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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!

MEDIA / Renaissance Costumes
Ideas, Tips & Tricks
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 happenes 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 Robin Hood 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, besides looking fantastic? 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 becuase 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

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 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.

Elizabethan Royalty Womens Renaissance Costume

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.

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

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 Costume Idea

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 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!

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. '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!

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.

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!

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.

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 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!

Renaissance Fortune Teller Gypsy Costume Idea

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 Brontes, Steropes 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.

Ye Olde Pick Up Lines

Ye Olde Pick Up Lines for Renaissance Faire Fun