The Costume Design of HAMILTON!

By Joe Kucharski - Feb 15, 2016

HAMILTON is the hottest new show to premiere on Broadway in years (sold-out into 2017!). It is a groundbreaking new musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote the music, lyrics, and book, as well as stars as the show’s title character. HAMILTON weaves together rap, hip-hop, and traditional musical styles to tell the dynamic story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, all beautifully portrayed by such a diverse cast. Costumes designed by Tony Award nominee Paul Tazewell, help to wonderfully support such bold storytelling by expertly combining the fussy world of 18th century dress with a minimalist, modern sensibility. Tazewell is an acclaimed costume designer for theatre, dance, and opera, with such credits as Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk, Dr. Zhivago, Side Show, and NBC’s smash hit The Wiz Live! Tazewell recently, very generously, opened up with us on his process for designing the iconic costumes of HAMILTON!

HAMILTON - HAMILTON and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

Tyranny of Style: Can you talk to us about the early inspiration for the costume design of Hamilton?

Paul Tazewell: “How we used period influence in the costume design and the set design for HAMILTON was indeed the major question for the design team. Because HAMILTON is about an actual and year specific period of time that is very well known, it was important to decide if it would be a filmic recreation of the American Revolution/Colonial Period or if we would do the opposite and have the contemporary sound and telling of the story require me to design with a more modern style, as in contemporary fashion and street clothing. With that question on the table I collected an expansive array of images/research of 18th century clothing appropriate for the characters in this story as well as many of the portraits that were painted of the forefathers and surrounding people involved in the founding of our country. At the same time I was pulling together the same amount of contemporary fashion images that might have a style influence inspired by the 18th century while maintaining a very contemporary feel and silhouette. So we were weighing both directions, or a mix of the two.

HAMILTON - HAMILTON, Angelica, Eliza and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

It wasn't until we did our staged reading prior to the Public Theater's production of HAMILTON that is became clear what the most compelling direction of the costume design should be. The thought that Tommy (Director Thomas Kail) and I had was that we should just see what the show would feel like if they were in costumes that were largely reflective of the 18th Century.  Because the Public Theater houses an extensive stock of costumes from years past productions, I was able to pull and fit looks on everyone that would be specific to the characters that they were playing. I was also able to start to work out the look for the dancing ensemble which obviously needed to function well for movement and allow them to do everything that Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography required them to do, as well as create a neutral look that would be able to work seamlessly from Revolutionary Soldier, to men and women on the streets of Colonial New York City, to statesmen of the newly created United States of America. It also became important to have the principal characters stand out from the ensemble.”

HAMILTON - HAMILTON and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: The ensemble is costumed in a striking neutral base. Can you talk to us about the inspiration and process behind designing their costumes”

PT: “The neutral base became the visual metaphor of parchment, the paper that HAMILTON was creating his life with. That then provided a costume base to be able to add costume pieces that are more specifically representative of character by color and style. In HAMILTON the female ensemble plays both men and women, which they need to add and subtract from their 'parchment base'. The choice of boots for the men and the women when they are playing men became the equivalent of sneakers with jeans. That was how we needed for the ensemble to relate to their clothing overall. This 18th century clothing needed to appear like it was clothing that they relate to in the same way as modern people relate to t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers and not stodgy 18th century costumes. With the principals who are a closer representation of the 18th century I chose colors that seemed appropriate and iconic for the characters. There was definitely one that was a given by request of Lin which was HAMILTON being dressed in green 'the color of money'. Another very specific color choice was the purple on Jefferson to see his rock star status.”

HAMILTON - HAMILTON and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: Can you tell us a little bit more about your inspiration and process for developing Alexander Hamilton’s character arc through costume?

PT: “We first see Lin as one of the ensemble in the opening of the show. He is next realized as HAMILTON fresh off the boat, and as a young man just a step above peasant in a brown distressed suede coat, starting as a student. He then joins the army and becomes an officer under Washington, adding a navy and tan American officers uniform coat. When the war is won he transitions into a Statesman and this is when he loses all of his parchment base and changes to a money green 18th century suit. From there, Hamilton's look becomes darker going to black as an older man and then into a black caped coat for the final duel.”

HAMILTON - HAMILTON and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - HAMILTON costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - HAMILTON, Jefferson, King George, and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - HAMILTON, Burr, and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: Can you tell us about your inspiration and process in developing each of the Schuyler sisters’ costumes?

 PT: The Schuyler Sisters represent the feminine life of HAMILTON and the swirling romantic life of the time. The colors were arrived at by keeping Angelica strong independent and full of life and energy. I felt her color palette should stay warmer. For Eliza her color palette is represented with robin's egg blue, soft green and teal. I felt that color family gave her a sympathetic honest quality in how we see her character. For Peggy her color family was soft yellow. This was to keep her youthful and specifically represented against her sisters. In keeping the overall design as contemporary feeling as possible while still in the silhouette of the 18th century, I kept the detailing as simple as possible so that it didn't feel too decorative and fussy. I used mostly silk taffeta for the dresses on the women because it stays crisp and light and moves in a way that viscerally feels like the 18th century to me. As we head into the later years of their lives they go to cotton voile and nets, which were prevalent in the 1800s Regency period.”

HAMILTON - Schuyler Sisters - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Angelica Schuyler costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Eliza Schuyler costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Peggy Schuyler costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Schuyler Sisters - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 HAMILTON - Maria costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Eliza Schuyler, 1800s costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: I’m such a huge fan of Jefferson’s costume design! Can you talk to us about developing his costume, as well as the changes it went through from off-Broadway to Broadway? 

PT: “For Jefferson I started with a look that was much more directly influenced by the idea of Jefferson as a man of the plantation, Monticello. His portraits tended to be more humble and reserved. With Daveed (Diggs) in the role of Jefferson, it became apparent that Jefferson was better served to be represented as a Rock Star like Jimi Hendrix or Prince. For that his color and style changed to Purple.”

HAMILTON - Jefferson costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Jefferson and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: King George’s costume so perfectly matching the tone of his songs. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for his costume?

PT: “King George is as close a direct copy of a portrait of King George as I could get. I chose a portrait that was of him in red to align him with the 'redcoats' of the British military. He is the representation of the old world, unchanging and set in stone as weighed down by a jewel encrusted crown and ermine cape. He also carries the foppish quality that was so prevalent in men's clothing of the 18th century aristocracy.”

 HAMILTON - King George - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 

T/S: The costumes of the additional male characters rely on minimal cut, color, and details to differentiate them. Can you talk to us about your process and the evolution of the looks for Burr, Washington, Lafayette and Laurens?

PT: “The Costumes for Washington were parallel to King George's. By that I mean they are the truest to how we have seen Washington represented in multiple portraits both as an officer and as a Statesman and President when he goes into his black velvet suit. The look for Burr was designed to be in contrast to Hamilton and keep Burr as conservatively dressed as possible to support how tightly controlled his character is. Laurens maintains a youthful elegance and appears as well as Phillip.”

HAMILTON - George Washington and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - HAMILTON, George Washington and Ensemble - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Aaron Burr costume sketch - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Aaron Burr - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

 HAMILTON - HAMILTON, Lafayette, Mulligan, Laurens - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

HAMILTON - Company - Costume Design by Paul Tazewell

A huge thanks to Paul for sharing his time, sketches, and insights with us!

For those of us not fortunate enough to have tickets to see it live, the cast recording will have to do (and it’s brilliant). Check it out on Spotify, iTunes, or your local retailer. 

To find out more about the cast and other creative team members, as well as where to start lining up for tickets, visit- www.HamiltonBroadway.com