Renaissance Costuming FAQ

Version 1.3   Updated 6/15/03

You've finally decided that you want to go to a renaissance faire. Well, IT'S ABOUT FRICKIN' TIME!!! Oh, sorry, just kidding… Congratulations! you've made the first step into the wonderful world we call renaissance faire. Now, you begin to wonder to yourself: should I go to this faire dressed like everybody else, or should I dress up in this renaissance garb type stuff? That's a great question. I believe in order to truly experience the Renaissance Faire you absolutely must dress up. But that's my personal opinion and should, by no means, be the end all and be all of renaissance existence for you.

This FAQ is designed to answer questions for the most basic of costuming questions to those questions a more advanced costumer might ask. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail them to me and I will try to add them to this FAQ.

Problem # 1: Should I Dress Up To Go To Faire?

Problem # 2: I Don't Sew! Where Do I Find Garb For Faire?

Problem # 3: I Sew! What Do I Need To Know To Make My Garb? (Geared towards peasant garb)

Costume Information For Middle & Upper Class Garb

Other Garb - Information on Non-English Garb

Pattern Suggestions

Glossary of Elizabethan Costume Terms

Problem # 1

Should I Dress Up To Go To Faire?

My answer to you will always be "absolutely", although, you must realize, I'm very biased. Let's take a more studied view of this. Generally by donning renaissance garb you are expressing the desire to become more of a "participant" than a "patron". At the same time don't make the mistake of thinking that dressing up makes you a participant of the faire you are attending, you are still a patron or more aptly a "playtron" (a patron that dresses up for faire). I think I'm jumping ahead of myself here, though. Allow me to explain myself:

A Participant is someone who works the faire, generally as cast, performer, merchant or support personnel.

A Patron is someone who pays to get into the faire. These are your normal type folks who go to faire in normal, everyday clothing and watch what goes on at the faire.

A Playtron is someone who pays to get into the faire and dresses up like a participant does. Avid renaissance goers coined this term to delineate between your average patron and those people who are just as interested in the experience as a participant, but do not have the time and/or money to devote to working eight weekends of faire.

There are several things you must keep in mind, however, when you decided to dress up for faire as a playtron. Always be aware of the faire's stated costume and weapon policies. Each faire is different when it comes to their ideas regarding patron costuming, but please make to sure to be decent. That chain-mail bikini may be really cute and look great on you, but please, please, please wear something underneath it - even if it's a single color bikini set. I'd rather not have to see your unmentionables under your "clothing". Weapon policies are likewise variable. IF a faire allows you, as a patron, to wear your weapons they will most likely ask you to peace-tie your weapon so that it cannot be easily drawn. Some faires go so far as to ban patrons from carrying weapons. Finally, remember your average patron thinks that everyone wearing a costume is, in some way, affiliated with the faire so, please, act accordingly. Most faires expect you to, as a costumed person, follow some very basic rules. If you're not sure what those are call up the faire management and ask.

So now that I've convinced you that you absolutely have to dress up or people are going to laugh at you (no, sorry… just kidding again) it's time to figure how we're going to get you all garbed up. The next dilemma we encounter could be answered several ways. If you can sew and have access to a sewing machine skip down to Problem # 3 for some advice and suggestions. If you don't sew and really don't want to figure out how then move directly on to Problem # 2.

Problem #2

I Don't Sew! Where Do I Find Garb For Faire?

  1. Rent a costume - Most of the larger faires have some sort of place where you can rent garb. Usually you'll find this shop along the entrance corridor once inside the faire. Pricing on these rented costumes usually reflects the quality and kind of costume you'll be renting. Quite often I have heard, however, that if you forgo renting the costume and add a few dollars to the price you were going to pay, you can easily buy your own outfit. The bonus of this is that you'll have something to show besides a few pictures of what you wore at faire. But you might take the option of renting if you don't think you'll go to faire more than once in your lifetime. If you do buy garb and decide not to go again, think of it this way: Instant Halloween Costume!
  2. Raid your own closet for period-looking clothing - For men this tactic works much easier, and a link is included in this FAQ to a site that can help you alter some clothing to go to faire. (The Auld Monger's Costumes for Manly Men is the site.) For a simple woman's costume, I'd suggest a long, flowing skirt in a solid color (that broomstick skirt you thought you'd never wear again might just come in handy now), a large blouse, (peasant style, if possible) and a fitted vest of some sort (you know those leather vests that were so popular years ago!).
  3. Buy garb at faire - As an avid faire-goer you might decide to buy your garb at faire. Put about $200 aside if you plan on buying a reasonable set of peasant garb. Browse the shops for an hour or two and find the garb you like, try it on and make sure it fits right. If you really like what you've tried on stay in your new garb and ask if the vendor has a bag you could stash your regular clothing. (Don't count on there being bathroom space to change; instead what I did when I bought my first costume was went out to the car and changed, but that might not be reasonable at the larger faires when your car is parked for what seems like miles from the entrance)
  4. Mail-order your garb before faire - There may be a store specializing in Renaissance/Medieval clothing near where you live so maybe you won't have to mail-order your costume, but for those less fortunate souls there is a variety of Renaissance Clothiers online. For a first costume I'd recommend a store like Chivalry Sports to buy from.
  5. Have someone make your new garb - Find a seamstress/tailor in your area who is reasonably experienced in costume making - Explain to them the kind of costume you want and see if they can make it. If you already have the pattern and fabrics for the costume explain that to them also.

Problem # 3

I Sew! What Do I Need To Know To Make My Garb?

(Geared towards peasant garb)

Let me warn you now, I am a strong proponent for making your first character an English Peasant. This is a personal choice, but allow me to explain myself. First, this is and will be the easiest garb to make and so that is what I will detail in this section. Second, playing an English peasant allows for lots of variation in the character and the chance to participate in numerous types of gigs. Third, this garb will last you forever. You can muck around in the mud or Morris dance it's all the same. And if you get a rip or hole in your garb baste a patch on the area and you have Insta-Peasant!! Fourth, this is a renaissance faire set in England and since nobility and middle class made up no more than ten percent of the population it stands to reason that the majority of folks at faire would be dressed as peasants. Finally, this will be the least expensive garb to get together since you don't have to worry about finding tapestry fabrics or velvets or silk, etc…

Peasant garb was pretty much the same from the Tudor Period to the Elizabethan period and as such provides with a multi-use set of garb that can be used at multiple faires.

Peasants had barely any money, they lived on what they could. They wore their clothing until it couldn't be worn anymore, and after that they'd use it to make other clothing. They spun their own flax and took it to the weaver to make the cloth.

  1. Color Choices

    1. Unacceptable Colors:
      1. Purple - okay, as a general rule you don't wear purple at faire. But let me dispel a popular myth before I go into my reasons why. Yes, royal purple dye was made by crushing 1000's of tiny sea snails and it was very expensive to get. However, there are numerous berries out there that make purple hued dyes that, I'm quite sure, peasants would have worn. The sumptuary laws stated that no one besides the Queen and her family could wear purple silk. So why, you ask, do I say you can't wear purple? Because it's an executive decision made by faire management so that the average patron can tell the difference between us lowly peasants and her royal majesty, Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth.
      2. Bright reds, blacks & jewel-toned colors. I do not follow that normal injunction that you cannot wear these colors, but I do prefer to wear these colors in their toned-down, faded versions. You see, while these dyes were available for general use, they were not very color fast and had a tendency to fade quickly unless you could re-dye them. As a peasant you could not afford to dye your clothes once or twice a month as it took too much time and weakened the structure of the fabric.
      3. Fluorescent Colors: Stay away from fluorescent colors of all sorts. To the untrained, modern eye bright aquamarine blue doesn't mesh with the surrounding environment. So even though you have a period dye recipe to make just that color I strongly caution that you plan on using a different color.
    2. Acceptable Colors:
      1. Earth-tones: browns, greens, golds, rusts, and variations there-of. Grays of most hues are acceptable.
      2. Blues: Stay away from the jewel-toned blues, and go with more grayish-blues. Just remember to stay away from the sapphire blue color.
      3. White: Again, I turn away from the norm on this particular choice. I believe it quite appropriate to have a white chemise. After all, this was the item you would wash most often, as it was closest to your skin.
      4. Off-White: while I find that white is appropriate, as the "playful peasant" one might prefer to wear an off-white chemise in order to offset stains, etc… Perhaps this color is more practical in terms of faire since it doesn't show the dirt as well as straight white.

  2. Fabric Choices - Generally as a peasant your fabrics would be less fine than those of the upper classes. Perhaps because you were forced to spin your own threads and weave your own fabric the weave would be more open, and the fabric more coarse due to the amount of time you had to spend on it.
    1. Wool - first and foremost in my mind is wool for costuming and perhaps one of the most period fabrics. It is warm enough for those cold faire days, but breathable on those hot days. The weave of wool varies from type to type - wear a more open, coarse weave as a peasant. But wool was also period for those of the upper classes, only their wool would have a finer weave. Generally, most people go for wursted wool as it stays longer and is less likely to stretch.
    2. Linen - linen is a fabric made from flax that grew abundantly in Renaissance England making linen an easily appropriated fabric. Linen is to the Renaissance as cotton is to Modern days. Linen weights vary depending on the weave and the thickness of threads. All undergarments were made from linen, and was usually the finest fabric a peasant would have.
    3. Cotton - Since the cotton gin is yet to be invented, cotton was very expensive, as it had to be de-burred by hand. However, due to the price of linen nowadays cotton is an acceptable substitute. But make sure when buying the fabric that it is 100% cotton, even if it's 90/10 it won't breathe quite right.
    4. Natural Fabrics - a general rule of thumb when choosing fabrics for faire is to make sure it's a natural fabric. (Here's a clue: if it's shiny, stretchy, or suede-like cloth it's not PERIOD!)
    5. Fabrics That Aren't Okay for Peasant Garb - Velvet, satin, corduroy, silk, etc… If it's expensive now, it was most likely expensive back then!

  3. Peasant Garb Descriptions
    1. Women's Garb
      1. Chemise - made out of linen and/or cotton. Most people had more than one shirt, or their one shirt was washed more often because it was the item closest to the skin. Made in white or off-white in numerous styles - either high-necked, drawstring, etc… Never wear the chemise off the shoulders - it just looks plain trashy.
      2. Underskirt - one of two skirts any respectable woman would wear. Usually older and more lived in. Sometimes decorated with trim to be shown off when overskirt is hiked up. Made in wool or other natural fabrics.
      3. Overskirt - the other of two skirts a woman wears. Usually of a heavier fabric, and much newer than the underskirt. Often decorated with trim. Worn out of the way while working, and worn down the rest of the time.
      4. Bodice - Well-fitted vest like garment that supports the bosom (Yes, this means if your cleavage is pouring over the top then you're not wearing a period bodice. Remember your nipples need to be under the bodice line). Either front, side, or back lacing, possibly hook and eye closures. Dressier bodices have epaulets and skirting.
      5. Sleeves - everyone should have sleeves. They can be any sort of style and should attach to the bodice - whether or not they're removable is your choice. Just because you have sleeves doesn't mean you can have a short-sleeved chemise.
      6. Hats - Everyone needs to wear two hats. The first hat should be close-fitting and cover most of the hair. The second hat is more decorative and of a nicer fabric. Possibly matches some item from your garb.
      7. Shoes and Stockings - Mary Jane type shoes, clogs, ankle boots, etc. all work for faire. You should have single color socks that go to the knee at least (don't wanna see anything we shouldn't - like ankles!).
      8. Other - If you don't feel covered enough you can wear bloomers (yes, I know they're not period - but you don't chafe either). Cloaks offer protection at those faires during the cold season.
      9. Belt and Accessories - All peasants should have at least one belt with at least one pouch, an eating knife, and a tankard. Some other accessories might include extra pouches, handkerchief, & other things that denote your character. Faire favors on the bodice are a nice accent, but under ten please - this isn't a contest to see how much flare we can wear on our costumes, folks.

    2. Men's Garb
      1. Shirt - made out of linen and/or cotton. Most people had more than one shirt, or their one shirt was washed more often because it was the item closest to the skin. Made in white or off-white in numerous styles - either high-necked, drawstring, etc…
      2. Breeches - should be knee length, or if longer covered to mid-calf by boots. Generally, men would only wear their breeches to just below the knee, if their pants were longer they'd strap them down from the ankle to below the knee.
      3. Jerkin/Vest/Doublet - Men's vest worn over the shirt. Either loose or well-fitting with detachable or attached sleeves.
      4. Sleeves - everyone should have sleeves. They can be any sort of style and should attach to the bodice - whether or not they're removable is your choice. Just because you have sleeves doesn't mean you can have a short-sleeved chemise.
      5. Hat - Everyone needs to wear two hats. The first hat should be close-fitting and cover most of the hair. The second hat is more decorative and of a nicer fabric. Possibly matches some item from your garb.
      6. Shoes and Stockings - boots are acceptable, if not period. Ankle height shoes were the most period worn over stockings that went at least above the knee.
      7. Belt - All peasants should have at least one belt with at least one pouch, an eating knife, and a tankard. Some other accessories might include extra pouches, handkerchief, & other things that denote your character. Faire favors on the jerkin/doublet/sash are a nice accent, but under ten please - this isn't a contest to see how much flare we can wear on our costumes, folks.

Costume Information for Middle & Upper Class Garb

This section is intended as a basic description of what middle and upper class Elizabethans might wear, but you can really never know. Their styles were many and varied far and wide. Each class was also stratified within itself. Merchants varied from lower middle class to upper middle class and there was a wide strata - lower middle class garb was barely a step above peasant garb, while upper middle class garb was close enough to upper class garb that the unseasoned commoner might mistake a wealthy merchant for one of the nobility.

  1. Class Descriptions
    1. Nobility - Their dress was meant to strike awe into the hearts of the peasants and to show their superiority over the "commoners". "Appearance" truly "was everything." Some might carry a small fortune on their back in jewels, sometimes as much as a year's wages for an entire village. For some nobles dressing their finest meant resigning themselves to bankruptcy, or refusing to pay off their debts. Equally important to their mode of dress were jewels - they were a necessary item; if you didn't have the money for the real jewels you'd buy false ones.
    2. Merchant class - Generally they lived in small towns/villages and farmed small farm plots. They had enough money as to send their children to school. Merchant class clothing was more substantial than peasant class and followed nobility trends as far as it could. Most women were educated: they could read and write, generally had control over apprentices, and a widow could even take a place in her husband's guild. Merchants used jewels in limited amounts and much, much less than nobility did.

  2. Color and Fabric Notes
    1. Color Notes
      1. Jewel Tones - The jewel tones (i.e. sapphire, emerald, ruby, etc…) are now appropriate clothing colors.
      2. Black - Middle Class will be able to use this is more ample amounts than peasants. They, for instance, might have a chemise/shirt made completely in black. Nobles had entire outfits made of black.
      3. Purple - still reserved for the queen.
      4. All peasant colors are acceptable.

    2. Fabric Notes
      1. All fabrics worn by peasants are acceptable
      2. Corduroy, Velvet, Silks, and Satins - For middle class these are acceptable as accent colors, but no entire outfits made of these materials.
      3. Nobles - may have outfits of any period material.
      4. Fabric weave is less noticeable now. Wools are worsted, linen is of a finer grade since you likely would go to a mercer's shop for materials, or even a draper for ready-to-wear items. Their continued success depended on the quality of the fabrics and/or garments they sold.

  3. Middle Class Garb Descriptions
    1. Lower Middle Class - Same as peasant garb, but newer, and made of better fabrics.
    2. Middle Class - Here garments begin to look more like upper class garments. Some changes for women include: high necked chemise possibly a partlet, split overskirt, more trim and decorations, corsets, back lacing bodices, possibly hoop skirts. Men's garments become better fitting, they would wear tighter fitting doublets, maybe paned slops and had full-length hosen. Hats were either flat cap or tall hats. Fabrics are less expensive and fine than those of the upper classes, but just as much time goes into their making.
    3. Upper Middle Class - Any of the changes in middle class garb are considered de rigeur for the upper middle class - they are trying to emulate the upper class and non-landed gentry, and will push their purses as far as possible. Fabrics are finer and more expensive, and since some middle class folks had more wealth than their upper class betters did, they were willing to pay the sumptuary taxes on those items that were not normally available to people of their station.

  4. Upper Class and Nobility Garb Descriptions
    1. Courtiers' Garb - this is the finest garb a noble would own. This was their most elaborate garb worn in court while trying to curry favor in the Queen's eye. In order to impress they might often bankrupt themselves so they will stay "in fashion". These were their "inside" clothes worn when in attendance at court and/or formal activities.
    2. Upper Class Garb - these everyday fashions might be equal in stature to those of the Upper Middle Class in terms of fabric, colors and trim. More than likely, however, they were only slightly less sumptuous then their ostentatious court garb - possibly in more reserved colors and more suited for travel.

Other Garb - Information on Non-English Garb

Okay, I realize there are some of you out there that I will never be able to convince that you should play an English character

  1. Scottish / Irish Characters. So, the Scottish thing is soooo way overdone at faire now, but I felt I should include because I'd prefer to get some real information out there. If you plan on playing a Scottish character please play it well and do lots of research. The Irish thing is done much less than the Scottish, but if dressed accurately most people have a hard time distinguishing the Irish from the Scots. Small hint: they're the ones without the kilts. Some information taken from: Gathering of the Gaels Costuming Page.
    1. Men -
      1. Kilt/Breccan (scottish only): This can be made of wool or wool blend - don't worry too much as long as it looks natural. And don't worry about forking out hundreds of dollars for a specific clan tartan - they weren't around as of yet so feel free to buy the non-distinct plaids you see at most fabric stores. Not only will a generic piece of plaid from your local fabric store be cheaper, it will also look more rustic and unrefined unlike modern tartans. There is no one absolutely necessary length, but start with at least five (5) yards and add a little more depending on how girthy you are. This will be pleated and belted on, not sewn. Check out Kalani's site on Kilt Pleating
      2. Léine: If there's any item that’s as debated about as the kilt it would be the léine. There's very little information regarding what it was made out of, what colors it was worn in, or how it was constructed - so we are forced to rely on woodcuts from old books and our imagination. Up until a short time ago most people wore drawstring léines, but now there is debate as to how they were constructed: without drawstrings, maybe with pleats, or with none of that at all. Made out of linen or other similar material in white, off-white or saffron.
      3. Ionar: A sort of short doublet worn with partial sleeves due to the bag sleeves of the léine. Worn in wool or leather in any color and it can be decorated or unadorned.
      4. Boots/Shoes: In general most people went barefoot. In safety's best interest, however, I recommend you invest in a pair of knee-high boots and/or ghillies (lace up shoes that cover the foot but lace up the leg.

    2. Women -
      1. Léine: Women's léines are very similar to men's except that most likely they are full length, usually reaching the ground or, at least, the ankles.
      2. Overdress: There are several options for the overdress an Irish or Scottish woman can wear. One option for women is what we call "the tucked-up kirtle". The kirtle is a simple fitted dress popular all over Europe from the 14th century. Lucas De Heere drew Irishwomen wearing such a garment with a contrasting petticote, tucked up into a belt to show a different coloured fabric or fur lining. The garment laces closed in the front with zig-zag lacing. Should be worn with sleeves: either the léine underneath, the partial sleeves like the Ionar has, or fitted sleeves. The shinrone gown, or what many call the bog dress, is similar in style to the dress many Elizabethan English women wear with a few notable exceptions: the waistline is dropped from your waist to the top of the hips, it isn't as fitted, the skirt is closed in the front and fuller.
      3. Under Skirts: Simple gored skirt or gather waist skirt of linen or wool is acceptable in single colors.
      4. Earasaid/Shawl (Scottish Specific): This is the modern word for the garment as no name is given for the women's plaide during the 16th century. It's suspected at this time that it was worn more like a wrapped shawl to fight the chill and not belted at all like it's male counterpart. Read the men's section on kilts for notes about tartan and fabric type. 3 yards should be sufficient for any woman, if you choose to have more, just be sure you can carry it all.
      5. Bréid/Kertch: Women covered their heads after marriage in both Ireland and Scotland. A linen (or cotton) head covering should be worn by marriage aged women at all times. Wearing hair in braids coiled around the head or loose is also acceptable. The kertch is a triangular cloth tied around the head to cover the hair. The kertch originated from religion. The Catholics believed that once a woman married she had to cover her hair because she was no longer "pure", hence the kertch. The reason for the kertch's triangle shape has it's origins in religion as well: the three points of the triangle represent the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and The Holy Ghost.

        • Unmarried women could wear their hair any way they liked, although they had no say whatsoever when it came to clan, for lack of a more appropriate word, dealings. A married woman wore a kertch in order to cover up her hair, as the showing of your hair was a sign of a maiden's virtue. When a woman was married she wore the kertch to show that she was married. As a married woman she gained nearly as much say as men had in clan dealings.

  2. Landsknechte and Kampfrauen (or, those Crazy Germans)
    Who can forget the dazzling spectacle that is a German's garb? The bright and mismatched colors that characterize so many processions? The dizzying spirals of puffed and slashed garb. Well, that's those crazy Germans for you (only slightly less crazy than those Puritans I've heard tell). I must say I've always admired their garb and have several times almost joined the ranks of those fantastically attired men and women, and never would have looked back. I do caution you - playing a German character is not as easy as one might think. They are very busy people - processing here and there, doing battle pageant, practicing drill and all while wearing a hat the size of a large pizza (or an extra-large in some cases) and several pounds of wool - all in the summer heat. But putting that aside I would love to see more of their beautiful garb around faire.
    1. Basic Landsknecht Information
    2. The Landsknechts were German mercenary soldiers whose existence flourished from approximately 1487 - 1556. Originally, they were created as a force to support the empire building penchant of Maximilian I, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. Given the political condition of the Austrian/Holy Roman Empire, many Landsknecht companies quickly found that they had better luck hiring out to the highest bidder than waiting around for the Emperor to call on them. The highest bidder was anyone who could pay including Maximilian's enemy, the King of France - a practice which Maximilian put a stop to very quickly, ordering all Germans in the pay of the French to come home!

      "Landsknechte" or "servants of the country" were recruited primarily from the poor in southern Germany. While the life expectancy of the average Landsknecht was not high, the monetary prospects more than compensated. But military camps were far from sanitary, and sixteenth century medicine had little effectiveness against some of the more virulent diseases. There was no tolerance for rule breaking and punishment was swift and violent, battles were bloody and fierce, and the living conditions were likely uncomfortable. However, a Landsknecht earned more in a month than a farmer earned in a year. If he survived his fighting days he could retire a wealthy man.

      An additional benefit the Landsknecht received was exemption from the sumptuary laws regulating clothing styles that other citizens had to follow. Maximilian granted them this dispensation because "Their lives are so brutish and short, that dressing well is one of their few joys. I am not going to take that from them." As such they became known for their outlandish attire. Their sleeves were mismatched, with one pattern of puffs and colors on one arm and a different puff pattern and colors on the other. Pants legs sometimes mismatched too. They wore large flat hats, the size of pizzas, festooned with ostrich feathers. Quite a few wore disgustingly large codpieces covering their genitals. Even shoes were decorated with puff-and-slash.

      Primarily, the Landsknechte were a force of soldiers armed with pikes (pole weapons 14-18 feet long with 10-inch steel heads) and aided by "shock troops" armed with immense "zwei-händer" (two-handed) swords or with halberds (pole weapons 6-7 feet long). Some Landsknecht carried arquebuses (rifle-sized guns with matchlock firing mechanisms) and companies often had an assortment of heavy artillery. Using novel - often sneaky! - tactics, they soon earned the respect of their enemies. In their heyday, they were the finest fighting forces in Europe.

      Men who joined a Landsknecht Fähnlein usually brought along a woman to care for them - usually a sister, wife, or daughter. These women were called "Hure" - literally, "whores" - but prostitutes they were not. "Hure" was a general term used to denote campfollowers. Other period names included:

      • "Kampfrau" (camp wife)
      • "Marketenderin" (Women who cares (goes to the market) for you)
      • "Schlachtenbummlerin" (Battle Loiterer)

      They cared for the men between battles, and even participated in battles, following behind the fighting, looting the dead and killing the almost-dead. Some even assisted the heavy artillery, stripping enemy houses of wood that was used later for earthworks.

      Sources include:

      "The Landsknecht" by Rachel Ward, found at the St Maximilian Website.

      "Women With the Fähnlein" - found at the St. Michael's Website

    3. Men's German Garb
      1. Shirt: In one aspect German shirts are very unique - they did not use the yoked style so prevalent in many other countries at the time. Also the ever-popular "drawstring" faire shirts are less then period. One variation I’ve seen on the German shirt came up only to the base of the neck, and the fullness of the shirt was pleated and/or gathered onto a collar. Other variations include the smock-type shirt with full sleeves, and the normal collared Elizabethan shirt with box-pleated ruff.

      2. Doublet: German doublets vary as much in design as any other countries would. Most often, however, they favored a side or back closure over front closures. Some overdoublets might cross in front as a bathrobe would. The doublet often had elaborate slashing. Another front closure doublet seems an adaptation of the placket-front bodice. You get into the doublet much as you would a shirt and the placket (which is much like the top of overalls) is buttoned and/or laced into place.

      3. Trews: The trews German men wore never reached much further down the leg than immediately below the knee. Styles varied from form-fitting pant to the wide leg "pumpkin" pants. Slashing was prevalent on this garment, and rarely did the pattern of slashing on one leg match that of the other leg.

      4. Waffenroch (pronounced (approx.) vawf - fen - rawk): Literally "war-coat" - the skirted doublet that some German’s wear, you may remember it more aptly as the long, skirted doublet Henry VIII adopted. The origins of the name may be only a "faire-ism" but it is appropriate as it was worn over the already single or double layer of doublets and trews as an additional protection against enemy weapons. Typically this doublet has a side closure. Some also have placket closures in the front (perhaps just for show).

      5. Stockings/Hosen: All men would wear stockings of some sort. Length varied from knee-high to full leg-length hose. Striped hosen and/or parti-color hosen were common, as was wearing two different colors of hose.

      6. Hats: There are two hats a German man would wear: something close to a woman’s headwrap and then the over-hat.

        1. Head-wrap or Under-cap.

          • Caul - this is a smaller version of the popular muffin cap. The band that sits on the head is thinner and the bag for the hat is cut much closer to the head. In most cases men will wear this on top of the head and under the larger over-hat.
          • Arming Cap - this cap may be worn alone or under another hat. Typically the arming cap is made out of leather or wool - it looks an awful lot like a padded version of the biggins cap. Some might want to put some slashing on this cap. This cap was adopted to protect the head from the helmet. You can find a good pattern for an arming cap here.

        2. Over-hat.

          • The typical hat most men wore is what we affectionately call the "pizza" hat. This hat has a large brim, in some cases measuring over three feet in the circumference. There are many variations on this style of hat including: parti-colored hats, "barber-pole" trimmed hats, pleated, starfish brimmed, etc...

      7. Shoes: Shoes would be sturdy and well-suited for marching. Black or brown leather with dark soles. Some shoes might boast puff and slash patterns.

    4. Women's German Garb
      1. Bodices: - Most bodice styles have front or side closures. Back closures may be required to reproduce certain sleeve/bodice combinations. Invisible closures (hook and eye) are preferred for front and back closures. Side closures may be laced.

        • Pre-1550 styles (This is generally what you will see Landsknecht re-enactors wearing)
          Bodices have a higher waistline and the shoulder is rounder.
          These styles are mostly seen in art by Durer, Cranach, Breugel, and Holbein.

        • Post-1550 styles
          Bodice waistlines become longer and many have high puffs at the shoulder.
          These styles are mostly seen in art by Jost Amman and Vicellio

        There were numerous variations to the German bodice, each varying in style and cut based on the status of the wearer. Bodice designs included the square or round-necked bodice that was most common. Another popular variant was a doublet-style with a high-neck into a mandarin collar. As you reached a higher status one might wear a placket front bodice or a stand-up collared bodice. Fabrics varied as much among the social strata of Landsknecht society as it did in English society.

      2. Shirts: As with men’s styles, women’s shirts featured no yoked or drawstring designs. Similar to the drawstring design, however, a shirt might be pleated onto a rounded collar (think drawstring shirt with no drawstring). Another possible shirt would be the A-line smock and/or kirtle. The smock is a close-fitting garment with little or no gathering in the body, but can have full or close-fitting sleeves. The top of the smock may have a low, rounded neck or the top may reach the base of the neck and have a simple tie closure. The Elizabethan smock with collar and box-pleated ruff is also appropriate.

      3. Sleeves: In general women’s sleeves tended to be less dramatic than their male counterparts with less slashing, and not quite as voluminous. Most sleeves, in fact, were fairly tight in the arm – generally having slashing on only the upper arm portion of the sleeve. Typically sleeves would somehow attach to the bodice either with laces, hook and eye, or even sewn on. Some sleeves, however, are freestanding and need no attachment to the bodice to remain on.

      4. Skirts: Skirts tend to be long. An overskirt should at least touch the ground when worn loose. All classes of women wore their skirts up if the situation demanded it. Often horizontal banding decorates most skirts. Later period skirts sometimes split in the front.

        1. Overskirt: Overskirts were gored and cartridge-pleated onto a waistband. More than likely the overskirt would be attached to short-waisted bodices through basting and/or judicious use of eyelets and ties. Skirts measured at least 120" to 150" at the bottom and the hem of the skirt usually, at least, touched the ground. Depending on the status of the wearer the skirt could have anywhere from 0 - 5 bands around the bottom in various colors and fabrics. Among the upper classes skirts always had at least one horizontal band around the bottom of the skirt.

        2. Underskirt: Might be made of a slightly lighter weight fabric than the overskirt. Some banding may decorate the bottom. It should be flat-pleated into a waistband in order to avoid bulging at the waist, and approximately the same length or a little shorter than the overskirt.

      5. Hats: German women, as well, wore two separate hats: a headcloth and an overhat. Headcloths varied in style from some very similar to men’s style to particularly odd and overdone and nothing like a man’s style.

        1. Starched and folded cloth - White or off-white fabric, possibly with a woven-in stripe of narrow, embroidered stripe in black, gold or dark blue. These cloths would be heavily starched and folded into intricate patterns. They are not just pieces of rag, but hats that can be worn with or without another hat, and as such you wouldn’t have noticeable unraveling edges or jagged cuts.
        2. Cauls - this is a smaller version of the popular muffin cap. The band that sits on the head is thinner and the bag for the hat is cut much closer to the head. It is this hat that is often mistaken for a snood in portraits due to the embroidery and decorations that adorned these caps. Generally this cap was made of net or woven cloth and had criss-cross embroidery in an accent color. Sometimes cauls were adorned with additional embroidery, beads and/or pearls. The caul is worn over the hair on the back of the head and pinned in place.
        3. Caps - There are three main styles of caps that were often seen on German women:

          1. Flemish cap with a padded roll
          2. Flemish Cap with the pleated back,
          3. Biggins cap - a close fitting cap that sits close to the head and tie beneath the chin.

          More than one layer of cap might be worn, or caps may be worn under any of the other head coverings.

        4. Turbans - White or off-white fabric, possibly with a woven-in stripe of narrow, embroidered stripe in black, gold or dark blue.

        The Overhat is very similar to the man’s hat, but considerably smaller. The most popular style of hat for women being the starfish hat. Popular adornments for these hats included feathers and jewelry pinned to the brim.

Pattern Suggestions: Patterns for Renaissance Clothing

I'd like to note before I continue on with this section that Simplicity is coming up with a great selection of patterns that work for renaissance faire with little or no alterations necessary. Check out their website ( and look at their costumes for an idea of some of what they have.

This section is largely expanded from the last revision of this FAQ, not because I've worked with a lot more patterns, but because it seems the pattern companies are actually coming out with some decent patterns that not only can "pass" for period, but are period. Some of these pattern numbers may be outdated as I picked them up a long time ago, but most of them are current.

  1. Skirts -
    • So Easy it's Simplicity 7141 (With this pattern I'd substitute a drawstring for the elastic in the skirt casing.) I've made this skirt before and it's not "so easy" as they say it is. If you really want a good strong skirt for a faire look on the net for some quick and easy drawstring skirt patterns.
    • McCalls 8796 (again make it a draw string skirt instead)
    • McCalls 4090 - Renaissance Skirts - two of the four views look like good possibilities. They seem to have drawstring closures and have enough fullness. Plan to buy and review this pattern.

  2. Shirts -
    • Simplicity 9582
    • Simplicity 7708
    • McCalls 8565
    • McCalls 4091 - Renaissance Chemises - four different views of drawstring, highneck, long and short chemises. Am planning to buy this pattern.

  3. Bodices -
    • McCalls 4107 - called a lined top, but it looks an awful lot like a correctly made bodice. I will have to buy and check this out.

  4. Some Costume Patterns That They Claim To Be Period:
    • Simplicity 5582 - Lady's Renaissance - Peasant Garb - Good looking bodice with one of those horrible triangle skirts. Ignore the veiled head dress with the costume.
    • Simplicity 5574 - Men's Renaissance - Upper Middle Class to Upper Class Garb
    • Simplicity 9929 - Lady's Renaissance - Upper Mid to Upper Class - More Tudor looking garb.
    • Simplicity 5922 - Lady's Renaissance - Lower Class - I really don't like the look of this one, but some of the items might turn out better than I'd expect.
    • Simplicity 8192 - Lady's Italian Renaissance - Cute looking, but no real basis in reality - the Ever After look. Separate the bodice from the dress and you might have a rather nice chemise.
    • Simplicity 8881 - the "Shakespeare in Love" pattern. Here's a great discussion and review of the pattern.
    • Simplicity 9966 - hah..hahahahahaha….hehehehehehehehehehe…hahahahaha…oh *sniff* sorry… that was funny.
    • Simplicity 8735 - another ever after type dress - same comments
    • Simplicity 7756 - Lady's Renaissance (This pattern has an Irish dress pattern, a good skirt pattern, an apron pattern, and a shirt pattern)

    Costume notes for the dress in this pattern:

    1. Measure yourself! This pattern has a tendency to run big when what we want is for the pattern to run small - usually two to three inches smaller than your actual waist size. Don't go by their sizing recommendations on the cover, measure the pattern and figure out which size (including seams) is right for you). You may be able to go anywhere from one to two sizes smaller than recommended.
    2. Look at those shoulders! First I suggest squaring off the shoulders. If you would like to keep the tie on shoulder look I'd add two more grommets (and use the small ones, not the large size ones they recommend) for three total on each side to lace. Another suggestion is to do away with the tie-off shoulders once and for all - just sew the darn things together.
    3. You've read my color suggestions so you know to use a plain colored fabric, and not the striped pattern they picture on the front of the pattern
    4. If you are going to put the darts in the bodice (which, remember, is not period) find a nice period-looking trim and find some way to cover the darts.
    5. Make the skirt fuller! If you've made this dress before you'll notice that the skirt isn't very generous. Instead of using their suggestion add a panel or two more of 60" wide fabric to what they suggest for some fullness.
    6. Use large eyelets instead of grommets (they're easier to put on anyways) and instead of placing five down the front adjust so that they're can be about seven down the front as this make for a better fit.
    7. Use steel boning! For god's sake if you want any support use steel boning. This pattern suggests plastic boning. Even on small-chested women plastic boning warps - so find some steel boning or some paint-sticks and go to town.
    8. In general, don't follow any of Simplicty's suggestions on the back of this pattern - some of them are just atrocious. Read through this costuming FAQ to get some basic ideas on what to do, and then have some fun with it.

  5. Cloaks -
    • McCalls 8937
    • Simplicity 9452 - Great Kinsale type cloak pattern
    • Simplicity 5794 - nice looking cloak.

  6. Some fantasy patterns that I like:
    • Simplicity 9753 - sort of a wizard/Merlin type look. Might do well for a period outfit.
    • Simplicity 5843 - Kind of a LOTR Arwen/Galadriel look
    • Simplicity 9454 - sort of a fairy queen in the woods type pattern, combined with modern romantic touches
    • Simplicity 9887 - Nice fantasy cloaks - good for LOTR Gandalf and others in cloaks.
    • Simplicity 9891 - Another Arwen type pattern

Glossary of Elizabethan Costume Terms

(taken in part from the REC Costuming Guide)

biggins cap -a small muslin cap that ties under the chin and is used to keep your ears warm

breeches -large knicker-like pants ending just below the knee, same as slops

bum-roll -a crescent shaped, stuffed, pad-type bolster worn on top of a woman's petticoat, resting on her derriere to support the weight of the skirt, see farthingale

chemise -a long-sleeved shirt-like undergarment worn under clothing, (comparable to a modern T-shirt), men's - waist to mid-thigh length, women's - mid-calf to floor length

coif -general term for head covering, men - a flat hat or biggins hat worn under a felt or hard body hat; women - consisted of a veil-like covering for a woman's head, usually a small cap with a veil attached

doublet -jacket style outer garment worn by men

farthingale -the boned, hooped, or padded underskirt support (see bum-roll)

jerkin -man's sleeveless vest

muffin cap -a small cap of circular fabric gathered into a band

partlet -a woman's shirt-like covering, mostly worn under a bodice

ruff -a large circular collar of stiffened frills worn by both men and women

shift -constructed similar to a modern day woman's nightgown and usually worn for sleeping purposes

slops -large knicker-like pants ending just below the knee, worn by men, same as breeches

surcoate -a robe-like outer garment worn by men and women, same as a great coat

trunk hose -very full, slashed, short pants worn by men, known as pumpkin pants

venetians -very similar to slops or breeches; however, these pants are narrow at the knee and very full at the top

Well, that's the end of what I've had to say. If you have any questions, or you have anything that need to add to this FAQ, feel free to e-mail me: I hope this document has been helpful for you as I've spent numerous hours creating it.

© 2003 Suzanne L. Gordon
Unless otherwise stated all the information above is copyright to Suzanne L Gordon.
I hereby grant permission for use of this document, in it's entirety, as long as this copyright
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impingement of copyright.