Medieval/Renaissance Garb from the Modern Closet

The Alabama Renaissance Feast and Faire has an official timeline of 1100 - 1650 with an emphasis on 1330 -1550.  We also welcome Vikings, pirates, fairies, trolls, and dragons.

 

At the Alabama Renaissance Feast and Faire, costumes are always admired - but never required. Some patrons will wear garb that adheres to the sumptuary laws, others will wear Halloween costumes from the Medieval/Renaissance aisle, and some will wear mundanes (jeans and t-shirts).

 

Tunics were the most commonly worn garments by males and females throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. However, the sumptuary laws decreed who was allowed to wear certain colors/fabrics, sleeves, and types of shoes. For example, only the Royalty wore purple and corduroy was the fabric of the King. Those in the court (not necessarily of royal blood) could wear velvet, and were usually the only ones who could afford the expense of yellow or red dyed fabrics. Most people wore muted earth tones and cotton or linen fabrics.

 

People often wore fur on collars or sleeves to help keep the fleas off their own skin, but only the nobles wore ermine. Dagged sleeves or houppelandes (garments with flaring sleeves that draped down waist length when arms were outstretched) indicated prestige and wealth. Everyone wore long sleeves for modesty, but the poor and middle class often rolled up or tied up their sleeves to protect them (thus the aphorism about rolling up the sleeves to get to work).

 

Both men and women wore boots, especially outdoors. Women often wore high wooden platforms attached to their shoes to protect their skirts while walking through the mud and excrement in the streets. Noblemen wore pointed shoes for fashion; however, the length of the points could be no longer than what could be tied up to the knees. The wealthy would wear slippers indoors, but most everyone else would own only one pair of shoes or boots.

 

Attendees of the Alabama Renaissance Feast and Faire may transform mundane clothing into Medieval-inspired garb without fear of the sumptuary police.

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Suggestions for the Lords:

 

  1. Gray sweat pants look like armor from a distance, especially so if a patient person uses a sharpie to draw in a chain mail pattern. Get the sweat pants with pockets for extra convenience.

  2. Dark brown or black trousers or sweat pants make a great base for simple garb. Wear with a solid color dress shirt, untucked, belted on top with one or more leather belts. Accessorize with long necklaces, especially chains with crosses, coins, or gaudy gemstones.

  3. Wear boots with the pants tucked into them. Inexpensive boots may be found in the Women’s section of the chain shoe stores and look great. (If necessary, take the boots to the Men’s side to try them on to avoid potential embarrassment or questions). Moccasins and sandals also work depending upon the character/persona.

  4. Make a simple no-sew tabard using 2-3 yards of approximately 45” wide (or wider) fabric. Fold the fabric in half the long way, then fold again the wide way, and create a poncho-type garment by cutting a quarter oval or rectangle for a neck hole. Leave the sides open. Wear it belted or loose. Paint/draw a coat of arms or a Knights Templar Cross on the front and it becomes a Surcoat. For a slit to make walking easier, fold the tabard in half the long way to find the center. Measure and pencil mark where the cut should end (how high the slit should be), and carefully cut. Tabards can be waist-length to knee-length; Surcoats are usually knee-length.

  5. Most Medieval/Renaissance men wore coifs (a fabric cap held close to the head with strings tied underneath the chin or left dangling) or a beret style hat known as a flat cap (often with a feather in it). Straw hats, hoods, cowls, circlets, and crowns are all acceptable head coverings for men.

  6. Capes are good as accessories or to test the waters before making or purchasing more elaborate garb. Worn over solid black clothing, the cape becomes the focal point.  

Please Google “Medieval/Renaissance Garb” for more ideas. Watch videos of the Alabama Renaissance Feast and Faire on the Alabama Renaissance Faire YouTube Channel to see a wide variety of garb.

Suggestions for the Ladies:

 

  1. Skirts should be long (floor length or just above) and full (no slinky garments worn as outerwear). Shoes would normally not show below the skirt. Corsets may be worn as outerwear. If the laces are tied at the top, the woman is single. If the laces are tied at the bottom, the woman is married or expecting a baby.

  2. Blouses should have long sleeves (preferably poufy or flowy), and be long enough to leave untucked. Peasant blouses and poet shirts (think 1970s) are ideal. 

  3.  A plain leather or chain belt should be worn on top of the blouse. Using beaded garland or strung together Mardi Gras beads are easy belts. Leave a long, dangling end or loop a necklace with a large pendant through the belt to dangle just above one knee. Crosses, crystals, and stones are the most common pendants, but other "pretties" will work.

  4.  If shirts have cuffs and collars (similar to a man's dress shirt), cover the cuffs with bracelets and fold the collar under and cover with necklaces 

  5. If people had necklaces, they wore them, especially crosses and chains. Only wealthy people had pearls, but both men and women wore jewelry. Women who could afford it wore hand florals (five rings attached by chains to a bracelet), so wearing a ring or multiple rings on each finger is a good simulation. Earrings were alternately considered symbols of wealth or poverty depending upon the year or region. 

  6. Single women wore their hair loose or braided, but uncovered. Married women wore their hair covered with a scarf, wimple, or hat, or gathered into a snood (similar to a hair net worn at the back of the head). Men and women wore linen coifs (similar to a brimless bonnet), cowls, and hoods. Today, a coif refers to chain mail worn under a helmet, but in linen form it was worn to soak up sweat and grease from the hair. For dressy occasions, women wore diadems and circlets. To make an easy diadem, take a necklace with a pendant and wear it on the head with the dangle between the eyes. The chain can show or be hidden in the hair. A necklace of pearls or beads with long curly ribbons or veils attached to the clasp can be a lovely diadem. Circlets are simple flower garlands or metal bands. Headbands, tiaras, and crowns can be worn as well.

  7.  Comfortable shoes take priority over fashion because attendees are encouraged to participate in the dancing, processing (promenading or parading), and gaming.

  8. Capes are an easy form of garb that can be worn to enhance an outfit or to cover mundanes.

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