Food on sticks and a tightly laced bodice are calling my name. These two things only go together when it’s time to visit the local renaissance faire. If you’ve not experienced the joy of a renaissance faire, please get thee to the internet and find one in your area. Let go of any reservations or prejudgments, just go. Enjoy the vendors’ wares, the delicious treats, talented performers, and practice your, “Good day m’lady or m’lord.” Try it out once, see if it’s your thing. Then go back. In costume.
I’ve been lucky enough to make seasoned veterans out of a few renaissance faire virgins. With each person, the costume question came up within an hour. By that time you’ve inevitably walked past a few vendor stalls and drooled over richly embroidered bodices and decadent capes. Maybe you’ve encountered the resident Queen or a member of her court. Where can I get a costume, and how fast can I get it?
At the faire. You’re there, and you are surrounded by droves of talented seamsters and craftspeople. Don’t gripe about the prices. The clothing is handmade and usually from quality fabric. If it’s your first visit, and you’re still considering costumes, don’t make purchases under pressure. Artisans usually don’t mind if you spend lots of time looking or asking questions. Thank them for their time and grab a card or name on the way out of the stall. About half of the vendors have an internet presence, but most will at least have an email address. If you visit a faire on the last weekend of its run, you may find sales.
Make one. If you have even the tiniest bit of sewing skills, the basic peasant costumes should be no match for your needle. The internet has endless resources for patterns and what type of fabrics to use. Remember, you can be as historically accurate as you want to be. Unless you are part of the faire, you can use a polyester blend. The members of the SCA may give you funny looks, but that’s okay.
The web. Fire up your search engine of choice and type in renaissance faire costume. Before you start clicking away, think about some general ideas of the type of costume you want – wench, Tudor court, swordswoman, etc. Like shopping in three dimensional form, don’t just buy from the first site you visit. Look for reviews, photo galleries of humans in the costumes, read about the fabrics, and compare prices.
Build your outfit up over time. Buying all the pieces of an ensemble can be a considerable outpouring of cash. Buy a bodice now, a skirt later, and so forth. Until you get the Cadillac version of your outfit, you can fill in missing pieces with items from your everyday wardrobe. I used to wear my bodice with a tank top and plain skirt before I finished my costume.
Be as comfortable as you can be. Renaissance faire costumes run the gamut of simple tunic and pants to heavy velvet hoop skirts. Looking around, you might think that every attendee’s costuming goal seems to be: how much can I torture myself today? “It’s going to be over 80 degrees, so I’ll wear the velvet tights and heavy cape.” I admit that I’ve worn my corset bruises like a badge of honor, but keep in mind you’ll be walking a lot and using small portable privies.
If you see someone in a gorgeous costume, don’t be afraid to ask them where they found it. You can also just ask for a photo so you can reference it later if you want to make something similar. I have never met a rude person at a renaissance faire.
Don’t let this thought discourage you: “But I’ll only wear it once a year.” Renaissance faire costumes are not just for festival days. You can wear them for Halloween, conventions, pirate festivals, and if you have the right pieces, even in your everyday rotation. If you care for them properly, they last. I got my first peasant outfit over ten years ago, and it is still in wearable condition.
I hope to see you at a faire soon, I’ll be the one with a turkey leg and modest cleavage.
Here’s an extensive list of renaissance faires by state.
Amy Ratcliffe still has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. But until then, she will keep playing D&D, reading comics, and perfecting the ultimate chic lightsaber. Strong female characters in the world of geek (movies, comics, & books) influence her attitude and costumes. Visit her blog Geek with Curves.