Dawn's Costume Guide

Your First Visit to the Renaissance Faire
( Or the SCA )

If you've never done this before, this is where you begin. You've probably got a friend or family member who wants you to dress up and go out to this event with them, and they've left it up to you to get a costume.

Here are the basics of what you need to "get through the gates" with minimum time, effort, and cash involved.

Women and Girls

You need a plain long skirt or two and a white or solid colored loose blouse or chemise. You might be able to find a broomstick skirt at a thrift shop, but they tend to not be as long as they could be these days.

Avoid skirts with big floral prints. These are either modern or Victorian, and they do not look "historical" or make good expansion pieces in the event you want to keep doing this. If you don't care because you know you're only doing this once, then feel free to ignore me.

A bodice is a bit more involved in fit and construction and you can skip this the first time. They also cost a lot more to buy, so if you're not sure about this whole dress-up thing it's an expense you can put off. If you do want to make one for your first event it's okay to use the commercial patterns you can get at the fabric store, but you MUST take in the pattern at the sides so that it fits you snugly. You don't have to wear it tightly laced or have push-up boobs, but neither is the garment supposed to have gaps or be loose on the torso.

Things to buy: get a small basket to use as a purse, and get a cloth napkin to cover your stuff with. Remove your watch, put in the contacts, and take off the modern dangly earrings.

If you are going to be someplace hot and sunny, like the Arizona or Texas faires, consider getting a straw hat in one of those flat, wide brimmed "garden" styles. Try craft stores for both the basket and hat at a decent price.

Shoes are the hardest part, but for women a pair of leather sandals or plain slip-on shoes will work fine. Try to find something you will be comfortable walking in all day.

Men and Boys

You need a pair of pants, and a shirt. You might be able to find baggy drawstring pants at a thrift shop. Try to avoid resorting to sweats. Stick to earth tones and solid fabrics. Stripes are ok, too.

If you can get your hands on a shirt that laces at the neck you are all set. If you're not up to sewing one, try to find a shirt with one of those low, round collars. Just don't use a modern dress shirt with a wing collar. If you're feeling really manly (and aren't afraid of sunburn) go shirtless.

A jerkin or a loose vest is an option, just be sure you don't wear a modern suit vest. These are especially nice in leather, but it's not required.

Shoes can be difficult, but not impossible. Sandals are ok, and you might already have a pair. Leather (or simulated) please, not nylon straps and no bright colors. Moccasin boots work, either the knee-high or ankle ones. Cowboy boots, work boots, and motorcycle boots are all too modern. Believe it or not you can buy a reasonable copy of a renaissance style man's shoe in those discount shoe warehouses like Payless. They might not be in the men's section though, so don't be squeamish. As a last resort a really dirty beat to hell pair of dress shoes will do.

A hat and a pouch will finish off your first costume. The hat is to keep the sun off, and you can wear a wide-brimmed straw hat or a small brimless cap, like a beret or a greek fisherman's cap. Don't worry if you can't find a hat (unless you are concerned about getting sunstroke). You'll want a pouch tied securely to your belt to act as a pocket for your keys and wallet. Lose the watch, cell phone and sunglasses.

Pattern Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions for commercially available pattern sets. They are not entirely "historically accurate" but they will get you started, and they are easy to find. At least one of these brands should be on sale for $.99 to $1.99 in any given week at one of the chain fabric stores. I also have a page with more reviews of commercial patterns.




Butterick 6196 Butterick 3072 -- shirt and pants
Butterick 5656
Butterick 5656
McCalls 2793, 2938, 3282 McCalls 2802, 3296 Butterick 6305
Simplicity 8715, 8855 Simplicity 9633 + 9650 Simplicity 9836
Simplicity 9966

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2001 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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