Towards the beginning of Hamlet, Gertrude, in an attempt to encourage her tetchy son to end the ostentatious mourning for his father’s death, gently urges, ‘Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off’. He snaps back: ’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,/Nor customary suits of solemn black ... That can denote me truly’. Hamlet was dressed in the traditional colour of mourning – but, as Ulinka Rublack explains in Dressing Up, students in Wittenberg, where Hamlet was enrolled at the university, also dressed entirely in black. As the play unfurls, Hamlet the grieving son, who ought to avenge his father’s murder, is constantly thwarted by Hamlet the thoughtful and sceptical scholar. Though at first glance his uniform denotes him exclusively as a mourner, it expresses a divided personality.
Clothes do not simply display a person’s identity; they play an important role in constructing it. Rublack’s handsomely illustrated study examines the uses of dress mostly in early-modern Germany (though her subtitle makes grander claims). She analyses paintings, chapbooks, broadsides and woodcuts, to show how clothes were used