Mercutio: “Didst thou not fall out with a tailor for wearing / his new doublet before Easter?” (Romeo and Juliet)

We are introduced to the doublet in Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio and Benvolio are arguing. Mercutio essentially tells Benvolio not to lecture him about restraint, because apparently Benvolio fought with his tailor about wearing one of his new suits before the season was right, and will basically take any opportunity to argue about anything.

In “Clothing in Elizabethan England,” Lisa Picard writes:

“The Elizabethan era saw men’s clothes depart more widely from their physique than in any other time. At least if you had good legs – and they were important – you could show them off up to crotch level. Next to your skin, a white linen shirt, which might support your ruff unless it had become a separate item by then.”

She continues, “The doublet had a skirt, of varying length, under which were ties (‘points’), or hooks, onto which the breeches were tied or hooked. The breeches of a working man were baggy and knee-length, like old-fashioned plus fours. The fashionable Elizabethan could opt for short ‘hose’ (breeches), at groin level: or longer ones covering his thighs, or even down to knee level. But they were all padded, so that they looked like melons or marrows, and made it difficult to walk gracefully, let alone dance. That was not all; they were ‘paned’ – cut into narrow panels, joined at the waist and hem, with a coloured lining showing in the spaces between the panes…Both doublet and hose were decorated by ‘pinking’: slits cut in the fabric, in a pattern, with a differently coloured lining pulled through the slits in little puffs.”

To subvert strict English clothing laws, some people began slashing their clothes, which exposed the color of the fabric linings (as mentioned above).

In “The rise and fall of sumptuary laws: Rules for dressing in Shakespeare’s England,” Karen Lyon gives us a snapshot of the legal consequences that could be associated with wearing a doublet: “1576, a Fellow of King’s College was sent to prison when it was discovered (the record does not reveal how) that he was wearing ‘a cut taffeta doublet…and a great pair of galligastion [baggy, in the Greek style] hose’ under his gown.”

Men were under a lot of pressure as far as their dress was concerned, which can give us some context about why it would be a stressful topic for Mercutio to mention in an argument.