Let’s Talk About Hamilton!


Who signed up for Disney+ this month just to watch Hamilton (2020), the filmed version of the 2016 Broadway play? How many times have you watched it already? Because I need to talk about it, so let’s do this!

Now, I wrote about the original Broadway show’s costumes, designed by Paul Tazewell, back when it swept the Tony Awards, including best costume. I’d only heard the soundtrack myself at that point, and it wasn’t until February 2019 that I saw a touring production of the show. But now, seeing the OG show and, even better, seeing it in my living room, with better angles than any theater seat I could ever afford, well, now I noticed so much more about the costumes!

First, while the Schuyler sisters always wear the same colors — Eliza in blue shades, Angelica in a pale orange-y tone, Peggy in yellow — they have more changes of dress than I’d thought. Some appear to be done with different bodices or over-dress type garments.

Hamilton on Broadway

Eliza starts with the iconic button-front bodice, angled in a very modern fashion, instead of the center-front buttons common in the 18th century. Then she has a rounded “zone” front bodice with a peplum that she wears in “Helpless” and “Satisfied.” This is followed by a maternity gown when she tells Hamilton she’s pregnant.

Hamilton (2020)

During “Helpless” you can see a little bit of the side buttons of Eliza’s first gown under the over-gown with the “zone” front.

Hamilton (2020)

This over-gown situation is more clear in their wedding.

Angelica’s first gown in the “The Schuyler Sisters” number has a curiously sweetheart shaped front. Then she quickly changes to a rounded “zone” front bodice with center-front buttons at the start of “Right Hand Man” as George Washington is introduced. This one is more historically accurate than her first one. She has a jacket-type bodice when she marries and moves to England.

Hamilton (2020)

This has to be a different gown than her first one.

Hamilton (2020)

But this could be a jacket over another gown.

Even Peggy, the most minor of characters, gets a different bodice for “Helpless” and “Satisfied” than she wore in “The Schuyler Sisters.”

In Act 2, starting with “Schuyler Defeated,” the women’s clothes change up to show the passage of time. Eliza is shown wearing the slim silhouette of the 1800s in a pale blue and white gown. When her son is killed, she adds a black pelisse coat over this and wears that through “It’s Quiet Uptown.” When Angelica returns in Act 2, she’s also wearing an 1800s gown with a two-tone bodice that almost looks like she’s wearing a spencer jacket. Then she wears a black pelisse coat when she sings in “It’s Quiet Uptown.”

Hamilton (2020)

Simple, empire-waist gown.

Hamilton (2020)

But gorgeous details on this pelisse coat that is barely seen on stage & even on TV, you can just catch glimpses of it!

The ensemble women’s costumes also change up. Four of them wear full skirts for scenes in Act 1, and in Act 2, they wear short 1800s-style spencer jackets or even pelisse coats over their corset-tights-boots outfits.

Hamilton (2020)

The men’s costumes go through just as many changes through the course of the nearly three hours. Notably, Aaron Burr is the only character who doesn’t have a pale parchment “ensemble” style outfit. Hamilton himself and all the major characters, male and female, start out in that pale outfit, except for Burr in the first song, “Alexander Hamilton.” This emphasizes Burr’s role as the narrator of the story. He’s the first one to speak, and he introduces most of the major action, talking directly to the audience. This is Hamilton’s life, but the truism of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is evident in the first scene and hinted at with this first costume. Burr lives, and he tells the story up until the very end.

Hamilton (2020)

Burr is also the first male character to switch from a 1770s frock coat to an 1800s-ish high-waisted coat right after the war scenes in “Non-Stop.” James Madison is the next character shown in this coat when he’s introduced in Act 2, signifying the time change, and eventually Jefferson and Hamilton both wear the later-period coats.

And finally, some of my observations about the performance in this filmed Disney version. Jonathan Groff as King George really adds a maniacal touch that doesn’t come through in the soundtrack. He definitely plays up the “mad King George” idea (and more so than the touring production I saw). Yeah, he’s spitty, but it’s also his crazy eyes and body movements — it’s an overall characterization that really fills out this otherwise minor character.

Hamilton (2020)

Christopher Jackson as George Washington brings a rich emotional quality to his stage performance. I cried when he sings “One Last Time,” which doesn’t get me on the soundtrack in the same way. (OK, I cry a lot during this show!)

I’m not the first to have noted how Lin Manuel Miranda doesn’t have the strongest voice in the whole cast. As the composer, he adeptly gives the heavy vocal lifting to other roles, especially Aaron Burr but also George Washington and Angelica Schuyler. Alexander Hamilton is not the role which tells the story and sings the big songs. This really is a great ensemble show, and there are songs for everyone to shine.

OK, that’s just some of my thoughts on the costumes and performances. There’s a million things I haven’t done, er, said, about this musical, but how about you?


What do you think of Hamilton on Disney+?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

30 Responses

  1. Yosa Addiss

    My stepson (14, a huge fan) pointed out instantly that King George doesn’t blink. He probably lets his mouth water from not swallowing. And yes, his performance is great on the soundtrack- but magnificent in the show. No blinking.

    He and I agree that songs that weren’t our favorites on the soundtrack are now so so much better with the context, choreography, and all added.

    I think I am on watch #6, would be more but I am working two full time jobs at the moment and can barely think straight.

    • GB Tyrrell

      Goddess I LOVE his (King George) tiny performance. No eye blinking, spitting insane (which is actually a stage singing technique), and his isolated shoulder movements. Not many can pull off such a subtly performance. And I loved the costume subtle changes over time. Jefferson is sort of a 70’s pimp.

      Oh the songs! The whole thing makes me feel young, scrappy, and hungry!

      • Trystan L. Bass

        The live performance I saw was excellent, but the King George was in no way as memorable as the original — & I think the closeups really help. On TV, you can see the subtle performance which you might not catch up in the nosebleed seats.

      • Jodi Michael Horner

        I have been wondering about the measurements of the bodices compared to what the ladie’s real measurements are, because with that kind of singing they have to be able to really breathe. The bodices look boxy to me, I think there is some costuming technique that I’d love to know about, just out of curiosity.

  2. Saraquill

    I’ve seen it in person, tough not yet on Disney+. I look forward to the closeups.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Eliza’s & Angelica’s black pelisse coats are GORGEOUS. So much detail & trim that I can’t imagine you’d see past the first few rows in the theater, but on TV you can really appreciate. Plus, historically accurate :)

  3. Colleen

    Just a note that King George (at least in the image you have) is played by Jonathan Groff.

  4. D

    The only costume I truly disliked in the musical was the female chorus costume in the second act, where it looked likely they were just wearing corsets and tights. Total undress. The black boots in act one made it look like they were wearing breeches, but nude character shoes in act two brought it down to just being undergarments.

    • Nzie

      My whole family is all over the King George performance. So fun. I was glad to see the costumes change over time. Did anyone else see Bernadette Banner’s video on this? I think Abby Cox also has one but I haven’t seen it yet.

      One minor typo.. isn’t it James Madison? I swear they only had like 10 male first names in that era..

      • Boxermom

        Bernadette Banner is awesome! I just discovered her Youtube videos the other day. I actually recommended Frock Flicks to her.

    • Nzie

      Sorry, not sure how my comment ended up under yours… probably my error typing on my phone.

  5. Lynn

    LOVED the costumes. Lin-Manuel is a writing genius, but I was blessed to see Hamilton in London and Jamael Westman was a MUCH better Hamilton in action.

  6. Charity

    I thought it was quite well done, and way more impressive than just listening to the soundtrack. (It was supposed to tour through here this summer. Wah.) The costumes really are gorgeous, too. But by far my favorite performance was… King George. He had me in stitches almost the entire time. He is just… fabulous.

  7. Eleri

    I’ve hung around here too much… my first thought was “Oh no, back lacing!” ;)

  8. Lady Peahen

    I love changes through time in costumes and also how many different suits boys have. Male fashion is so underrated!

  9. Lily Lotus Rose

    My family signed up for Disney+ to see Hamilton with the original Broadway cast. We loved it. Like some of you, I’d already seen the touring version, but I really appreciated seeing the show up close and personal in via this format. The costumes were so much more intricate than what I remembered from seeing it live. Also, the pure joy of being part of this moment really shone through in the film version. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

  10. Katherine Brockhoff

    I stayed home alone over 4th of July weekend to watch Hamilton ALONE so I could enjoy every minute. I was not disappointed! Hamilton was coming to 2 towns within a day’s travel next spring and I planned to do whatever it took to see it live. Will still do that (nothing beats live theater) but —seeing this production up close was a memorable experience and well worth subscribing to Disney+
    The costumes were fantastic – even better, they were interesting and felt historically accurate enough to satisfy me. I’m never Saaatisfied. It made be cry so many times I had a pile of tissues to throw away after it was over. Thank you for reviewing this wonderful piece of art for us!

  11. Shashwat

    The costumes are pretty interesting.I didn’t catch on the backlacing,it wasn’t very clear.It is lovely how they used actual overgowns instead of sewing it all the way in as just a pattern.
    Weird how theatre takes more effort with period costumes than movies,despite the fact that we can’t possibly look at theatre costumes in the same detail screencapping them like movie costumes.My favourite part was the fact that they used solid taffeta skirts and made them swirl?twirl beautifully instead of using tulle skirts like some other productions.

  12. msilfan

    Back when I first saw the costumes, I knew it would be good just from the shape of the corsets on the leads. Not Victorian!

  13. Linda Merrill

    I’d seen it in Boston and of course, lots of still photos and YouTube videos but hadn’t realized how correct the women’s costumes were for the passage of time. And those black coats were incredible. Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry) looked amazing in It’s Quiet Uptown. The attention to detail at every level is incredible in this show.

  14. SarahV

    I have to say…… Phillipa Soo breaks your heart and Jonathan Groff was simply divine (as always). However, I literally started to cry during the curtain call when you can tell that they all know that they FUCKING CRUSHED IT – the phemonomal Renee Elise Goldsberry was trying to discretely dab away tears, turning to this side, then the other/ Sublime.

  15. Kaite Fink

    Saw it in Chicago last November. Worth the cost and the poor seat (last minute purchase!). I don’t have Disney +, so I won’t be able to watch it. I don’t know if I can really afford it right now. Though I’m seriously tempted.

  16. Carol Kocian

    I enjoyed the costumes, good details of accuracy while also practical for the actors.
    I tend to be pretty good at suspending my costume disbelief. What I noticed is that the men’s breeches were baggy, including the men in the chorus. But then the women in the chorus had leggings, which fit in the legs more like 18thC breeches. Why not put everyone in the leggings instead of the baggy breeches?

  17. Dee

    Loved the “rock star” coat that Thomas Jefferson wears. His look is a nod to Prince and Jimi Hendrix. Also note that Hamilton gets a green jacket, the color of money.

  18. Stacey Noah

    Came to Google because I knew that someone had to notice the beauty in Eliza’s cost! I have stop counting how many times I watched it. I also cry every time when George Washington sings One Last Time. Such a powerful song! I love Eliza’s high waisted dress.

  19. Teresa Stoops

    Production was spectacular as well the performance. But the what blew me away was in the end it was about his wife. I sobbed that the quiet power of a woman was acknowledged. He started the paragraph and she finished. History rarely tells us the entire story.

  20. ABRN

    I watched it finally this week and then I watched it again and again and now I’m searching and reading articles about it like I’m running out of time!
    I love your article and agree with you on all of this…Im a community theatre costumer and it’s a lot of fun to hide little details in costumes the audience may not see. For instance, when working on “Shrek”, I found some awesome green satin brocade with a small pattern to make Fiona’s dress from. The pattern had little dragons on it…she was in the tower under guard from the dragon. Only the cast knew it, but was a fun little “secret”.