When you pass through the gates of a Renaissance fair, you leave the modern world behind and enter into the realm of 16th century England, the era of Queen Elizabeth I. Entering this world of historical re-enactment can be both fun and educational. Fair participants dress in 16th-century fashion and play the roles of Elizabethan society members.
- History of Renaissance Fairs
- Who Were the Tudors of England?
- Queen Elizabeth and the Power of Her Clothing
Dressing up for a Renaissance fair is easy to do. To get started, think about the different societal roles in 16th century England and the fairs that would have inspired our modern events. Queen Elizabeth was known to escape the oppressive heat and travel to the English countryside during the summer months. As she passed through rural areas, fairs built up to welcome her. In this era, nothing was more important than meeting or seeing the monarch. The entire population came out in their best dress to be in the presence of the queen.
- The Travels of Queen Elizabeth
- Social Structure in Elizabethan England
- The Importance of Fashion in Early Modern England
- The Development of Fashion as a Societal Concept
Social class strictly determined fashion choices in the Renaissance period; it was easy to figure out an individual’s place in society by their style of dress. Peasants wore basic comfortable clothes made out of materials that were easily available, like linen or wool. The typical peasant woman’s outfit was a dress with a tightly fitted bodice and a full skirt that came to her ankles. Peasant men usually wore a dress shirt with buttons, similar to modern dress shirts but missing the collar and cuffs. For pants, men wore puffed trousers above the knees and thick hose or leggings up to the knees.
- Clothing and Societal Position in the Middle Ages
- Back to Basics: The Peasant’s Renaissance Outfit
- Costuming for the Lower and Middle Classes
- The Well-Dressed Elizabethan: Renaissance Fashions as Social Markers
The merchant class tried to emulate the fashion of the aristocracy. Brightly colored cloth was a sign of wealth because it was expensive to dye fabrics. If possible, the middle class would try to incorporate some color into their outfits. The basic style of dress was the same as the peasants’ outfits but was more restrictive and included adornments. The lower class did not have servants to help get them dressed, so they were unlikely to wear corsets or bum rolls, for instance. However, wealthier women would use figure-enhancing undergarments and accessories like belts and jewelry.
- What Is a Bum Roll, and How Was it Worn?
- Colorful Clothing Was a Sign of Wealth in Elizabethan England
Wealthier men donned the same style of pants and dress shirts as the lower class but used costly imported fabrics like silk or cotton to enhance their style. An exposed neckline was common in the 16th century, and wealthier men would add lace or ruffles to their shirts’ necklines. Over the dress shirt, they would wear a cropped jacket, and some added a cloak over the jacket.
- Type of Fabric Determined Wealth and Social Status
- Mandillions and Netherstocks: Elizabethan Men and Their Dress
The desire to be associated with the aristocracy was so profound that some people blackened their teeth to appear wealthier. Queen Elizabeth was known to have black teeth, which was related to tooth decay. Having enough money to buy sugary foods was a sign of wealth, and people would blacken their teeth to look more like members of the upper class.
The nobility, wealthy members of Tudor society who owned huge tracts of land, also came out to meet the queen. Members of this social class made a fashion statement with the most expensive cloth and accessories available. In this era, the nobility adorned themselves with jewelry made with large gemstones. In addition to ostentatious jewelry, the nobles accented their clothes with bright colors, lace, and multiple layers.
- Who Were the Nobles in the Renaissance Era?
- Peasant Garb vs. Noble Fashions
- A History of Jewelry
- Terms Used to Discuss Renaissance Clothing
Just as the clothing worn by peasants was practical, the attire of an Elizabethan knight was based on the knight’s need for comfort and protection. Knights wore undergarments to protect themselves from the armor. Over the armor, they would wear a robe that was emblazoned with the coat of arms of their lord and held in place with a belt. Depending on the weather, knights may have also worn a cape over the robe. All knights also used head protection; the type of helmet they wore was a symbol of their social class and rank. In battle, knights carried a shield to protect themselves and a sword as a weapon.
- The Emergence of Knights
- The Function of Armor in the Middle Ages
- Shields and Swords: Key Elements of a Knight’s Weaponry
Putting together a Renaissance fair costume requires creativity and basic knowledge of the clothes that were worn in the 16th century. Many of the necessary items can be assembled from modern clothing. For example, the dress of a wealthy woman could be fashioned from a long, flowing skirt paired with a belt and a corset worn over a shirt with puffy sleeves.