It Begins! The Quest for Better Renaissance Faire Character Costuming

As it is now August, we officially have three months until “The Big Fair.” Every year, in early November, we go and gather and camp with a group of sometimes a hundred people. We are a pirate navy. In our navy, we have two fleets. Each fleet has like, seven crews in it. Each crew has a captain and between five and twelve people. Now, not everyone comes every year, obviously. Our crew technically has twelve in it, but only four of us have actually been there every year since Husband and I joined up. Those people being us, the captain, and her husband/first mate. We’re hardcore, like that.

All these years, we’ve been working on our pirate characters. This year, since we’ll have officially joined the veterans club, I really wanted to kick our shit up a notch.

For the first few years, we went pretty simple.

TRF 2011

The sewing machine I had at the time was constantly freezing up on me, so there was a significant amount of hand sewing and iron on hem taping. Still we had a way about us. This was our garb, with small variations, for quite some time. I’d maybe open the vest, we acquired a cutlass and better belts, made some better pants, etc.



Then, early last year, I decided to go a little more fancy for the spring fair, and built some papier mache horns to expand on a traveling swordsman character I was working on.


That’s when my new pirate idea came to fruition. Demon pirate. I didn’t want to go full demonic from the pits of hell but a sort of cross-creature pirate with a mystical bent. Yokai or monster-esque. Husband, thenm also decided that he wanted to be a wizard pirate. Easy enough. I had gotten a new sewing machine for Christmas, we were in a bigger apartment, and my sewing knowledge had grown immensely richer. I had the space, and I had the materials. The problem was I didn’t have time or the mental capacity.

I was planning, and crafting, a September wedding.

Once the wedding was over, I immediately shot into Ren Faire mode. I had seven weeks to rest from the wedding, conceive, draft, material source, and, finally, build two mostly new full garb sets on a post wedding level of totally broke. I was working part time, and in classes part time, to boot. Then, about three weeks before fair, another crew member needed my help building her fairy pirate character. It came together, though.

IMG_20131019_173119There were a few dilemmas, however. I like the individual pieces, well enough, but they didn’t mesh as well together as I thought they would. I don’t think the skirt was as flattering as it could have been. Mostly, though, it was difficult to wear. It was comfortable enough, sure, but my belt kept being dragged down by my cutlass (which you can’t see here), and my shirt kept shifting under my bodice. I didn’t have the time for stays or pleating, couldn’t find/afford lace I really liked, and ran out of elastic, so the pieces didn’t totally have the shape I would have liked.

It also just didn’t “hit” for me.” Wearing my multi-layered skirt during the day, my only thought was “an actual sailor would never freaking wear this on deck.” It comes down to whether you’re doing historical or fanciful and how accurate you’re willing to go considering your gender, race, and time period.

For women playing pirates, I’ve seen three possible routes: wench, “lady pirate,” or cross dressing. These things considered, the plan for this year unfolded fairly easily once I set pencil to paper.

ashley sketch scan edit

Poor quality scan aside, this is what it looks like when I’m trying to figure stuff out for me. My original inspiration was Anne Bonny and Mary Read, so we’re going back to basics. The time period we’re shooting for is the Golden Age of Piracy, so I’ll be going as 17th century as I can get. I didn’t draw out the collar quite right, and when I do my pattern for the actual vest/doublet, it’ll be a little rounder and higher. The pants I’ve already made for year’s past. I’ll just be taking them up in the hem a little bit and adding a tie. I’ll be making a new poet shirt that fits a little better and is more historically accurate but that can still be rolled up to my elbows. The bulk of the outfit itself is pretty much already done. If I have to, I already have a shirt and vest that can be used, even if they’re not perfect.

shoes_iaec1224647The biggest comfort versus costume problem is the shoes. I have a malformation in my ankle, and it starts locking up on me after a few hours on my feet if I don’t wear my ankle brace or shoes with good support. 17th century shoes do not come with good support. What I will be doing then, is cheating. I already have some men’s leather buckle over shoes that I’ve used in previous characters. I’m going to leave the rubber sole and bottom half of the shoe intact, then just rip the buckle off and retool the leather arch of the shoe on top so that it takes some leather cording and ties up.

The lynch pin of the garb, then, becomes the horns. I have to make new ones. My papier mache ones did well. Two fairs, Halloween, and something else that I can’t remember for some reason, but, finally, they gave up the ghost. This year, I will be turning to plaster over a mesh frame. It may be awesome, it may be a disaster, but I’m not going to know until I have the money to buy the materials I need.

Because yes, we’re broke.

Broker than last year.

So all of this has to be done, for, like, $30 tops (plaster horns included).

Bring it!


2 thoughts on “It Begins! The Quest for Better Renaissance Faire Character Costuming”

  1. Pingback: Pixels and Pins

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