Malvolio’s Cross-Garter’d Yellow Stockings

N.B. Several of the Manolo’s internet friends have responded heroically to the Manolo’s plaintive call for help. This post, by the marvelously erudite and witty Sarah, is the first of the guest posts provided by these wonderful friends.

The Manolo is in the rut. The Manolo is filled with the ennui.

The Manolo has brought me such pleasure over the years that I have been reading his blogs, and has added so many touches of beauty to my life that I find this douleur completely unacceptable. It is true that March does have a tendency to bring in da funk, but the Manolo must not be permitted to suffer. I am compelled assist him in rediscovering his joie de blog.

And so, with no further ado , let’s talk about Shakespeare.

The great fashion joke in Shakespeare comes in his play Twelfth Night when a pair of wealthy party animals joins up with a clever maidservant to convince the uptight and unfashionable Malvolio that his beautiful young employer, Olivia, is in love with him. As a sign of his passion for her, he is told that he should wear yellow stockings and cross-garters. Our merry pranksters consider this to be as hilarious and humiliating as Charlie Sheen’s latest antics.

For those of us who aren’t living in the seventeenth century, however, the joke falls a little flat.

Here’s what’s going on. Sort of.

The truth is that even those of us who study this stuff aren’t entirely sure why yellow stockings and cross-garters are hilarious. So really, the most famous fashion joke in history is something of a mystery. But I can give you a few possibilities to bring up the next time Shakespeare comes up in conversation as he so often does.

First, yellow stockings and cross garters look like this:

Yellow Stockings and Cross Garters

So that's comedy gold right there.

Second, the flashiness of the cross-garters and yellow stockings is over the top, even for the excesses of men’s fashion in the Renaissance.

Here’s Henry VIII, who was no slouch as a sartorialist. Notice, though, how plain his stockings are.

Henry VIII

Hank 8, Rocking the Stockings and Garters

And he was King! Malvolio is just a steward (a high level servant/manager type).

So, they’re funny-looking, and they’re overly flashy.

It gets worse for Malvolio, though. In the Renaissance, great legs were one of the most enticing and macho things a man could put on display. The other, well….

Codpiece and Garters

You don't need to point. We get the idea.

Enough said.

Malvolio, though, is old enough that he probably doesn’t fill out his…hose…as well as he used to. And we already know that Shakespeare finds that both funny and tragic, since he writes in another play about an old man who wears his, “youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide/ For his shrunk shank.”

So yellow stockings and cross-garters are funny for the same reasons as every other fashion crime. They look ridiculous. They’re flashy. And they are inappropriate for the wearer.

Now that I think about it, maybe whenever we see something like this:

Stockings

We should all throw up our hands and say, “Ayyyyyyy! She might as well be wearing yellow stockings and cross-garters!” This will, of course, be met with blank stares and looks of incomprehension, but that’s the fun part.

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