The Taming of the Shrew is filled with scenes involving the importance of clothing. In the Induction, Christopher Sly is dressed by the unnamed lord in wealthy clothes, while the Page dresses up as a woman. In the play proper, numerous characters—Lucentio, Tranio, Hortensio, and the merchant—dress up in various disguises. And while Petruchio does not wear a disguise, he wears a costume of sorts when he purposely wears bizarre clothes to his own wedding. He also refuses to let Katherine wear the dress and hat that he has had made for her for Bianca's wedding banquet. All this emphasis on clothing points out the significance of appearance and performance in establishing an identity, showing identity to be fluid and changeable.
By merely putting on expensive clothes, Christopher Sly becomes noble in his own mind, while the Page is able to assume a female identity through clothes. Clothing is thus particularly important for signaling gender and class identity. This is evident when Petruchio rejects the hat that has been made for Katherine: when she says, "gentlewomen wear such caps as these," (iv.3.74) Petruchio replies, "When you are gentle, you shall have one too," (iv.3.75). For Petruchio here, clothing is importantly linked to one's identity and character. Clothing in the play thus symbolizes how identity is constructed through appearances and performance, how being someone is often a matter of looking like or acting like that someone. When Katherine is upset by Petruchio's outlandish outfit at their wedding, he may tell everyone, "To me she's married, not unto my clothes," (iii.2-119) but throughout the play Shakespeare shows that it is often the clothes that make the man (or woman).
Clothing Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew
What think you, if he were conveyed to bed,
Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?
Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead
Keep house, and port, and servants, as I should.
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
Well, come, my Kate, we will unto your father's.
Even in these honest mean habiliments.
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honor peereth in the meanest habit.