An Introduction to the Renaissance Faire

…a “Rennie,” that is.

Me (on the left) and my sister at the Great Lakes Medieval Faire, in garb we made ourselves.

OK, sewing is definitely not a requirement to become a Rennie, a Playtron, a lover of faire.  Fortunately for those less skilled with the use of needle and thread, there are plenty of vendors willing to help you get dressed in Medieval or Renaissance garb.  (See the links at the end of this post for just a sampling.)  But in my experience, the ability to visualize and create my own wardrobe has certainly enhanced the whole faire experience.  For me, the compliments are far more satisfying when I can reply, “I made it myself.”

Not to mention the economic savings.  Garb can be quite pricey from vendors–and they deserve the price they ask, as there is a great deal of hand work that goes into a project.  Some of the more elaborate, upper-class garb contains a great deal of beadwork, embroidery, and/or trim, and such a gown or doublet can easily take 50 or more hours to complete.  When you buy from a vendor, keep in mind the hours they might have spent lovingly creating your unique garb.  But for those of us with the time to work on our garb throughout the “off-season,” the payoff is a significant savings.  For simple peasant or “wench-wear,” an entire outfit can generally be created in about 10 hours with somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-50 for material.  For nobility, there is easily ten times the work and cost involved in a complete outfit.

Another picture of me (2nd from left) and my sister (far right) in garb we made for faire.

Which explains why you will find me in some type of lower-class garb.  My sister makes her own upper-class gowns and bodices; they are quite beautiful works of art, and I admire her skill and patience in creating them.  Admiration, however, does not imply envy.  Once I am in the heat and dust–or conversely, the mud and rain–of faire, drinking a few mugs of ale (some of which inevitably gets spilled on my garb), I am completely satisfied that I do not have to worry about stains.  The spilled ale and dirt around my skirt hems just add to the authenticity of my garb, I often tell my friends.  You know, 400 years ago, laundry and bath items were considered a luxury, after all!

To Garb or Not To Garb?

With the exception of my bodice and shirt (I’m on the far left), the rest of our garb was all bought from vendors.

Now, that is the question.  Again, definitely not a requirement to attend faire.  After reading my thoughts on buying and sewing clothes for faire, an uninitiated patron may think it is simply not worth the effort.  Should you decide to visit your local faire, you may decide to attend in your comfortable street clothes.  Of course, you are welcome to do so.  And you will blend in with the numerous other patrons who are attending in street clothes as well.

But I cannot stress enough to you how much your willingness to be more than a patron, to become a participant, enhances the whole experience of faire.  I always point out to my faire-virgin friends that there is an easy compromise: dress in the “spirit” of faire.  Think hippie/boho/shabby chic: long, flowing skirts, peasant blouses, gauzy fabrics, sandals, scarves, bangles, and all things that dangle and jingle.  If you can’t find any of this type of garb in your closet, I guarentee you can find some on a shoestring budget at your local thrift store.

Links to some of my favorite vendors:

Modeling my Moresca bodice

Photos of some of my garb:

I don’t know why but all of my shifts are missing, so I am displaying these outfits with shirts I found at thrift stores. Also, I want to clarify that these are not intended to be historical representations of clothing actually worn.  Click on each photo to see detail.  Left to right, they are:

Bellydance garb–I made the bodice, but all other pieces came from various faires.

Merchant class garb–Except for the shirt, I designed and made this complete outfit, including the hat with the Sharpie-tinted plume.

Romany garb–Again, except for the shirt, all my own design.

Pirate wench garb–The hat from the Blonde Swan (link above), shirt from a thrift store, and the rest is all my own.  This is a fun “alternate personality” look, because it gives me permission to strut with a manly gait and carry a sword.

Gypsy princess garb–This is probably my favorite look for faire.  I designed and made the skirt and bodice but the rest has been pieced together either from thrift store finds or faire vendors.

The last picture features a couple of projects I am currently working on.  The bodice on the left is actually a Moresca (link above), displayed against one of my skirts just to try to set it off.  I am making a green shift and scroll skirt to go with this, but I’m not sure it will be ready to premier when my faire opens in July.  (What was I thinking when I signed up for a summer class??)  On the right side of this photo are some pieces of fabric that I have purchased for my “some day” chest of projects.  The striped fabric in the background is a very nice printed gauze that was $1/yard at Wal-Mart, and that’s a steal!  The floral fabric against that is a boxy and extremely garish ladies jacket, I’m guessing circa 1972-ish, which I found at a thrift store for a couple of dollars.  I hope to use small pieces of this fabric in a new bodice.  Some day.  The striped square of fabric is from a home dec remnant, which is a great way to pick up pieces of coordinating and contrasting fabrics to finish various projects.


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