Needing some help pulling together an outfit for the faire or another costume event? Not really sure where to begin? Then this is for you! I’ll start with the simplest women’s outfit and then head into accessories and more involved costuming. The most basic Renaissance style costume for women can be made up with a chemise, a full length skirt, and a bodice. Depending on the fabrics used, this could pass as either a peasant or middle class outfit.
The chemise is your undershirt, and should be the base to your outfit, well, other than your modern undergarments. Chemises come in alls sorts of colors, but the most common you’ll find are white, off-white, and black. There are several styles as well, most being mid-thigh length but some as short as under-bust and some as long as floor length. Most are long sleeved but short sleeved chemises are out there as well, especially for the summer and Southern faires. I find wearing a chemise under a bodice to be very important because bodices usually aren’t made to be washed often, if ever!
Your skirt should be worn over your chemise, unless of course you have a chemise with a decorative hemline that adds interest to your outfit by being worn on the outside of your skirt. Almost all full length Renaissance skirts look the same from a distance, but the construction and how they fit can vary greatly. Some skirt makers construct skirts as cheaply and quickly as possible by cutting out a rectangle, sewing the two ends together, putting in a drawstring or elastic waist and doing a quick hem. These will look fine and are great if you’re looking to spend less, but they have problems based on your body type. If you’re on the smaller side, the waist ends up with a lot of bulk under your bodice. If you’re on the larger side, the skirt ends up looking like a box. Skirts that are sewn to have the largest circumference at the hem and are more fitted at the waist will of course cost more due to the labor and material involved, but they end up looking and feeling much better when worn. These are the better choice if you want to add extra layers of skirts or be able to wear a hoop skirt as a part of your outfit in the future.
Lastly, for the most basic outfit anyways, there’s the bodice. Bodices look a bit like modern day vests with lacing up the front as the closure. A bodice is not the same as a corset; a bodice can cinch in the waistline a bit, but it is not intended for significant waist reduction. Neither is it intended to push “the ladies” up into place. Bodices have very light boning in them if there is any boning at all, since a corset would have been worn underneath a bodice to cinch and support. Most women do not go to the trouble of wearing a corset as an undergarment beneath a bodice, and most corsets made today are meant as outerwear rather than underwear. You can definitely sub a corset for a bodice if you want a more dramatic and sexy look that shapes your body, but properly made corsets will of course be more expensive. There are plenty of places to find these pieces online that will wear much better and last ten times longer than any of the packaged Hallowe’en Renaissance costumes. But these are just the basics. Look for future posts for more costuming tips!