Any era film such as Shakespeare in Love is greatly enhanced by costumes appropriate to the setting. For, these costumes create the ambiance of the times; moreover, they are appropriate to the lines and accents of the actors. Also, in the Elizabeth Age, the setting of this movie, clothing is an indicator of social class. For instance, in that era, only royalty was permitted to wear purple. Certainly, the aristocracy was attired in lavish clothing of fine fabrics; these clothes were often adorned with jewels, lace, furs, etc. Hair was worn in different styles, but it was usually pulled back from the forehead. Many women dyed their hair blond, and they wore peasants' hair or ribbons of yellow or white silk plaited in their coiffures.
Even the lower classes were concerned with clothing, although they could not afford the silks and laces of the aristocracy. While there was no clear distinction among the poorer people with regard to their clothing, often a maidservant would wear the bodice of her petticoat laced over the kirtle, or skirt made of material that differs from the bodice of the dress. Most women wore bumrolls, or stuffed tubes that added shape to the hips, which also made the waist seem smaller. Of course, torn or worn clothing is a quick indicator of poverty, so when certain characters have such attire, the audience recognizes this impoverishment, especially in the character played by Geoffrey Rush.
In addition to indicating social class, clothing is used for disguise in Shakespeare in Love. Viola de Lesseps, for example, disguises herself as "Thomas Kent" so that she can audition for a role in Shakespeare's play. This disguise plays a major role in the romantic interest of the movie, and in the comedic effect. Moreover, this romantic aspect effects the change in Shakespeare's play to Romeo and Juliet.