Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Garb on ye cheape, part 2

After my experience putting together an inexpensive Renaissance costume for Brian, I found myself wondering whether a passable woman's outfit could be assembled just as cheaply. (I don't actually need to for myself, since I'm a big Renaissance geek and already have my own garb, but it's an interesting challenge to consider.) In some ways, we ladies have it easier than the gents, because many of us already have garments in our closets that can pass for Renaissance garb. A quick search on "Renaissance style dress" just now turned up several modern garments (such as this and this) that could probably pass muster at a Renn Faire. For those who don't have a suitable dress, however, the basic women's Renaissance costume had three essential pieces:
  • A loose-fitting, ankle-length skirt 
  • A shift or chemise, which is a lightweight undergarment resembling a nightgown (although a loose blouse will also serve)
  • A bodice, a tight-fitting garment similar to a vest that laces either up the front or up the sides (and is essential for producing the traditional Renn Faire cleavage).
Two of these three are items that many women will already have at home. A peasant-style blouse—or even, in a pinch, a nightgown—can serve for a chemise, and any loose, gypsy-style skirts in a dark solid color will work on the bottom. And even those who don't have these pieces can probably find them at a thrift store without too much difficulty.

The one piece that doesn't really have a modern equivalent is the bodice. There are, of course, plenty of vendors who supply authentic period bodices, complete with boning, but even a basic one can cost 80 bucks or more. However, those who are willing to settle for something a little less authentic could pick up a garment that's close enough for Faire for as little as 18 bucks. Assuming that this is the only piece you need to complete your garb, that's not too unreasonable.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that you're either really strapped for cash or short on time, and ordering even an inexpensive piece online isn't an option. Is there any way to whip up a reasonable facsimile of a period bodice at home, the way we did with Brian's breeches? Well, I did a little poking around online, and I found a few suggestions for work-arounds:
  • An article offering advice to Maryland Renaissance Festival attendees says that a "close-fitting round or square-necked vest" can serve as a bodice, though without the lacing up the front, it's not quite the same.
  • The same article says that you can mock up a single-use bodice out of cardboard, cut to fit around your torso. Cover the cardboard in fabric, punch holes in it, and lace it together with shoestrings. This might look close enough to the real thing to keep you from standing out, but it sounds like it could also easily prevent you from sitting down.
  • An eHow article suggests skipping the bodice altogether and just layering a long, sleeveless dress over a loose-fitting shirt. This solution only really works if you have a dress that's reasonably close to period garb: full-length and sleeveless, in a solid color rather than a print, with a loose, swirling skirt.
  • A second eHow article suggests converting an ordinary tank top to a mock bodice by cutting open the front, adding grommets on both sides of the cut, and lacing yourself into it. Of course, a tank top, being made of stretchy fabric, won't squeeze your figure in the traditional manner, but it will still have the basic look of the period.
  • Perhaps most intriguing of all: the duct-tape corset, which definitely isn't authentic, but still fits into the whole spirit of why-the-hell-not that characterizes the Faire.
So, to sum up, it sounds like it is possible to put together a quick-and-dirty women's Renaissance Faire costume nearly as cheaply and easily as you can a men's costume. It may not look quite as good as the real thing, but it should be good enough to help you get into the spirit of the Faire while still leaving you plenty of cash to spend on beer and tips for the minstrels.
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