Towards the end of Act 1 of & Juliet, William Shakespeare tries to distract his wife Anne Hathaway, and suggests she change her dress. Anne responds, “OK, I will change my dress, not because you told me to, but because I want to. And also, let’s be honest, I’m starting to chafe.” When she returns to the stage, wearing jeggings and lace-up boots paired with a denim corset and a voluminous split skirt, she does so with a little one-liner: “There’s like...an excessive amount of string in this thing,” says Anne as she pulls at the front laces of her corset.
2023 Tony-nominated costume designer Paloma H. Young reveals there’s a story behind that joke. “The line about the strings is actually [book writer] David West Read making fun of my costume,” she reveals. It turns out that during tech, Betsy Wolfe (who plays Anne), made a slight joke when she walked out onstage. Says Young, “David had added the line, because he thought it looked kind of ridiculous how much lacing there was.”
& Juliet asks what if Romeo & Juliet’s titular heroine didn’t commit suicide? The musical rewrites the original play's tragic ending, and features a catalog of pop songs by Grammy winner Max Martin. & Juliet explores what it means to write one’s own story—a message at the core of the show’s costumes, and specifically Anne Hathaway’s design arc. The familiar characters of Juliet, Romeo, and Nurse all return, with the important inclusion of historic figures William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. Luke Sheppard directs the production, which just earned nominations in nine categories for the 2023 Tony Awards, including Best Costume Design of a Musical. Its other nominations are for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations, Best Sound Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Leading Actress, and Best Featured Actress. & Juliet opened its Broadway run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre November 17, 2022.
“We wanted a nod to period. There’s a definite style that modern culture associates with Elizabethan England. Some of which is accurate, and some of which is because of the many Shakespeare plays that people have seen and movies,” Young says. With that in mind, Young deliberately included the greatest hits of today’s take on Elizabethan fashion: ruffs, codpieces, bum rolls, corsets, doublets, pumpkin breeches, and whisks (the grand standing collar featured on Juliet’s mother Lady Capulet, not the kitchen tool). “I treated those things like elements of pop costuming, and really celebrated them when I use them.”
In working with Sheppard and choreographer Jennifer Weber (who is also Tony nominated this year), the trio really tried to home in on what the “formula” for the show’s costumes should be. They settled on a combination of Elizabethan costume iconography, paired with modern clothing—think full skirts paired with denim vests. Says Young, “The show celebrates writing your own story, and [which is similar to developing] personal style.”
Young points to when Anne makes her first entrance in & Juliet. In that scene, Anne wears a peach high-necked gown. “It's giving the audience a little of what they expect. It is telling us some things about Anne in a more traditional way.” As Anne says in the musical, she’s dressed herself up for a night out. She’s come into the city from the country in her best dress to spend some time with her husband, drink some wine, and enjoy the theatre. “It gives us a place to go when she starts writing the story.”
Capturing Anne’s story is a personal one for Young, who identifies with the character. “Before I came to Broadway, I became a mother. Even though my personal style and personality are not like Anne's, I was able to be emotionally invested in trying to find how she was going to tell her story with her costumes.”
When Anne realizes she can take control of the narrative, she writes herself into Shakespeare’s play instead of living vicariously through Juliet—singing with joy, "I'm feeling sexy and free, like glitter's raining on me." Cue the costume change to a shorter skirt, a bright green corset, and a customized white denim vest. “That is where she’s creating a fantasy of herself.” Young says. The green layer of the skirt is picked up in the front to reveal a hot pink embroidered organza layer, in a nod to the peach embroidered organza of the first dress. “It's a continuation of that, but it's had the volume turned up.”
This second look communicates how Anne wants to show herself off. The white denim vest is hand-painted and hand-embroidered with her family’s crest on the back to mirror how Shakespeare’s doublet has his family’s crest on the back. Says Young, “I collaborated with Julz Kroboth. She was a cool punk rocker in the Lower East Side in the ’80s and ’90s, and she's the real deal. She's done a lot of jackets for rock stars and pop stars.” Denim vests are a recurring motif in the show, in a nod to the modern music in the score.
Another dichotomy set up between Anne and Shakespeare? A new war of the roses. A motif throughout Anne’s costumes is a wild English country rose, which is also sometimes known as a canker blossom or a primrose. Tattooed on Anne’s upper arm, it also shows up on in the costumes of Juliet and May because those are the characters that Anne controls with the magic quill. It’s mirrored with Shakespeare’s Tudor rose which also appears on the character he controls: Romeo.
That magic quill proved to be quite a challenge for Young, who had to find places for Anne to put the feather. “I think it’s a good corollary with contemporary men's versus women's clothing.” Shakespeare easily pulls out and puts away the quill in one of his doublet’s internal pockets, like one would in a modern suit. There had to be more creative solutions for storage for Anne. “Her denim vest is very cool, but it's little, right? If she’s trying to stick this feather in, what is the angle? Sometimes she just sticks the feather in the lacing of her corset,” Young points out.
In her next look, Anne transitions into the jeggings and lace-heavy corset look (the one which inspired David West Read to poke fun at Young’s design with a joke in the script). “She's like, ‘I'm cool and badass. I'm in control of my own narrative. I have brought this story to Paris,’” says Young. The change in location, from Verona to Paris, also triggers a change in colors for Anne and Juliet—they’re both wearing blue at the top of Act II. The corset is actually based on a period corset that is being preserved at a museum in Manchester, England. “That is the very first city that & Juliet was ever performed. So that is my homage to Manchester,” Young explains.
That “badass” looks is directly followed by the softest outfit that Anne wears in the show. Towards the end, Anne is getting ready to be a part of a wedding, we are in a Shakespeare comedy after all, and has a vulnerable and honest conversation with Juliet. In the scene, Betsy Wolfe wears a lace midi slip from Free People. It’s meant to look like something Anne could possibly wear under the dress she’ll wear for the wedding, but “that dress kept getting shorter and shorter.”
Explains Young, “We wanted that scene to feel like a boudoir and like an intimate woman-to-woman's space. I wanted to be able to see Anne breathe. Her body is without artifice in that scene." It’s a deliberate choice to reflect the emotional weight of that moment in the story. “She’s taking stock of her relationship, where she's been, and where she is.”
Anne’s final look in the show is comprised of layers of cream organza with a mint layer underneath. “It's just sort of a hint of color,” Young describes. “Luke wanted the end of the show to have a nod to British pantomime, so everyone is in white versions of their costumes. But, because we're & Juliet, we wanted to have that white, but also the rainbow.”
Anne’s pop of color is the teal corset that tops off her dress. “It's a form of compromise. She's not going back to the peach from the beginning. She’s gone from green to blue, and now she's somewhere in between the two.” No longer biting her tongue or holding her breath, it's clear that through her costumes, Anne Hathaway remembers that she has a choice. And you're gonna hear her roar.