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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!

MEDIA / Renaissance Costumes
Ideas, Tips & Tricks

Renaissance Era Costume Guide

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. 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. Let's take an illustrated trip through history. 

Mens Medieval Peasant Renaissance Costume IdeaWomens Medieval Peasant Renaissance Costume Idea

If you were a man born as a peasant in the Middle Ages, you were very likely a manual laborer. You did farm work, quarrying, road building or forestry. You probably didn't know how to read or write, and could only do enough arithmetic to handle money--which you probably didn't have much of. You may or may not have been a slave. You worked from sunup to sundown on your lord's manor and on your own small rented plot to feed your family.


What did you wear? Perhaps something like this tunic, though you wouldn't have worn the hood most of the time for your daily work. But the dagged (square-cutout) edge was common. In warm weather (and maybe even in cold weather, too) you would have gone bare-legged and barefoot--trousers hadn't been invented yet and shoes were expensive. If anything, you would have worn tube hose tied to a loincloth--it made an arrangement similar to modern tights. Your hair would be cropped short so you didn't have to do anything to it.


So be glad you live in the 21st century and not the 12th. Go ahead and wear trousers if you wish, or tights if you want to be a bit more authentic. Leave the executioner's hood at home for a farm worker look. And perhaps add a sickle accessory, too, or a flail. It was used as a weapon when needed, but primarily as a farm tool for threshing grain. 

If you were a woman and a peasant, you were probably married to a manual laborer. You, too, worked from dawn to dusk. You might be a household servant in the manor house, or work at spinning & weaving cloth; but you also managed your family's household. You raised the children, tended small livestock such as poultry, cooked the food, made and cared for clothing. You had even less education than your husband, whom you probably married when you were 14 or 15.


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 (bleaching and brightly colored dyes were expensive!). You would wear a long chemise with drawstrings at the neck and wrists; and you would keep your shoulders covered. Over the chemise you would wear a simple overdress, fastened with laces at the front. Your hairstyle would be simple, because you had to do it yourself. Most likely you would braid it and then pin the braid(s) around the top and sides of your head. Or else you would simply tuck all of your hair inside a cap. Married women always wore a veil to cover their hair.


So you, too, can be glad you live now. You can wear your costume any way you wish and nobody will think less of you. Just have a good time!

Medieval Peasant Couples Costume Idea

This photo actually shows what would have happened to a woman who wore her chemise off-the shoulder!  A woman who wore her chemise off-the-shoulder was viewed as having questionable morals, and men took it as a sign that she would welcome attention that a respectable woman would not. In short, they thought she was a prostitute. Of course times have changed, and now nobody would think that. So it depends on how much of a historical purist you are, or if you're participating in an event that requires period authenticity. 

Men, if you loved the woman you wouldn't be chasing her with a flail. If, on the other hand, she was a slave and trying to run away, and your master assigned you to catch her and bring her back, you might. But the good thing about living now is that you can portray your character any way you want. 

Medieval Working Class Mens Renaissance CostumeMedieval Working Class Womens Renaissance Costume

 

"Working class" was a step up from being a peasant. You were free-born, not a slave. You lived in a village or town, and earned your living as a merchant or tradesman. As a boy, you might go to school for a year or two, long enough to learn basic reading, writing and figuring. At about age 10 or 12 you would become an apprentice. You would go and live in a master craftsman's household and learn the trade, which could take anywhere from 3 to 7 years. You would receive room and board, but no pay. When you finished your apprenticeship you became a journeyman, and could earn a daily wage working for any master craftsman who would hire you. On your own time you worked on creating a "masterpiece" to show how well you knew your craft. If enough masters of your trade considered your finished masterpiece good enough, you became a master yourself. Then you could open your own shop and take on apprentices and journeymen.


Most men wore a shirt that was essentially a shorter version of a woman's chemise, over hose or, later, trousers. Everything fastened with drawstrings until the late 1300s when buttons were invented. Depending on your trade or craft, you might wear specialized garments over your shirt and trousers. A butcher or baker would wear an apron. A blacksmith or metalworker would wear leather gloves and an apron to prevent burns from hot metal. A merchant who wove, dyed or sold fabrics might wear richer, more expensive or brightly colored garments, to show off the quality of his work and wares.

A tradesman's daughters might be taught to read, and would learn enough figuring to use money for the family's marketing. A girl's main occupation was learning the household skills she would need to eventually run her own home after getting married in her early teens. A tradesman's wife might, or might not, help out in the business in addition to managing the household. If she herself was literate, she might teach her daughters at home. If the family was prosperous enough to afford servants, she would hire and supervise them. If not, she and her daughters would do all of the family's cooking, laundry and housecleaning.


A working class woman's clothing would be of better fabric than a peasant's, and the same basic shape, but not as fine and soft as that of a noblewoman. She might wear more than one overdress or overskirt. If her husband's trade was weaving, bleaching or dyeing fabrics, she might wear clothes almost as fine as a noble's, to show off her husband's wares and skill. Her clothing would be fastened with laces and drawstrings, usually in the front. However, if the family could afford servants she might have her laces at the sides or in the back. That was a sign of wealth, because it required the assistance of a servant to put it on. (No medieval husband would fasten his wife's laces. Unfasten them, maybe, if feeling amorous. But the days of "Honey, would you zip me up?" were more than half a millennium in the future.)

Medieval Working Class Couples Costume Idea

A journeyman on his way to work encounters the daughter of his former master, on her way to the market square. The last time he saw her a year or so ago she was an awkward little girl. But now, she's become a beautiful young woman. Could love be brewing? From the young man's point of view it would be a good match, giving him the prospect of long-term employment in her father's business. The question is, would her father allow it? Would the girl be pleased? (Not that her opinion mattered--she would marry whomever her father chose. But still, it wouldn't be pleasant to marry a girl who hated you.)


But thoughts of marriage could wait until another day. For now, a simple smile and nod is a good start to courtship. Perhaps a greeting of "Good morrow." If he should meet her again on the way home from the market, maybe offer to carry her market basket for her. For today, though, he had to get to work. Maybe after Mass on the Lord's Day he could approach her.... 

Medieval Royalty Mens Renaissance CostumeMedieval Royalty Womens Renaissance Costume

 

A medieval king's primary function was military, to defend the land against invaders. He granted fiefs of land to nobles in return for military service when needed. And he collected taxes from them. This was his primary source of income. Each lord managed his fief with the labor of peasants. Extensive education was not considered necessary. Most nobles and royals could read, but not all could write or figure. They hired clerks for that.


Since he was a military general, the king often wore chain mail armor over his shirt and hose or trousers. When not fighting or training to fight he would wear a surcoat or tunic over the shirt and hose. These would be made of the finest, richest materials available, to demonstrate wealth--which equaled power. Everyday items such as drinking cups and chess pieces would be set with gems, again to show off wealth.

Royal women probably wore the most elaborate clothing of anyone in the Middle Ages. It didn't matter how complicated it was to put on, because they had plenty of maidservants to help. A queen started with the same type of chemise as any other woman, but hers would be made of the finest bleached linen and thin enough to be almost sheer. Her bodice, skirt and sleeves would all be separate pieces, attached by laces and ties. They would be made of the softest wool or the smoothest imported silk, and might be decorated with elaborate embroidery or set with gems.


How did a queen or noblewoman occupy her time? She still managed the household, though her input took the form of giving orders to servants. When her husband was off at war she also managed the estate and oversaw any trade. For leisure she might sing and play a musical instrument such as a lute, or play chess or backgammon. Many ladies enjoyed horseback riding as well. Many noble and royal households maintained private chapels and chaplains, and most ladies attended Mass daily.

Medieval Royalty Couples Costume Idea

Love or the lack of it was considered irrelevant in noble or royal marriages. Marriages were arranged to cement political alliances or prevent wars. No king would attack a neighbor if his sister or daughter was that neighbor's wife! That led to the romantic ideal of courtly love that's celebrated in Arthurian legend and much medieval poetry. Since most marriages were not based on love, lords and ladies found other lovers than their spouses. But there was a huge catch, especially for the ladies. Adultery was a sin in the eyes of the Church, and a crime in the eyes of the law. So courtly love had to remain chaste and unconsummated. Knights carried tokens from their lady-love into battle. They required vanquished opponents to swear fealty to their ladies. And ladies pined at home for lovers they could never formally acknowledge. Minstrels and troubadours wrote and performed songs and poems celebrating famous lovers and love triangles. Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot. Tristan and Isolde. Troilus and Criseyde. PalamonArcite and Emily.


You and your beloved can become any of these renowned literary couples. You could also become a real-life historical couple such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry IIWilliam the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Abelard and Heloise. Be glad that in the 21st century you don't have to suffer in silence as you love someone who is married to another!

Elizabethan Peasant Mens Renaissance CostumeElizabethan Peasant Womens Renaissance Costume

 

By the Renaissance (roughly the year 1400), slavery and serfdom were becoming rarer; peasants weren't legally tied to an estate. However, most peasants remained tied to the land by tradition, if not by law. That was the only life they knew, and they didn't have the skills or learning to do anything else. Education became a bit more common; more peasant boys were taught the basics of reading than in earlier eras, but still mostly did farm work. 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. Peasants wore rough, coarse homespun wool or linen fabrics in muted colors (bright dyes were still expensive).

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 (worn covering the shoulders) was the basic female attire. As with men, a peasant girl's clothes would be made of cheaper, coarser fabric than a princess's. Peasant women helped with farm work by tending poultry and kitchen garden plots. They brewed ale, made cheese, baked bread. They spun and wove homespun fabric and made clothing for their families. It was less likely that a peasant girl would be allowed to have any education. Nobody thought it was necessary.

Elizabethan Peasant Couples Costume Idea

By the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, peasants no longer needed their lord's permission to marry. And since they didn't have to worry about political concerns, they could and did marry for love. A girl still needed her father's permission to marry (or, if her father was deceased, another male relative such as a brother or uncle). So young men could court young women, perhaps by walking home from Sunday Mass together, or meetings on market day. The young couple shown here might be doing just that! 

Elizabethan Working Class Mens Renaissance CostumeElizabethan Working Class Womens Renaissance Costume

 

In the Renaissance a working-class man would still be a tradesman or craftsman. He would be more likely to live in a town than on a country estate. He might be a tavern keeper, or a butcher, a chandler (maker of candles), a carpenter or a stone mason. He might be a glover or a shoemaker. He 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 (unless his trade involved making, bleaching or dyeing of fabrics. Then he would wear the best of his wares, as a form of advertising.) Most working-class men had at least basic education in reading, writing and figuring. 

Working-class did not automatically equate to poverty. Some tradesmen who were skilled at their craft and astute in their business practices became quite wealthy. But no matter how much wealth they might amass, they would never be allowed to own land or to become a knight. Those privileges were reserved for men of "gentle" birth, who looked down upon wealth acquired through trade as vulgar. 

The wife or daughter of a prosperous tradesman might have a very pleasant life. Or not. Like any woman of the age, her role in life would be to eventually get married, have children, and manage her household. She would likely have at least a bit of education, and might help out in the family's business. The more prosperous her father, the more likely she might be to have an arranged marriage to further her father's business interests. And her father may or may not care about her own preferences. 

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. If the family could afford servants, she might have leisure time to do music or decorative needlework.

Elizabethan Working Class Couples Costume Idea

This photo could represent a Renaissance working class couple on their wedding day. (The custom of brides always and only wearing white didn't arise until more than two centuries after the Renaissance ended. And only in the wealthiest families could a bride afford to have a special dress made just for her wedding. So most brides simply wore their "Sunday best," whatever color it happened to be.) Chances were that the man had more choice about the match than the woman, though some families did consider a girl's wishes and preferences when choosing her future husband. And while few fathers would force their daughters to marry cruel or brutal men, love was not considered essential.

Elizabethan Royalty Mens Renaissance CostumeElizabethan Royalty Womens 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.


As a Renaissance king, prince or nobleman you could become Henry VIII, King James (of King James Bible fame), King Ferdinand of Spain (who sponsored Christopher Columbus's voyages to the "New World"), courtier Sir Walter Raleigh or explorer Sir Francis Drake. Even if you choose to be an anonymous noble, you would enjoy the fruits of education made possible by the writers and thinkers and scientists of the age.

The Renaissance is perhaps the first period of European history to have so many prominent women figures. Queen Isabella of Spain. Elizabeth I of England. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, and four stepmothers. Mary, Queen of Scots. "Bloody" Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's half-sister, and her mother, Catherine of Aragon. Whether you choose to become one of these historic women or a character of your own invention, you'll need a truly regal look.


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 called farthingales to maintain their bell shape. Some farthingales were so wide that a lady had to go through a doorway sideways! Clothes would be elaborately embroidered and set with gems. We don't have farthingales--be glad of it. But we do have hoopskirts to give a full skirt look.

Elizabethan Royal Couple Costume Idea

Royal women of the Renaissance began to take more equal roles in courtship and marriage, though most royal and noble marriages were still arranged to serve political objectives. Many ladies whose husbands were absent or inattentive took lovers, and many of them felt little need to be discreet. They were simply following the example of King Henry VIII, who was not noted for discretion.


As a Renaissance couple you could portray Henry VIII and any of his six wives. Or you could be King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Maybe even Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Essex. Attend entertainments of music and dancing, or see one of Master Shakespeare's plays at the Globe Theatre. Host a salon gathering and invite noted poets and scholars of the day. Maintain a correspondence with such luminaries as Galileo or Copernicus. It was a time when learning began to be available to anyone who wanted it and could afford it.

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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 IdeaGalileo Costume Idea

 

Joan was born in the small rural village of Domremy in northeastern France, probably in 1412 (there is no official record). Her parents owned a 50-acre farm and her father was a local village official. As was usual for peasant girls, she received no formal education. She never learned to read, and could barely write her own name--which she signed as "Jehanne." But at age 12 she 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. 

Jehanne traveled to Chinon and later to Orléans disguised as a boy, and became an advisor and standard-bearer for the war. She successfully raised the siege of Orléans, which theologians of the time who examined her proclaimed as proof of her theological orthodoxy. 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. It further declared that the bishop who had prosecuted Jehanne in the first trial was the heretic, not she herself. The Catholic Church beatified her in 1909 and canonized her as a saint in 1920. 

Only one purported image of Joan of Arc made during her lifetime has survived, and it was made by a man who never actually met her. So nobody knows what she really looked like. The costume shown here is based on an 1854 painting.

Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) was one of the first scholars to study natural phenomena in the modern way, i.e. by observation and experiment. His father, Vincenzo, was a professional musician and composer, and Galileo himself became a talented amateur musician. Money was never plentiful in the Galilei household, so his father urged Galileo to attend the University of Pisa to study medicine--the basis for a lucrative career. While at the university he discovered mathematics, and was hooked. He switched his field of study and eventually became chair of mathematics at Pisa and later at Padua. 

He got into trouble with the Catholic Church in 1615 when he defended Nicolaus Copernicus's contention (later shown to be true but revolutionary and controversial at the time) that the Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. The geocentric theological view held that the Earth was the center of the universe, based on various scripture passages that describe the Earth as immovable. Thus, a heliocentric view was heresy and contrary to scripture. In 1633 the Inquisition found Galileo to be "vehemently suspect of heresy." He was sentenced to house arrest and prohibited from publishing any further articles. 

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. His experiments and writings formed the basis of Isaac Newton's laws of motion and Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity. He was one of the first to express natural laws in precise mathematical terms. 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 IdeaChristopher Columbus Costume Idea

 

Historical purists will be quick to point out that Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727) wasn't even born until more than 20 years after the Renaissance ended. But who wants to be that picky?  

Any student who has griped and struggled through a calculus course has Newton to thank. He helped invent it. Modern physics owes a lot to Newton, as well. After observing an apple falling from a tree (which apple, according to acquaintances who were present, did NOT hit Newton's head) he began to study gravity, and formulated the theory of gravitation which has been only slightly modified since he first proposed it. He developed the laws of motion that have not required any modification in light of modern knowledge. He also studied light and optics--though most of his ideas about those turned out to be wrong. 

Many portraits of Isaac Newton were made throughout his life. and many of his writings survive. 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. He once wrote in a letter that, "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Newton never married, and colleagues described him as totally uninterested in women or marriage; he reportedly died (at age 84) a virgin. 

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!

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. 'But, wait!" you say. "Didn't we all learn in grade school that Columbus discovered America?" Yes, most of us did learn that. But it's not strictly true. Columbus was one of the first Europeans to make landfall in the Western Hemisphere, though he and his crew never actually set foot on the North American continent. The closest they got were islands in the chain we now call the Bahamas. The goal of his exploratory voyages was to find a shorter, quicker route from Europe to India than sailing all the way around Africa; he didn't know he had found a "new world." He also didn't know that the Vikings had beaten him to North America by nearly half a millennium. 

In recent decades Columbus, his crew, and the explorers and colonists who followed have been vilified by many. They've been accused of causing genocide among indigenous peoples, though the smallpox epidemics that decimated native populations weren't exactly intentional. At the time, no one understood how diseases were transmitted. And in return, the crews of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria brought syphilis to Europe for the first time. While it's true that you can't "discover" a place that already has people in it, to be fair, Columbus didn't know that! When he set out on his voyage, he had no idea what, if anything, he would encounter. What's more, most navigators still thought the world was flat and that his idea of sailing west to get to the east was ridiculous. So it still took extraordinary courage to embark upon a voyage from which you knew you might never return. 

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, study navigation. Or not. But find and carry a copy of an old map, to at least give the appearance of knowing something about navigation. A telescope or sextant would be useful, as well. 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. He had little formal education, and was apprenticed to the painter Verrocchio at age 14; he later studied Latin and mathematics on his own. Fewer than two dozen of his paintings still exist, but he left behind countless drawings and sketched studies of everything from human anatomy to flying machines. He drew designs for bridges, hydraulic pumps, musical instruments, mortar shells with fins, and a steam cannon. 

Leonardo was well-known during his lifetime, and his accomplishments have never fallen out of knowledge. However, little is known about his personal life. He was born out-of-wedlock in 1452 to a peasant woman who was the lover (and possibly a slave) of a wealthy, already-married notary, in the village of Vinci near Florence. It is known that he never married and that he fathered no children. There have been many debates about his sexuality. 

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. He was a vegetarian, which was quite unusual at the time. If you want to portray this great artist, first you need the hair and the beard. 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! Limited understanding of the natural world led people to attribute many phenomena to a miracle, to magic or sorcery. 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. The Catholic Church condemned such beliefs and activities, but they persisted. And modern authors of fantasy fiction have a rich body of folklore to draw upon as they create magical characters. 

Gypsies predict 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!

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Renaissance Wizard Costume IdeaRenaissance Fairy 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. 

In some legends, wizards are born with innate abilities. In others, they learn the craft through study and practice. Still other legends combine both ideas--the wizard has to learn how to use his (or her) talents. But no matter how they gain their skill, wizards use their art to influence human events.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!

 

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. 

Fairies occur in stories as diverse as old fairy tales retold by Disney animation artists, and Shakespeare's plays. Many medieval and Renaissance poets and writers draw upon fairy stories. Oberon and Titania create mischief in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and composer Henry Purcell set music for an adaptation of it. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene is an allegory on Elizabethan politics, cast in a fantasy world. 

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 IdeaRenaissance Fortune Teller Gypsy Costume Idea

 

Elves come down to us 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. 

The fun thing about becoming a mythical creature is that nobody can tell you that your interpretation is right or wrong. So go ahead, do your own thing!

The Romani people, or Gypsies, as they are pejoratively called, are an ancient people whose origins have been traced to northern India in the 6th century AD. They migrated north and west as a group by way of Constantinople and the Balkans, reaching Europe by the late Middle Ages. Genetic evidence suggests they arrived as early as the 12th century, but the first written historical record of them dates to 1322. They were skilled metalworkers and musicians, but have been persecuted in many localities. 

As a matter of self-preservation, the Romani 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 Delphic Oracle advised King Minos of Crete to imprison the beast in the center of a huge labyrinth near his palace. Every seven years, the city of Athens was required to send seven young men and seven unwed girls, drawn by lots, as a penalty for having killed Minos's son. The young people would be sent into the labyrinth, to wander blindly until the monster found them and devoured them. Theseus volunteered to slay the beast. Aided by Minos's daughter Ariadne, he used a ball of thread to avoid getting lost in the maze; he successfully slew the Minotaur and retraced his path out of the maze. 

The Cyclops is one of three creatures that were brothers of the Titans. The trio of one-eyed brothers, named BrontesSteropes and Arges, were the sons of Uranus and Gaia. They wer craftsmen who created the weapons of the gods: Zeus's thunderbolt, Hermes's helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident. Later, Poseidon begat another Cyclops, Polyphemus, with a nereid. Polyphemus was famously blinded by the hero Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey. 

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. In the epic Beowulf there are also creatures called orcs, which are the corpses of warriors--sort of like the modern concept of a zombie. They have since become common characters in any number of fantasy novels and role-playing games. 

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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