Here is a speech of Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3:

Give every man thine ear; but very few thy voice:
Take each man’s censure: but reserve thy judgement:
Costly thy habits as thy purse can buy;
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

What is meant by the phrase, “apparel oft proclaims the man”?

1 Answer 1


Polonius advises his son to buy clothes ("habits") which are as good as he can afford but to avoid buying clothes that are showy ("gaudy"). The phrase "the apparel oft proclaims the man" means that the type of clothes one wears tell a lot about the wearer; showy clothes may suggest that the wearer is a superficial type of person.

In Early Modern English, the verb "proclaim" could also mean "denounce", as in Othello, Act I, scene 1 where Iago says about Othello:

Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen, (...)

The intransitive meaning of "proclaim" was "make a public announcement" (see C. T. Onions: A Shakespeare Glossary. Enlarged and Revised Throughout by Robert D. Eagleson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

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