God, We’ll Simply Have to Dress the Character
How to Prepare for your Bloomsday Pilgrimage
The Bloomsday Festival has evolved into a literary street carnival over the decades. Dubliners and visitors alike dress up and hit the streets to read, act or sing pieces from Ulysses and have a few pints or wine with their gorgonzola sandwiches. Dressing up is one of the most fun parts of the Bloomsday Festival and there are a wide variety of characters and their outfits to choose from.
The basic outfit is Edwardian from the time that Ulysses was set in 1904. While some people go all out and hire or buy period costumes, there are easier ways to achieve the look. For a list of shops and dress hire places in Dublin/Ireland, please go to the end of this blog post.
For the ladies, simply find a long skirt and a belt or scarf to accentuate your waist. Look for a long-sleeved blouse with bows or ruffles to wear on top. For accessories, you can wear a big shawl around your shoulders, get some lace gloves, a dainty handbag and a straw hat decorated with flowers.
For the gents, simple dark trousers, a white shirt and a waistcoat will suffice for an easy Edwardian version. Add a bow tie or a cravat, a cane and a straw boater or cap and you are good to go. For more pizzazz wear a striped blazer and a flower in your buttonhole.
If you want to dress more like specific characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses, here are some suggestions:
She spends the day in bed, so opt for a floor-length nightie with long sleeves in white or a pastel colour and wear your hair loosed down your back. Carry a pear and tarot cards as props for the day.
Gertie MacDowell is a fashionista and her favourite colour is blue. She wears blue undies for luck. A variation of the above easy Edwardian look in shades of blue will make your homage to this character perfect. Don’t forget your trusty diary.
The ‘Sirens’, Mina Kennedy and Lydia Douce like to flash their garters as they pull pints at the Ormond Bar. One is blond and the other bronze-haired. One also sports a sunburn.
Bella Cohen is the madam of the brothel where Stephen and Leopold Bloom meet in the ‘Circe’ episode. She wears an ivory dress, waves a black fan and is draped in jewels. She also switches gender during this episode. Choose an outfit fit for a circus ringmaster complete with whip for this shape shift.
‘Nighttown’ abounds with whores, so flash your garter, opt for gaudy colours and a corset and don’t save on the black eyeliner and red lipstick!
For a credible impersonation, wear a black three-piece suit and a bowler hat. And don’t forget your lucky potato when you leave the house.
To turn from basic Edwardian look into Stephen Dedalus, just swap your cap or straw boater for a wide-brimmed, floppy hat and add a cane.
An easily recognisable version of ‘Buck’ Mulligan wears a yellow dressing gown.
Man-about-town, Blazes Boylan, turns female heads in a straw boater, sky-blue bow tie and with a red flower in his buttonhole.
If you want to be a bit more daring, pick from the array of more fantastical characters and outfits: a harem girl and a sultan, a tattooed sailor, a one-eyed giant with a scraggly hound and a biscuit tin, Hely’s Men with white paper hats and a red letter on them, poor dead Paddy Dignam, a lemon soap or a floating kiss.
To be fully equipped for Bloomsday, bring a well-thumbed copy of Ulysses to join in spontaneous readings, a map of Dublin and of course the Bloomsday Festival programme. If you want to make a day of it, bring a Joycean picnic with gorgonzola sandwiches and Burgundy, steak-and-kidney pie, fig rolls and hot chocolate. If you are new to the Bloomsday experience, why not pick up a copy of Romping through Ulysses by At it Again! to help you navigate the big book or Written in my Heart - Walks through James Joyce’s Dublin to help you find your way across the capital.
Here is a list of places where you might find appropriate outfits, accessories and props:
Charity shops - some of the charity shops along/ South Great Georges’ Street will actually decorate a Bloomsday window to give you ideas. You can find more charity shops on the southside in Dublin’s Liberties on Thomas Street and on the northside in Capel Street and around Doyle’s Corner in Phibsborough (it’s main traffic junction).
For more specific period items, try some of Dublin’s vintage shops:
Dirty Fabulous (high-end vintage occasion wear)
If you want to go all out and buy or hire a costume, here is where you can try in Ireland:
For accessories like flowers, straw hats, pearls etc. just head to Ireland’s finest, Penney’s. They tend to have items for summer that you can use to give your outfit the extra touch. Penney’s in Henry Street/Mary Street is also the location of Dublin’s first cinema, the ‘Volta’, which was founded by yer man himself, James Joyce. And for Joycean tote bags, aprons, badges and Bloomsday T-Shirts browse through the James Joyce Centre shop.