My first SCA outfit was horrendous!
I joined the SCA in the Fall after Braveheart came out and really wanted to dress as a Highlander of the 1290’s just like Mel Gibson. I went out and bought a large chunk of ‘tartan’ material and long socks. I made a basic T-tunic shirt and topped it all off with combat boots that I had at the time. I looked just like one of Wallace’s men. The problem was that it was all wrong! I won’t dwell on the particulars of my errors but they did help lead me to the following tips for new members of any historic group.
1. Do some research
Back in ’95 the Internet wasn’t the wealth of information it is today. Nowadays you can get a pretty good idea of what you want to make within an hour or so of surfing.
WARNING: not everything you will find on the Internet is correct. Be wary of what you read. The more recent the information the better chance that it is going to be correct.
If you know what timeframe/geographic area you are interested in try to find a webpage for a Living History/ Re-enactment group that covers it. They will usually have guidelines and/or picture galleries on their sites.
2. Make sure the pattern is correct
This flows out of doing research. Nothing looks worse than an outfit that is put together incorrectly. Make sure the seams are in the right place, the waist is at the appropriate level, the sleeves aren’t too long/short, etc. There are some great books and suppliers of patterns out there.
For my first outfit I had cut the sleeves too short and wore the belted plaid too high. I looked like I had borrowed my little sister’s school uniform.
3. Make the natural selection
This should go without saying but avoid synthetic materials at all costs! Cotton is good. Linen and wool are better. Whichever group you are joining might also have restrictions/minimum standards on what you can make your outfit from.
Unless you are an experienced seamstress/tailor you should try to keep your first outfit simple. Don’t try to recreate Lord Muckitymuck’s Accension Day outfit on your first attempt. Keeping it simple also has the added benefit of keeping the costs down as well.
Keeping it simple will also save you from ruining that nice new Renaissance or Elizabethan outfit with meters of nasty, cheap, metallic trim.
5. Put your best foot forward
I know I’m probably channelling SJP here but nothing ruins an outfit faster than the wrong pair of shoes. Please no sneakers. This may cost you a bit more money but it will be worth it. The Internet has plenty of sites where you can get decent reproductions or where you can find instructions on how to convert modern shoes into passable pair of historic looking ones.
6. Cover up
People don’t wear enough hats. For most of history men and women covered their heads and you should too.
This is just some of the advice I wished I had been given before my first foray into historic costuming. Do you have a favourite piece of advice for new costumers? Maybe a picture or description of your first attempt? If you do please leave a comment below.