Hail Macbeth


The Macbeth (2015) trailer dropped a few weeks ago, to little note among the historical costuming community. Which is a damn shame, since if you’re at all into early medieval costume, you have got to check out the costumes in this film. Costume design was by Jacqueline Durran, who has a pretty good accumulation of historical movies under her belt, including three recent Keira Knightley vehicles, Atonement (2007), Pride & Prejudice (2005), and Anna Karenina (2012). If you’re judging her work based on those three films, you’re probably skeptical about how Macbeth is going to end up looking (since two of the three aforementioned films got absolutely slaughtered by the costuming community when they were released). However, I’m on picking up what Durran is putting down as far as these stills from Macbeth are concerned.

What we know of clothing in early medieval Scotland isn’t much, but we can make assumptions about what their nobility wore based on the fact that this was a region that had extensive contact and close ties with the Norse. That Durran has chosen to season her costume designs with a definite Norse flavor makes me a little giddy.

Lady Macbeth’s Coronation Gown

2015 MacBeth

Lady Macbeth is played by Marion Cotillard. One of the fiercest roles for women written by the Bard, I can’t comment on how well Cotillard is going to handle the role, but I can say that I really like what Durran is doing with her coronation gown. Here’s another pic of the gown, this time without the veil and short cape:

2015 MacBeth

That looks an awful lot like a hangerock, doesn’t it?

Hantverkat hangerock

Something similar to this, by Linda. Via Hantverkat.

The strands of pearls appear to be held up by brooches, which definitely are evoking a “Viking dress” vibe for me. It’s combined in a really interesting way with a Byzantine flavor, too. Maybe it’s all the pearls…

2015 MacBeth

I don’t know what’s up with the blue eye shadow across her eyes and nose, though.


Macbeth’s Coronation Outfit

2015 MacBeth

I swear I’ve seen that coronet in the SCA…

Macbeth is played by Michael Fassbender, who is totally believable as the antihero Scottish king on account of being all huge and red headed. He’s shown in the trailer wearing what are presumably his coronation robes, which are definitely swinging away from the Norse influence and going for the Byzantine look. Simple white tunic, lavish silk cloak held at the shoulders by a pair of brooches and a chain. He’s got some kind of stole going on, too, which I’m not sure of as far as where Durran got the idea, but it looks pretty legit in combination with the rest of his outfit.

2015 MacBeth

2 legit 2 quit.

The art historian in me is kind of twitching about the clearly high gothic tracery on the altar on in the background, but I’m not going to let it dampen my enthusiasm for the aesthetic here.

2015 MacBeth

Pay no attention to the high gothic tracery in the background…


Other Characters

2015 MacBeth 2015 MacBeth

Once again, definitely going for a Rus/Norse look here with the clothing. Can I just say how ridiculously excited I am that there’s not a single kilt in sight? Finally, we get a movie set in medieval Scotland that understands that kilts are a fairly modern adaptation of a wool blanket.

The newest trailer just dropped last week, and it shows the witches:

Hard to see what they’re wearing, but my sense is they’re sticking with the Norse theme. Also, they’re dressed pretty normally, as far as we can tell from the clip. Well, “normally” as one would expect in Dark Ages Scotland, all things being relative.

Do you want to know more about Norse clothing? Check out these books:

Are you looking forward to Macbeth, opening in the US on December 4, 2015?


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

11 Responses

  1. Kris

    Wondering if the blue on Lady M’s eyes/nose is a nod to Pictish tattooing? Historically, the union of Thorfinn of Orkney (maybe the real Macbeth) and Gruach was a diplomatic marriage to unite the Norse and Celts – the blue would emphasize her ethnic difference from hubby. Cool detail, if so!

  2. Michael L. McQuown

    Bethod od Finleag was the king’s real name. The Norse influence works well since about half the Highland clans have Norse roots. For a good summary of the real MacBeth, see the introductory chapter of Eric Linklater’s “The Survival of Scotland.” Gruoch inherited from both lines. The rule of succession from Kenneth MacAlpin was that the crown would alternate between two collateral lines. The elder Duncan broke this when he named his sin, also Duncan, to succeed him. Grouch’s clan was already at feud with Duncan when she married Bethod, by which he inherited the feud as well.

  3. Dawn

    I would think the blue is a nod to the woad used by a number of Scots tribes. I think it’s really cool that they’re going period for this!

  4. Beth

    I know that this is an old thread but I really hope that you see this and respond- if not, it is cool. I’ll just use the Contact Us form :)

    So, Lady Macbeth’s outfits absolutely fascinate me. The costume designer said that the back had a lot of volume to be raised over the head, so the shawl that you can see her wearing in pictures is actually her dress. Is this historically accurate? I loved it but I can’t find anything about the accuracy- if it was a thing it would probably be easier for me to find a way to recreate it because the functionality was just great.


    • Olivia

      Hi Beth,

      The thing with this film was that, as with Anna Karenina, they weren’t going for an accurate look and instead were veering more towards a theatrical theme. Essentially, they were taking the silhouettes of a period and then overlaying their own designs. It’s generally accepted among reenactors (like myself) who cover Scottish history during the Middle Ages that they probably wore more or less what other northern European cultures nearby wore. If you lived in an area with heavy Norse influence, that probably had an effect on your clothing style; if you were closer to England, and especially if you were an elite, you probably leaned more that way.

      So, while these costumes are absolutely amazing and well-made, they aren’t accurate to Scotland during the earlier parts of the medieval period (or any period, really). However, I personally don’t care, because it’s not like they were trying to be historically accurate, and that’s ok in this case. The Shakespearean “MacBeth” is a far cry from the historical characters it draws inspiration from; remember, it was an Englishman writing a play for a king who might have been Scottish, but was probably descended from the family that overthrew MacBeth (who was actually considered a pretty okay ruler). The costumers wanted to create a sort of otherworldly feel, and I think they did it beautifully.

      I hope that helped you!

      • Beth

        Thank you Olivia, very helpful!

        I was afraid that it wasn’t at all accurate because I just couldn’t find anything like it. I think I know the inspiration though. I just love the reinterpretation so much more.

        Agree about MacBeth- read that Shakespeare flatter the account towards Banquo and his line because he was the ancestor of King James, right?

        • Olivia

          That’s the legend, yeah, but who knows. The documents from the early medieval period in Scotland are pretty sketchy, with fairly little known about even the elites; it didn’t help that Scotland was kind of considered this pathetic little kingdom at the edge of the world. MacBeth himself got a leg up purely because he was king. Even his wife (variously named Gruach/Gruach/Gruath), who was probably the most desired woman in Scotland because of her elite bloodline, gets almost no mention in surviving records; her son Lulach, who was also King of Alba, also gets pretty minimal documentation.

  5. mmcquown

    The Stewart succession was claimed either from Malcolm or Donald Bane; I’ll have to look it up.

  6. Roxana

    Oh heck. Woad. Woad went out of style with the Picts. MacBeth wasn’t a Pict.

  7. ChristineAnnV

    This has absolutely nothing to do with costuming in tv and film. The monastery on the isle of Iona, part of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Sotland was founded by St. Columba in 563. A burial mound near the site of the 12th century church is said to be the burial place of 48 Scottish kings, including Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, king of Alba, 1040-1057. We know him as Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespeare cribbed his story from the King MacBeth in “Holinshed’s Chronicles” (1587), in the narratives of the Kings Duff and Duncan.