Does your identity change when your clothes do?

From costume to disguise to personal transformation with Merry Wives’ designer Katrina Hess

We all know that clothes are a big part of communicating who we are. And that they are a big part of being prepared for the world around us – everything from the weather to a themed party to an emotional blanket (yes, we ALL have those fuzzy sweater days). As Shakespeare wrote “the apparel oft proclaims the man.” Sometimes these moments feel like dressing up, sometimes they feel like hiding, and sometimes it feels like the right outfit reveals something true about who we really are.

Those ideas are even more heightened on stage, so we talked with costume designer Katrina Hess about some of the core ideas behind this play’s clothes.

“When it comes to expressing character through costume it’s all about the details! Every decision from the character’s silhouette, color choices, fabrics, and styling lets you know who that character is and emotions tied to their journey in the story. There are a lot of decisions that may not be very obvious but ultimately create depth for each character.”

For every character on stage, their head-to-toe look has been considered in order to make sure that who they are, how they fit in relation to other characters, how they help build the world and events of the story, and how they affect you (the audience) is coming across. All the while, those clothes and accessories are also doing all the things they do to us in real life.

One of the delightful things about The Merry Wives of Windsor is how much costumes are used within the story to drive the plot: You’ll see a character disguise themselves in order to find out what someone is plotting against them. You’ll see a character dress up in order to escape a sticky situation. You’ll hear plans to go through with secret meet-ups based on the color of clothes. You’ll see a whole town get into costume in order to pull off a prank!

Even more, you will see clothes shift as attitudes and relationships change.

This story, penned in 1597, holds characters who are aware enough to use and manipulate all those ideas about clothes and what they can do, just as we do today. And in this production, our costume designer celebrates that fully:

“I tend to fall in love with the characters I’m designing for and love how each of the character’s look(s) came together. My favorite pieces are those little details that give us clues to the character’s back story, private self, or where they’re headed. It was important to me that the costumes connected the characters’ relationships with one another, their role in the world, and journey. As we go from Act 1 to Act 2 certain characters reveal a journey or who they are in private vs how they present themselves for the public.”

Anne Page’s journey into young adulthood can be seen in their clothes. In Act 1, they start in the Page color palette and a soft, relaxed/baggier silhouette, and in Act 2, Anne moves on to cooler tones, a more grown up silhouette, and a connection with Pistol. 

Rhys Daly as Pistol and Alanah Pascual as Anne.

Anne and Pistol’s love story shows their influence on each other as Pistol starts adding color to their black wardrobe, and Anne starts adding dark tones to their look.

Rhys Daly as Pistol and Alanah Pascual as Anne.

Falstaff has a moment in their room where we see him in a non-glamourous bathrobe and hair towel. I love this short moment because it reveals his private persona which is a little lonely and someone who needs comforts of home while on the road. 

Jasmine Joshua as Falstaff

Mistress Ford as Herne the Hunter allows us to see her go from a woman in Windsor navigating circumstances to someone in full command unleashing her power and dominance.

Mari Nelson as Mistress Ford

Mistress Page’s look in Act 1 and most of Act 2 roots her to the Garter Inn. In her final look, she is rooted into the forest scene which gives us a glimpse into her dark femininity.

Joyce Thi Brew as Mistress Page

All photos taken by Giao Nguyen of Seattle Shakespeare’s 2023 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor