition, they needed to add an ample bust and rear to the display mannequin, to fill the contours of the dress. And as for the dry cleaning, well, let’s say the dress’s many sequins presented quite a sticky situation.
Fast forward to 2013. If you’ve seen Hailee Steinfeld in the latest onscreen incarnation of Juliet, there’s a noticeable sparkle to her. That’s in part because Swarovski’s new film division reportedly used an estimated half million crystals in creating the costumes for the 2013 Romeo & Juliet adaptation, according to the Telegraph.
Juliet’s final costume in the movie is on temporary display in the Anne Hathaway Gallery through the run of the Folger’s own Romeo and Juliet.
Onstage at the Folger Theatre this season, actress Erin Weaver wears a military jacket as she contemplates taking the poison that will send her into a deathlike state. One reviewer writes that “she’s dressed like a ’90s-era grunge devotee in lacy petticoats and Doc Martens with long ombré hair extensions.” This edgier look stands out against the more Elizabethan attire of the rest of the cast.
Costume choices for the play sprang in part from the goal of blending the early modern and contemporary worlds, notes resident dramaturg Michele Osherow. “As I read them, Juliet’s costume is the most contemporary, and so visually separates her most from the world of the parents/adults in the play,” Osherow says. “This is an extension of her withdrawal more generally from that inherited world—a world of violence and parental control.”
Weaver’s Juliet begins the play in an oversized jacket that hides her shape, “as if this young girl was hiding her true femininity beneath these layers,” says costume designer Laree Lentz. When it comes to the wedding scene though, Juliet wears a form-fitting ivory lace dress.
“This change is a reference to Juliet’s break into her femininity and sexuality,” says Lentz. Her final costume, a deep red dressing gown for the burial, connects Juliet to the visual world of her parents, underscoring their involvement in her tragic end.