Cute Long Sleeve Dresses & Gilded Tunics: What to Wear to the Renaissance Festival

Renaissance festivals have, ironically, seen a renaissance in recent years. It’s tempting to say that they’ve gone from a weekend enjoyed by nerds to a fun time for the general public, but the fact of the matter is that nerd culture has itself gone mainstream. Thanks to cinematic juggernauts like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the general public has come around to a fundamental truth that permeates through pop culture: nerds rule. Now, pop culture is dominated by things that were once cringey and weird to be into. The average person on the street, picked completely at random, can likely name all of the members of House Stark and break down their position in Westeros politics or explain which Dungeons and Dragons class is the best generalist (incidentally Cleric for power, Bard for shenanigans). To put it bluntly, nerds won the culture war.

No truer is this on proud display than at your local renaissance festival! For a few months in the summer or fall, your state hosts the festival every weekend. Thousands of people go to enjoy medieval revelry, including special shows, performances of Shakesperean classics, period food like turkey legs or mead, and plenty of vendors selling fun things. While the food may be historically dubious, as you can see here,  it’s some of the best festival food you’re likely to find. If you haven’t taken the chance to enjoy one, you’re really missing out and owe it to yourself to swing by and enjoy something deep fried on a stick. But what should you wear? That’s where we come in. This guide will go over proper etiquette and for Renfest attire.

General Etiquette

The good news is that there is almost no proper etiquette! Generally speaking, you can wear whatever you want to the faire and nobody will think twice about it. Anything from casual wear to full period accurate regalia would be welcome there. If you’re the kind of person who would get into the fantasy of it and want to go in full costume, there are only a few things you’d need to keep in mind. Don’t worry, there are only two major faux passes that you need to be aware of, and they’re not even hard and fast rules, more guidelines so you don’t come off like a low key jerk. The first is simple: remember that there will be kids there, so avoid oversexualizing your look. Bikinis or corsets are fine, and chainmail bras have a tried and true history as Renfaire garb, but don’t go over the top with it.

The second thing to keep in mind is that it’s generally considered gauche to go dressed as a king or queen. Anything else is fine, but king and queen are special roles. Each faire already has a king and queen, usually either whoever is hosting the festival or an important donor who helps keep the thing open and going. While there are no explicit rules that state you can’t go to the festival dressed as a king or queen yourself, you’d be essentially taking thunder away from some of the most important and vital people to the fair’s culture. No-one will stop you, but everyone is going to judge you a little bit.

 

Casual Wear for the Casual Fan

The main consideration is going to be the weather. Renfaire can get beastly hot during the summer, especially with global temperatures rising on average. While you can find cool drinks and shade at most fairs, you’ll need to dress in cool, comfortable clothing to avoid baking in the summer sun. Meanwhile, autumnal Renfaires would see you benefit from warmer clothing. Things like flannel shirts, long jeans, and long sleeve dresses are what you’re going to want. Dress for the weather and you’ll be fine!

You’re going to see a lot of people in fun and interesting costumes, but don’t for a second think that they’re mandatory to enjoy the day! Maybe you’re the kind of person who wants to enjoy the festival without getting too deep into it. That’s perfectly fine and valid; nobody should dictate to you how you enjoy something. If you want to go in your normal attire, there are still a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to maximize your comfort and enjoyment. There’s no need to get anything special, your most casual clothing will be more than enough. Just make sure you bring a change of shirt in case of mud; I can’t count the number of times the joust has dirtied up a good shirt!

Costumes of Every Kind

Here’s where we get into the real fun! There’s no limit to what kind of costume, called garb, that you can enjoy at the Renaissance Festival. Most festivals have themed weekends that can provide a guide if you need it, such as Celtic or Halloween themed weekends. I personally enjoy wearing my traditional kilt to these things, as it’s one of the few opportunities I get to show it off! Finding a good renfaire costume can run you a lot of money if you’re not careful, but it may be worth the extra expense if you really get into it. Historically accurate costumes are increasingly popular, as you can see at https://archive.org/details/consuminghistory00groo, and that can run deep in the wallet. For those who really want to stand out, a few hundred dollars for a pirate coat or a fine feathered hat is nothing.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from going a little bonkers with your creativity. It’s not out of the ordinary to see fairgoers wearing Star Trek uniforms! Full fantasy cosplays of your favorite characters are welcome as well. No matter what you wear, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time. Give in to the fantasy and revelry, and do yourself a favor: go to your local Renfaire this season, and have fun!

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Houke de Kwant is a frontend developer from the Netherlands and the creator of TheArtHunters (former Daily Inspiration, which was started as part of his study).

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