Richard III is a very complicated show. There are many layers to what’s going on with costumes.
Historically, we set our production in the traditional Elizabethan era, but the play itself takes place in the 1480s (100 years earlier) and involves different fashions. Shakespeare would have used “modern” (Elizabethan) costumes, but I chose to give a few nods to some earlier styles without going all the way there.
I used longer skirts on the doublets, various earlier surcote (gown/robes) styles, and some earlier headwear and hats (Elizabeth Woodville’s, played by Allie Babich, truncated hennin) among other things. I also had to consider that all of these characters were based on real people, consulted whatever portraits I could find, and used whatever inspiration was appropriate.
Next was to really try and help the audience understand all 50-odd characters in this play: who they are and who they’re allied with. There are several major families involved in the power struggle, and each family has its own color palette to help clarify relationships. The Yorks are in red, black, white, and gold – strong, bold colors as this family are at the center of this play. The Lancasters are in blue and gold, still royal, but somewhat subdued. The Woodville palate (probably my favorite) is in brown and teals. The Tudors round out this play in greens. But there is still more to tell in terms of allegiances!
This play is largely dominated by the York family, and in the Henry VI, Parts 1-3 we used white and red roses to help signify the Yorks and the Lancasters. In Richard III, we need to tell York from York, and who is and isn’t with Richard. To clarify this, we’re using boar badges.
Richard’s personal sigil is the boar, and we’re using this symbol to show who is allied with Richard. The boar itself is sculpted and cast in three sizes, and I took it directly from Richard’s historical badges.
Layered on top of these visual design elements are socioeconomic status, age, and individual character traits. We tried to use a variety of shapes and styles to make each character unique, memorable, and instantly recognizable for our audience. My favorites include Margaret, the angry cursing ghost of a former queen; Anne, appearing first in navy and later in Richard’s red; and Richard’s coronation surcote, which was affectionately named the “yeti” coat.
Costuming Richard’s track was particularly fun. I used lighter and lighter colors on him through the play as he gets more and more evil to show how incongruous his outward face is from the monstrous man on the inside.
Assistant Designer for the Richard III costume build was Liz Estes, and the Costume Intern was Vivienne Fairfax. Wardrobe Manager Hope Maddox also helped with the build.