What NOT to Wear: The Time Traveler’s Wife

So, you want to be a reenactor? Want to come participate in the SCA or other historical re-creation organization? Great. Let’s talk about what you should wear while attending. Now, this post could be a diatribe along the lines of:

“Let me be clear that it is only OK mix combat boots and fairy wings with a Victorian era ensemble at your local Renaissance Fair  – not at a living history event. To attend at the very minimum you really need to put effort into a complete historically accurate outfit. Yes, accurate underwear, too…”

Yes, there are many who think that coming to a living history event would involve getting lit into by someone along the lines of the above rant. This post will present thoughts on a few realities. First, in a group like the SCA, whose mission is to promote historical education, the focus for members is on progress rather than perfection. No one is expected to adhere to a strict standard of appearance for a certain time and place but all are asked to make a reasonable effort to appear as one would before 1600 AD. Second, despite the fact that an organization may have a broader scope than ‘Summer of 1176 in Legnano, Italy’, there *is* a responsibility on the part of every participant to look plausible for a specific time and place (and maybe to not wear the headdress of a French woman in 1750 with the outfit of a Persian in 1172 and the footwear of a Norseman in 800 AD). The time and place can be broad, say, early Irish or 14th Century France or 10th Century Scandinavia. Third, out of respect for the time and efforts the other participants have put into making an event look and feel like the past ask for help if you don’t know what to do, what to bring, or what NOT to wear. The people who are members of these organizations will be more than happy to help you as part of their mission is usually to educate others on the arts, sciences, fashion, and daily lives of past cultures.

Dress-Italienischer_Meister_The Betrothal 1475 gonella in painting by gozzoli 1461  pellanda

As I am one of those members, and a lover of all things fashionable, I would like to help you help others dress appropriately. I’ve compiled a list of tips you can use and share, as well as a diagram of what is good and what is not good. What I propose is neither expensive nor difficult to produce. It’s a place to start while you decide on where to land permanently 🙂

1. Cover your body. Unless you are Venetian or Mantuan in the 16th Century modesty is *very* important. For safety, comfort, and health you don’t want to expose to much of your body to the elements, much less to the eyes of strangers.

2. Layers are best, starting with proper underwear. If you dress in layers, even when you do roll up your sleeves to work you still have some covering. A chemise or camicia for men and women is a staple throughout the middle ages and renaissance.

3. Cover your hair. Really. Unless you claim to be from an Italian City-State… and even then you should not just wear a ponytail as the Italians were very serious about the styling of their uncovered coiffure (they desired to be ben acconciati). So use a veil, turban or make a pretty bun and use bobby pins to add some loose pearls.

4. Wear a belt and hang a pouch from it. You can tuck your dress into the belt to keep it from dragging in the mud or rainwater puddles, or for easier movement when completing work tasks. You can store your cell phone, lip gloss (a must for me), and ID in the pouch so no one has to look at the sorcery of the 21st Century.

5. For ideas on your wardrobe go to Reconstructing History’s website and take a gander at their ensembles. On the front of their patterns in the basic look (with all components pictured) of styles across the ages. You can do the same at Revival Clothing’s medieval site.

6. Shoes is where you have the most leeway. Your dress probably covers these and I am a firm believer in comfortable and supportive footwear. If you must wear modern shoes try to get those in a style that mimics historical footwear (Bjorn shoes has fab mary jane styles, Minnetonka moccasins has plausible suede boots, and somewhere in Target there is probably a simple leather-looking pair of flats that would work).

XIV XV Century Photo
14th and 15th Century ladies with covered hair, appropriate layers, belts, pouches, and attitude. It’s all you need.
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