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Renaissance Costumes

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What comes to mind when you think of the Renaissance? Knights in shining armor slaying dragons and rescuing damsels in distress? Bawdy peasants taking advantage of serving wenches in taverns?

 

The medieval and Renaissance periods spanned the years from about 1000 to about 1620. It was a period in which the world and peoples' understanding of it changed and grew enormously. Societies expanded beyond local areas as Europeans explored first Asia and then the New World, the Americas. Art, music, science and literature flourished.

 

Then, as now, what people wore depended on where they lived, what they did and how much money they had. And--no surprise--in a period of over 600 years, fashions changed.

 

The type of Renaissance costume you choose depends on your image of the period and the character you want to portray. You could choose to become an actual historical person, such as Henry VIII or Eleanor of Aquitaine. Or you could be a peasant, knight, damsel or serving wench of your own invention. Maybe split the difference between royalty and peasantry. You could be a prosperous tradesman, part of a brand-new phenomenon called "middle class." Choose a costume that reflects your character's situation in life. Or conversely, choose a costume you like and make up a character who might have worn it.

 

If you want to truly live the Renaissance experience, go to a festival or host a party. It's easy to find period recipes and music to give an authentic feel. For Renaissance dialogue, you can't beat Shakespeare for inspiration. Decorate your party room with posters of paintings by Renaissance masters.

 

Take a step back in time in our Renaissance costumes!

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Renaissance Era Costume Guide

The medieval and Renaissance periods were times in which the world and peoples' understanding of it changed and grew enormously. Societies expanded beyond local areas as Europeans explored first Asia and then the New World, the Americas. Music, science and literature flourished. Then, as now, what people wore depended on where they lived, what they did and how much money they had. And, in a period of over 600 years, fashions naturally changed. We've assembled a sampling of the various fashions associated with different periods and separated them by social status to help you pick your perfect Renaissance costume!

Mens Medieval Peasant Renaissance Costume Idea

This executioner costume was designed to help you get your job done without revealing your identity. It's dark, like your job responsibilities, and features a hood that keeps who you are a mystery. To make the look festival ready, we added long pants and a pair of black renaissance boots. The medieval mace weapon looks menacing but is actually made of soft foam, just in case you get a little carried away in your role.

Womens Medieval Peasant Renaissance Costume Idea

Medieval peasant women wore similar types of garments as their "betters," just made of cheaper and coarser fabric and either natural unbleached fibers or muted colors. Over the chemise you would wear a plain overdress, fastened with laces at the front. When paired with these rustic looking boots this simple look becomes a festive choice for any faire. 

Medieval Peasant Couples Costume Idea

These costumes are great on their own, but if you really want to get into your medieval roles, going as couple will be especially fun. What are her crimes? Will you show mercy? What happens if she manages to wrestle that mace away from him? So many possibilities to be serious or as silly as you like. We're actually rooting for the girl, she just seems too pretty to be guilty of anything!

Medieval Working Class Mens Renaissance Costume

Most working class men wore a shirt over trousers. A merchant who wove, dyed or sold fabrics might wear richer, brightly colored garments to show off the quality of his work and wares. When you wear this look you might not command the respect of a king but you'll still be able to feast like one when you sample the fabulous food available at the festival you attend. Act the part of a gentleman and you'll surely be admired no matter what your socio-economic status might have been back in medieval times.

Medieval Working Class Womens Renaissance Costume

A working class woman's clothing would be of better fabric than a peasant's, but not as fine and soft as that of a noblewoman. Her clothing would be fastened with laces and drawstrings, usually in the front. This costume features more embellishments than the peasant look from before and we think it a pair of brown faux suede boots provides the finishing touch. This dress in particular even allows you to hitch up your skirt so you'll be ready for dancing and celebrating.

Medieval Working Class Couples Costume Idea

Make the most of your working class renaissance looks by pairing them together. We recommend practicing some flattery like, "Thou smile is like the dawn, it brightens my day." before putting in any requests like, "Would thou goeth quickly and fetch me a turkey leg?" for best results. You're sure to get plenty of compliments as you make your way around your next festival.

Medieval Royalty Mens Renaissance Costume

Since the king was a usually a military general, he often wore chain mail armor over his shirt. When not fighting or training to fight he would wear a surcoat or tunic. This costume will have you fit for being featured in a royal painting. The kind that hangs in a long, vast hall along with all of the past rulers of the kingdom. We added a wavy brown wig for a more medieval appearance, which had the benefit of helping keep the crown comfortably in place.

Medieval Royalty Womens Renaissance Costume

Drape yourself in velvet and gold trim for a royal look like this one. When you are the queen, you get to dress the part with rich fabrics fine jewels. Since this costume included a beautiful matching headpiece we opted to pass on a crown but we imagine she would look just as royal with one. The attached sheer cape adds a dramatic detail.

Medieval Royalty Couples Costume Idea

Be the power couple that no one dares to cross at your next faire! These costumes will help you command the respect of a royal. From the soft velvet fabrics to the gold embellishments, these looks will make it impossible for anyone to deny what you've decided should be your birthright. Enjoy your reign your highness.

Elizabethan Peasant Mens Renaissance Costume

By the Renaissance (roughly the year 1400), clothing styles became more complex as tailors learned to cut and shape garments to better fit the curves of the human body. Buttons became common. And garment types became a bit more standardized. Men of any social class wore a shirt and tunic over trousers. The difference between a peasant's clothes and a nobleman's was the type of fabric used. Enjoy the handsome look of a hunter with this exclusive costume.

Elizabethan Peasant Womens Renaissance Costume

Women's clothes, too, became more complex and form-fitting. But the basic garment types stayed the same for the lower classes. A skirt and bodice over a chemise was the basic female attire. As with men, a peasant girl's clothes would be made of cheaper, coarser fabric than a princess's. We like the combination of this deep blue corset with the bright yellow skirt. Both are worn over a chemise, which on a cool fall day has the added benefit of giving you an extra layer of warmth.

Elizabethan Peasant Couples Costume Idea

What kind of plans are these two making for their next festival? Probably they are debating which musical acts to see, and what food to try. For him, a mug of ale might be priority number one. We added a bright red head scarf to her look here because we thought it added to her peasant appearance. But she might like that it gives her an excuse to ignore some of his requests and carry on with her own plans!

Elizabethan Working Class Mens Renaissance Costume

In the Renaissance a working-class man would wear the same type of shirt, trousers and tunic as any man. His clothes would be of finer fabric than a peasant's, but not so fine as a noble's. So, once you've laced up your tunic and ensured you're looking handsome you'll be ready to head to your favorite tavern and see what fair maidens find their way over to your corner of the establishment. 

Elizabethan Working Class Womens Renaissance Costume

A working-class woman would wear more elaborate clothing than a peasant, and made of better fabric. If her family's business involved cloth, she might even wear the same fabrics as royalty, to show off the quality of the merchandise. This deep burgundy velvet dress includes a matching headpiece and will get lots of compliments for its simple, understated elegance.

Elizabethan Working Class Couples Costume Idea

This photo could represent a Renaissance working class couple discussing their future together. Their clothing is fine, but not overly embellished in a way that would have them mistaken as royalty. So if you'd like to spend the day dressed as gentle folk from a past era, consider this look as inspiration.

Elizabethan Royalty Mens Renaissance Costume

Noble and royal men wore the same basic shirt, tunic and trousers ensemble that lesser men wore. The difference was that a noble's would be made of fine wool and linen instead of homespun, and might include imported silk or cotton as well. It would also be more lavishly decorated with embroidery, gems or metalwork. With the higher education that you undoubtedly possess thanks to your royal lineage, recite a favorite poem to impress the lady who's stolen your heart.

Elizabethan Royalty Womens Renaissance Costume

This luxurious gown is typical of one Elizabeth I might have worn, with its square neckline and high, stiff collar. Royal garments were elaborate, with wide full skirts draped over stiff frames to maintain their bell shape. Clothes would be elaborately embroidered and set with gems. When you wear this lovely dress, be sure to practice your expressions to let everyone know with a glance that you are the queen!

Elizabethan Royal Couple Costume Idea

In this day and age it is very hard to become a royal. There are just so few monarchies left and the number of eligible singles further decreases your odds. But when you attend a renaissance faire it is suddenly within almost anyone's reach to transform into a noble. Wearing the right attire and practicing your most respectable smiles and waves will let you be king and queen for a day.

Famous Faces - Costume Ideas to Dress Like Historical Figures

Not all famous people of the medieval and Renaissance eras were kings or queens. It was an age in which, for the first time, intelligent and ambitious persons could rise above the circumstances of their birth based on effort and merit. It allowed an illiterate peasant girl to change the course of her nation's history. It allowed mathematics to change entire world-views. And it allowed the illegitimate child of a notary and a peasant woman to reach an unprecedented depth and scope of learning. Artists and musicians illuminated the world around them, and learning became available to common folk. If you wish, you can become one of these luminaries!

Joan of Arc Costume Idea

At age 12 Joan received visions from God telling her to drive the English out of France, bring an end to the Hundred Years' War, and make way for the coronation of Charles VII as King of France. She successfully raised the siege of Orléans. Nonetheless, when she was finally captured by the English they accused her of heresy--primarily because she habitually wore men's clothing. She was found guilty and executed by burning at the stake in 1432 at age 19. Twenty years after her death a retrial was conducted which found her innocent and proclaimed her a Christian martyr. The costume shown here is based on an 1854 painting and will let you protray this amazing woman in high style.

Galileo Costume Idea

Galileo Galilei was one of the first scholars to study natural phenomena in the modern way, i.e. by observation and experiment. Though some of Galileo's ideas were wrong, many of them formed the basis for modern physics. He also invented or improved many scientific implements such as the telescope, the microscope, the thermometer and a geometric compass. He ultimately created a bridge between the Renaissance and the modern era. We do know what Galileo looked like; many portraits were made of him during his lifetime. He had a round face, receding hairline and full beard. So if you're going to portray him, you'll need facial hair. Perhaps carry a telescope or a pendulum as a prop. Maybe learn to play the lute--Galileo did. And keep looking to the stars!

Isaac Newton Costume Idea

Any student who has griped and struggled through a calculus course has Isacc Newton to thank. He helped invent it. Modern physics owes a lot to Newton, as well. After observing an apple falling from a tree he began to study gravity, and formulated the theory of gravitation which has been only slightly modified since he first proposed it. Many portraits of Isaac Newton were made throughout his life. He was clean-shaven with a long, pointed nose. He was a feisty man with a sharp wit and intellect, yet he was modest about his achievements. If you're going to become Newton, carry an apple as a prop, or a light-refracting prism. Or maybe a telescope. Newton developed what was at the time the most advanced version of it ever made. And you'll want to memorize a few mathematical theorems. Even if you don't have a clue what they actually mean, they'll sound impressive!

Christopher Columbus Costume Idea

Everyone has heard the ditty that goes, "In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." That is one of the few undisputed facts about the life of Christopher Columbus. We're not sure exactly what Columbus looked like. Only one portrait from his lifetime survives, though there are many written descriptions of his appearance. Most agree that he had a fair, easily-sunburned complexion, and reddish hair in his youth that turned white later in life. Many acquaintances described him as simultaneously arrogant and secretive, and over the course of his life he made enemies. But none disputes his skill as a mariner and navigator. So, if you're going to become Columbus find and carry a copy of an old map, to at least give the appearance of knowing something about navigation. Then have fun playing the role of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea."

Leonardo da Vinci Costume Idea

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci may have been one of the most widely talented men who have ever lived. This quintessential Renaissance Man studied painting, sculpting, architecture, music, mathematics, anatomy, geology and botany. He was an artist, engineer, inventor and mapmaker. Leonardo created two of the best-known paintings of all time, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. There are many surviving portraits of Leonardo, many of them self-portraits. So we know he had long hair and a full beard which he groomed meticulously. So if you want to portray this great artist, the hair and the beard are key. Then perhaps carry a paintbrush and an artist's palette as props. Carefully examine any object you see; Leonardo would have been trying to figure out how it worked. And, keep an eye out for the beauty that surrounds you. That's what Leonardo always did!

Renaissance Legends Costume Ideas

The Middle Ages and Renaissance were historical eras, but they also had their fair share of myth and magic! Unseen supernatural beings such as fairies or elves played pranks on unsuspecting humans. Wizards worked wonders by manipulating nature. Alchemists sought a way to turn lead into gold and create the Philosopher's Stone which would grant eternal life. Gypsies predicted the future. In the purportedly historical King Arthur stories, the wizard Merlin the magician and the fairy Morgan Le Fay play significant roles. In J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth, elves and wizards are revered, Orcs are feared. Take a journey through a magical realm and become one of these mystical creatures yourself!

Renaissance Wizard Costume Idea

Think of a wizard in connection with the Middle Ages, and Merlin's name immediately comes to mind. So does Gandalf of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Even Shakespeare depicts a wizard–in The Tempest. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, is a sorcerer. Wizards are wise beings, usually benevolent but sometimes evil. They understand and manipulate things that ordinary mortal humans can't see, and offer advice and guidance. If you want to become a magical mentor, first you need the long hair and, if you're male, the flowing beard. You also need a cone-shaped hat, though nobody quite knows when or why conical hats became associated with witchcraft and wizardry. Then you need a long, flowing robe. Whether or not it's covered with moons and stars is up to you. Most wizards also have a wand or staff to complete the look. Become a mystical being!

Renaissance Fairy Costume Idea

Fairies or similar beings appear in the folklore of most Western cultures. They're usually tiny, visible only when they want to be, and most of them have wings. Sometimes they're benevolent and helpful, often mischievous, occasionally downright evil. But they're almost always described as beautiful. You can become one of these fairy characters, or create one of your own. Whatever you choose, you'll want to have an ethereal look and lots of sparkle. Be fairy royalty, or a simple nature sprite–you choose. Either way, you'll have a magical time!

Renaissance Elf Costume Idea

Elves come from ancient Germanic myth and folklore, but the prevailing image of them today comes from J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings books. They are immortal, creatures of the woodlands, graceful and beautiful skilled archers with pointed ears. In early folk tales they're tiny, and later became confused with fairies and gnomes. Modern tales make them tall and slender. So your elf costume should include pointed ear tips and a bow & arrow prop. It should also be in earth-tone colors–greens and browns, or perhaps pure white for an elf maiden. If you're elvish royalty, a crown would be good. Or you could take the old-school route, and be a gnome with a red peaked stocking cap.

Renaissance Fortune Teller Gypsy Costume Idea

The Romani people, or Gypsies, are an ancient people whose origins have been traced to northern India in the 6th century AD. They were skilled metalworkers and musicians, but have been persecuted in many localities. As a matter of self-preservation, Gypsies became acute observers of nature and of human behavior. Many of them parlayed their observational skills into a means of income: fortune-telling. They used various tools, such as crystal balls or Tarot cards, and they wore brightly-colored clothes with lots of ruffles. If you think you have "the Sight," this could be a good costume option for you!

Minotaur, Orc and Cyclops Costumes

Not all fantastical beings were benevolent. There were some monsters, too! The Minotaur and the Cyclops arose in classical Greek mythology, while Orcs have a more recent origin. The Minotaur was a creature with the body of a man and the horned head of a bull. It was a ferocious creature that fed upon humans. The Cyclops is one of three creatures that were brothers of the Titans. The trio of one-eyed brothers, named Brontes, Steropes and Arges, were the sons of Uranus and Gaia. They were craftsmen who created the weapons of the gods: Zeus's thunderbolt, Hermes's helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident. In Old English and Anglo-Saxon, an orc was a "hell-devil", spectre or goblin; it's also related to the words for "ogre" and giant. In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien draws upon that to create his evil humanoid creatures. So. If you want to become one of these mythical villains, we can help. But you'll have to practice roaring by yourself.

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Ye Olde Pick Up Lines for Renaissance Faire Fun