Dawn's Costume Guide

Some notes on costuming for hot weather

Ren-faires and recreation events are fun, but most of us don't have the pleasure of living in the cooler damp climate of renaissance Europe. So, what are some good ways to cope with the heat and humidity and still look reasonable in costume? Here's an email I received, and my answer:


I just stumbled across your website. While I'm not an avid faire-goer, I'm hoping to dress for the [xxx] Renaissance Faire near [xxx] this summer. My problem? [xxx] is always ungodly hot. And humid. Sometimes so humid that it's raining. When I look at the simpler Renaissance patterns (I don't have the time to do the full Elizabethan look), all I can think is how HOT they look to wear. When I've made period clothing in the past, I'm usually wearing it around Halloween, not in 85 degree weather.

So if you don't mind dispensing some advice, what fabrics might you suggest to keep the feel of the period, yet not suffocate the wearer? As I've already bought them, I'm thinking about making either Simplicity 8855 or the Fantasy Fashions "Renaissance Maiden" pattern. If you think either of these is a bad idea for the heat, I'd like to know that too.

I would really appreciate any advice. I'm a fairly experienced sewer, although I do not have the dedication to authenticity that the SCA folks have.

Thanks for your time,

I would suggest first either summer weight cottons or linens for the underclothes, and those or silk for the overlayers. Silk can be pretty hot next to your skin, but it's nice in a skirt. Obviously, if silk is out of your budget don't worry about it, it usually is beyond mine, too, but sometimes I find fantastic deals on the clearance table... Linen can be pricy, but this time of year it's on sale a lot, and you really won't need much for a bodice or cap.

At any rate, avoid anything synthetic (polyester, acetate, nylon) because they do not breathe, allowing you to sweat, and you'll feel like you're wearing a big plastic bag. One exception is rayon, which you can sometimes find in solids or appropriate patterns, which is lovely for full swishy skirts. It's made from wood pulp (heavily processed) and manages to keep you cool enough. It does tend to shrink and bleed, so wash it well before you start a sewing project.

I'd make the chemise from plain white cotton muslin. Cotton batiste if you can find it, but not the poly-cotton batiste. Make it knee-length. This will cover your thighs but not be so long it prevents air moving under your skirts.

Make your skirts and bodice from cotton of the same weight as muslin or a little heavier. Try not to use the heavy thick broadcloth. It wears well, but it's hotter, and can often be so stiff it's difficult to work with. Be sure your skirt fabric is not transparent. You want lightweight but not indecent. Another reason to have a chemise that is at least knee-length is to act as a "slip". :)

I take a couple big safety pins (or diaper pins) attached inside my bodice for emergencies, and one of those is getting to faire and discovering the day is going to be lots hotter than expected. Then I hike up my overskirt on one side and pin it up so the air moves a bit more around my legs. Even if you're only wearing one skirt you can still hike the hem up a couple inches and tuck it into your waistband to get a bit more breeze on your ankles.

I think both of those pattern are fine for attending a fair for the first time in costume. On the 8855 you may want to leave off the shawl/drape if it's going to be muggy and hot. You don't need or want the layer, even pinned to your back it will be awful. On the Fantasy Fashions pattern you will need a skirt with the chemise. I don't own that one so I'm not sure if it's included, but from what I can tell, it isn't. The caps from both patterns are fine, however depending on your personal comfort level you may find them too hot. Easy enough to take them off, though.

Good luck and happy sewing!


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