One of the few requirements for attending an event in the SCA is “an attempt at pre-17th-century clothing”. <SCA Corpora II.B.> People attending their first event may borrow from a group’s garb closet or from a friend. Some have already bought something at a renaissance fair. Some even have an old peasant skirt hidden in the back of the closet – many of the first SCA events featured 1970s hippie garb.
But the time comes when “some attempt” is just not enough. That’s when it’s time to make or purchase something that’s appropriate to your persona, or that’s at least more comfortable to wear than the polyester T-tunic from the loaner garb bin.
A search for “medieval clothing” on the internet is likely to turn up some really dreadful sites. Some were made by schoolchildren who have a limited grasp of the middle ages. More are made by costumers, who would like to sell you tunics made of $5 worth of polyester for $90 a pop. Some feature pirates in short shorts, or gowns patterned after movie costumes, or uplifting “wench” outfits that defy gravity.
Similarly, a search in library stacks is likely to turn up pattern books for theatre costuming, summaries of “world costume” that take on too much, or Victorian-era reprints with their share of errors and presumptions. All of these can be useful for a quick overview, but they will frustrate anyone who really wants to look like they belong in a particular period.
The best way to learn about period clothing is to look at the real thing. For most of our period, that’s not going to happen. Even late-period items are locked in museums… in Europe. The next best way to get a feel for a time period is to look at countless examples of art from that period, and to learn to read the art for trustworthy detail. That can be a life-long pursuit. I hope the resources in these pages will offer the next-to-next best thing, and a partial solution to the eternal question, “What shall I wear?”