Faire Legal Garb

General Info on Faire Legal Garb

Let me start with my definition of Faire legal: Garb that creates the look of period clothing while providing some comfort in the decidedly not period weather encountered at most faires. This is also about what is worn at faire, some of which is *not* period but has evolved through the years as part of faire culture. (I will attempt to point out any glaring anachronisms.) My research and experience is primarily on English costume, so unless specified otherwise my comments are on English attire.

A disclaimer here: The info I've got is not meant to be the final word on anything. If anyone has additions or corrections, please share!   I will address the peasant/villager garb first; if you want info on the middle/upper classes click here or scroll down.
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As some may already have found, natural fibers are best for both comfort and authenticity. If you must use a blend, or if you aren't sure what the fabric is, take some out into bright sun. Look for the telltale poly/plastic sheen. The idea is to look for fabric that resembles what would have been worn by the lower classes. (Think of wool, linen and leather.)

Fabric was handspun and woven, with coarser threads/weaves being worn by lower classes. (Not that they couldn't produce the finer product, but if they did they probably sold it.)

Wool was plentiful (Elizabeth passed a law requiring wool hats to be worn once a week in an effort to provide an outlet for the surplus English wool production) and relatively low cost. It takes most dyes well and was the a common textile available to the lower classes. It could be woven as a broadcloth, twilled or felted. Linen is a period fabric that was affordable to the lower classes, unfortunately it is not cheap nowadays (although on occasion you can find linen tablecloths at thrift stores). Natural linen is a sort of oatmeal beige taupe color and it bleaches to a lovely cream white. It resists dyes, however, so was either constantly being re dyed or was worn natural/bleached. (Linsey woolsey may have existed, but I haven't encountered any specific period mention of this wool/linen blend.)

Prints (one of my pet peeves) are not period. Period. (There were some handprinted fabrics from India at this time but they were both rare and costly, not what the lower classes would wear at all.)

Colors were muted to our modern eyes, comparatively deep or bright tones were taxed and expensive to purchase. Colors that might be expected are earth tones: browns, yellows, golds, bronze & orange. Greens and blues were also worn (remember muted-no electric blue!). The color blue obtained from woad (cheap) was often used to dye apprentices' clothing, so it was avoided by those with social pretensions. (Incidentally, the process of making woad dye involved fermentation so unpleasant to the nose that Elizabeth banned it in the city limits.)

Vegetable dyes are not terribly colorfast and garments were frequently re-dyed.

The period peasant probably did not have much in the way of matched fabric so one would not expect them to have a coordinated outfit with exact color matches. Tapestry and other jacquard (pattern woven in) fabric are period but not for lower classes.


Shirts, shifts and chemises:

Linen or linen looking fabric would be most appropriate. In general, fuller sleeves=higher status, same for lighter colored, finer (thinner) weight fabrics. Keep in mind that it was not uncommon to have only one or two shifts. The garment was worn as nightdress (or they wore nothing at all) and would be mended and patched as needed. Shifts could be anywhere from hip to full length (men's' at hip length).

Bodices, Doublets and Jerkins:

Wools, linens (maybe embroidered) and leather were used for these garments. (Colors, see above mentioned tones.) Leather can sometime be recycled from thrift store jackets and coats, same for woolens and even linens (look for men's summer blazers). One jacket should yield a bodice or jerkin. Don't neglect remnant tables as a resource. (Some very good period looking cottons are readily available for those who can't or don't wish to wear wool.) These outer garments were washed less often (or not at all, ugh!) and were sometime the only garment of the type owned by a peasant. Poorer folk would patch and mend, garments that were salvageable would be cut down to fit younger/smaller family members or if worn to rags would be shredded and carded with new fiber to be respun.

Sleeves were separate garments, tied to doublet/bodice by means of points (laces or ribbons). Poor folk might not own any sleeves, better off might have a couple pair to interchange.

Trews & Skirts:

Fabrics & colors same as used for bodices and doublets. Women wore at least two skirts. If you had a nicer skirt, it would go on the outer layer to be shown off and pulled up to keep it out of the muck. If you were at a messy chore, you might wear the older/plainer skirt outside for protection and pull it up to display the nicer/newer skirt when finished with your chores. If your persona is above peasant class, the outer skirt might be split to the waist to show the skirt beneath.

Trews were worn by poorer males and cross gartered at the lower legs. Loose pants in an appropriate fabric can be cross gartered with leather thongs and topped with a shirt and jerkin (long enough to hide the fly & pockets), belted over 'em and a hat added to make a passable male peasant costume. Loose fitting below knee length pants gathered into a band at mid-calf or below knee would be the next step up status wise.

Trim and Ornamentation:

Bands of contrasting fabric, wool embroidery, colored ribbons, flowers and foliage are period and lower to middle class appropriate. Fur trim, lace, silk or cotton embroidery, metallic threads and fabrics were forbidden to the lower classes.


Belts (leather, conventional buckles) were worn outside clothes by both genders and were used to carry everyday useful items. Nearly everyone of the lower classes had an eating knife and a pouch (pockets aren't period) they carried at all times. A wooden bowl, a spoon (forks were just coming into fashion amongst the nobility, no peasant would have one) a bit of cloth for a handkerchief or apron would also be common.

At faire, we carry various drinking vessels out of necessity but keep in mind that a pewter goblet/tankard would have been a good dowry for a peasant girl. (And cover those glass/plastic bottom tankards-another pet peeve!)

Hair was covered (although Italians were noted for not doing so much of that) by all but the very young and hats were worn by both men and women. Every man was required by law to own at least one woolen cap, so a wool-look flat cap is period and good sun protection as well. Straw hats are easily found at craft and thrift shops and can be decorated with ribbons (keeping in mind color limitations) and flowers. Don't use obviously artificiaL or exotic flowers! (I like to buy a dried flower wreath at faire and use it as a hat band.)

Swords were not commonly owned by lower classes, and although I can't cite the reference, I am under the impression that one needed to be (or be employed by) a landowner in possession of six acres of land. Can someone correct or confirm this?

Cloaks & Wraps:

Usually wool, often felted for water resistance, lined or not. Usually doubled as blankets. Men's cloaks tended to be shorter than those worn by women, and most cloaks were at least above ankle length so as not to get wet in puddles. They might be just a rectangle of fabric pinned in place or a gored circle of cloth. They may or may not have a collar or hood, and if they did have a hood it could be detachable.


It is pretty hard to find period looking shoes & boots that are comfy and low in cost. Because of this many less than period looks are faire legal. Women have a bit more latitude as our skirts hide our feet. Barefoot is period but uncomfortable and in some cases not allowed. Rags wrapped around a modern shoe will do in a pinch but wear out quickly, so be ready to stop and redo the wrapping. Lower class sandals can be approximated by Birkenstocks (or knock-offs) and they offer excellent support, but Birks ain't cheap (and they get rocks in 'em). Check thrift stores.

Chinese fabric shoes in slip on and mary jane styles are inexpensive but lack comfort. Try buying a size big and adding insoles. Mocassins of various heights are common solutions to the footwear dilemma, just trim the fringe and dump the conchas. Again, consider buying a size up and adding an insole.

Men with smaller feet can find ankle to calf high boots in the women's shoe dept or can add false tops to extend existing men's boots. (Sears carries a mid calf motorcycle/work boot that is around $100 and is quite passable worn with longer breeches.)

When buying shoes for faire wear remember that feet will swell in hot weather and you will walk or stand for hours. It doesn't matter how great they look if your feet are killing you!

Since at faire we have no sumptary tax, it is common to wear garments that are of mixed social standing. It is more the flavor of the fashions than the facts we portray. In general, if it might have existed, it's acceptable. Things like eyeglasses or other items that need to be worn for personal comfort or safety are allowed. Sunglasses (yes, I know some folk need them for health reasons, not talking about them) and cigarettes (buy a pipe) should be kept out of sight as much as possible.


Middle Class

The info I've got is not meant to be the final word on anything. If anyone has additions or corrections, please share! I am describing the "look" and some how-to stuff.

Middle class spanned quite a social range so you can start with something simple and add to it later. Elizabethans were very much concerned with appearances. They would dress as well as they could afford. Middle class would be likely to use higher quality fabrics, launder and re dye garments more often and have more time to sew and trim their garments. Their whites were whiter and their colors brighter. Upper middle class might also have servants to sew for them as well.

Colors would be deeper greens and blues, richer earth tones, crimson, wine reds, oranges, yellows and some black—more often as trim or stitchery. They would be able to have matching wardrobe pieces.

Linen is still the look of chemise fabric you should seek, but finer weights and even weave. Depending on whether you want to be lower or upper middle class, you might wear wool (broadcloth or twill weave, woven with even un-slubbed threads-check those remnant tables or find look-a-likes) or nicer stuffs—velveteen or pin wale (the very narrow ribbing) corduroy (corduroy is NOT Faire legal at some Faires. If you will be working and need to pass a costume inspection, check the requirements of your faire! being period). Another nice faire legal fabric is brushed denim, but avoid the blue jean blue—remember that woad blue was a color worn by apprentices and peasants.

Chemises and Partlets

Use finer 'linen' for the chemise with full width sleeves or a partlet. These can be worn with or without a ruff. Middle class women would probably have blackwork on cuffs, and/or narrow (1/2 inch or less) lace on cuff band. If sleeves are gathered into a band at the wrist, separate cuffs (embroidered) or ruffs (plain or embroidered) would be tied over them. (Note: if you wear wrist ruffs, you should also wear a neck ruff.)

How-to Hint: I create the cuff "look" by lengthening the sleeve measurement twice the amount of the desired cuff. If you want a three inch cuff, add six inches to your sleeve pattern, fold it back at three inches beyond origin pattern fold line, wrong sides together, and sew completely around. Sew another line behind this one (closer to shoulder) to form a casing. Remember to leave an opening for elastic or ribbon. Thread either thru casing, and gather. You can do the same trick on the top of the chemise, adding 2 or three inches and making a 1 to 1 /2 inch ruffle when finished. Detailed instruction can be found on my chemise page.


Middle class women mostly wore back closing bodices (To show they could afford servants, no doubt). False stomachers, that contrasting "V" panel in front, could be plain fabric, embroidered, or jacquard/tapestry. You can Mock up a panel and hook it on an existing front close bodice (One of my purchased bodices has a three way adjustment. I removed the two center pieces and laced in a single panel.) Remember to put cord or ribbons to tie on sleeves at shoulders. You can add a roll or epaulet to conceal the attachment point.


Slit sleeves were worn hanging behind the arms in hot weather. In cold, sleeves fastened at several points along the slit with puffs of chemise pulled through the slits. (If you don't have time/fabric/money to make these, you can replicate the "puffed" look by tying three ribbons around each arm *over* the chemise. Blouse the chemise sleeve above each ribbon, tie another around your wrist.


You will need some sort of underpinnings to produce the fashionable inverted cone shape. A farthingale (hoop skirt) is awkward to move in at first but I find it is cooler to wear as it holds the heavy fabric away from my legs. I make mine with "bridal boning." It is shaped into graduated circles, then slipped through loops sewn on a gathered skirt and duct taped together. You can find adequate hoop skirts at bridal shops if you have the $. Just try for a cone rather than bell shape (most common, unfortunately).

The overskirt was worn closed some of the time so if you have a suitable skirt, you can apply a false front of trim down the center front (saw this in Savoy & Winter's book—love that book!) and sew fasteners to make it look as if it is being worn closed. (Note: There is some question about the accuracy of this skirt treatment. Check with the costume inspector at your faire to make certain this is ok.) If you need to start from scratch, try this:

To make an overskirt sew a gored skirt with center front opening along straight grain of fabric (selvage if possible). Turn back about an inch and sew. The waist measurement of the un pleated should be *at least* twice your own. Cut a strip of straight grain fabric about eight inches wide and your waist measurement plus 4 inches long. If possible use selvage for one long side, if not, finish long edge (zig zag). Cut a strip on interfacing half that width and to your exact waist measure. Center it on wrong side of fabric strip, unfinished long edge even. Baste. This is the future waist band. Starting at center back, right sides together, make a deep inverted box pleat at center back of skirt, two or three pleats on either side to take up fullness. At sides start to softly gather in any remaining fullness. Pin to reinforced edge of waistband, right sides together matching skirt split edges to interfacing. Sew. Press from wrong side, seam allowance towards waistband. Grade seam allowance (cut each layer a little shorter than the one below). Fold waist band length-wise, right sides together. Sew even with skirt edge on short ends, turn right side out, covering raw edges of skirt. From right side "Stitch in ditch" to secure waistband. Use hook & eyes or grommet/eyelets with a lace to close at waist. Your kirtle beneath is made in gores with a smooth front. It should be closely fitted over the farthingale. You can use nice fabric for front panel and muslin or whatever for the rest. The overskirt will conceal the muslin. Pins or other fastenings will hold the overskirt in place. The kirtle doesn't *need* to match the stomacher, but it is a nice look. (If does, it shows you had money to buy more costly fabric or time to spend embroidering).


Flat caps and straw hats (old fashioned/lower middle), tall hats, or French hoods (upper middle) worn over cauls or snoods, ornamental belts of fabric or cording, a basket or maybe a pouch (Note: faire legal; period middle class women would be copying the upper classes and would not carry their possessions on their belt) and goblet, a fan (flat, flag shaped or feathered) and or pomander dangling on cords. Handkerchiefs might have lace edges, definitely embroidery and can be pinned to the shoulder area to show 'em off.


Multiples of rings, necklaces & pins. Semi precious stones, glass beads, cabochon or simple facet cut stones in rings. Obviously, less for lower middle, more for upper. Earrings: pendant types, both for men and women.


For lower middle class, see my peasant garb section, just avoid sandals. The most lovely Elizabethan style middle to upper class shoes are sold at Sears for about $40. Apostrophe brand, style Jodette. Even if you don't get 'em, check them out for the look to watch for. (I bought black ones.) They do have a heel (1 1/2 inch) so you might find them unsuitable for rocky terrain.

As always, additional info and/or corrections welcome.


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