My momma, my partner, and I went to the Renaissance Festival northwest of Houston for the weekend. Now, when we go to a Renfest, we DO Renfest. We dress up from head to toe, complete with weaponry, if it is called for.
This is a fairly recent phenomenon; originally, we went and observed the costumes of others. Simple people-watching evolved into the active gathering of ideas, which finally resulted in several (pricey but worth it) purchases, and poof! Several alteregos were born, and this revealed an unexpected deeper layer of fun and participation. You never quite know what it’s like and how much more fun it is to participate until you actually DO it. And there has never been a better time to do so; Renfests are becoming increasingly participatory, so you’ll fit in more and more if you choose to partake. But if you don’t feel like donning the garb, don’t let that stop you from going! Nobody’s going to laugh at you.
If you’ve never been to a Renfest, GO! There are tons of them around the nation, and while each has its individual perks, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen most–although don’t let the homogeneity stop you from attending multiple Renfests or traveling to a distant one, because they’re all fun.
There are very few drawbacks about Renfests. One is that things are often indeed expensive. Usually this is quite justified, as the vendors selling their wares are owner-operators who handcraft their products, working long and hard at it, and using the best materials they can find. This is not your made-in-China, falls-apart-within-2-washings kind of deal, this is the real and true made right here in the Good Ol’ US of A, about as Fair Trade as you can get. It’s also truly unique, not usually the kind of merchandise you can pick up at your local mall or flea market. So, the higher price is well-offset by the quality of the products, and the memorable experience of picking it out and sizing it up.
Another drawback about Renfests is not unique to Renfests–it’s happening everywhere: the tip jars where, in my opinion, there should not be tip jars. I’ll probably rant briefly about this later, because I put myself through several years of college waiting tables and I worked very hard to provide full service, with ample attention and a smile no matter how exhausted or depressed I might’ve been. Suffice it to say that since you’re standing in line to get your own food, which generally comes as is, and you’re paying enough already for the food itself, I might actually ignore the tip jar. If you’re so inclined, drop a couple of quarters in and call it good.
The only other drawback about Renfests is that the sales pressure put on you can be a little intense. Don’t worry, it’s not a timeshare seminar or anything, but they can be a little assertive and outgoing, if you catch my drift. They may also try to steer you in to certain price ranges that might be more than you need for what you’re trying to accomplish, when they may have something cheaper they’re not mentioning in their original pitch. They may also try to get you to impulse-buy, offering you a deal and making it sound like it’s just for you if you buy right now, only for that same deal to apply to everyone, being posted on the wall in plain sight. Please know that NOT every vendor does this; in fact, only few do. Many are no-pressure, leave you alone to browse, or simply ask if they can help. Most of them want you to enjoy your experience and be happy with what you get there, so that you’ll return to their store. They’re more interested in long-term satisfaction. To deal with the pushier, more assertive dealers, simply smile and ask them their name and tell them that you’re just browsing right now and that if you have any questions, you’ll ask for them specifically.
Onto the fun. Dressing up is the most fun. You can be anything you want to be. Believe it or not, you need not be 100% historically accurate. I saw a Star Wars Storm Trooper and Princess Leia couple yesterday–hardly Renaissance time period, but nobody seemed to care; they probably got even more favorable attention than they bargained for.
Also, believe it or not, you don’t have to spend a fortune to assemble a fairly good get-up. Be prepared to shell out a little cash for your principal item, whatever that is. It could be a cape or a shirt and pants or something. Accessories can be less expensive, but do set a budget and stick to it, as they can add up quickly if you’re not careful.
Also, you don’t have to stick with a Celtic/Scots-Irish theme; you can do ANYTHING from around the world. You’ll see Turkish bellydancers, Egyptian pharaohs, armored knights, pirates with real (or fake) parrots, peasants, noblemen and women, Nordic Vikings, Native American Indians, samurai, plaid kilts, witches, hippies, dragons, faeries, elves, dwarves, etc etc.
Here’s what I’ve done so far:
My Basic outfit: a simple, elegant, shiny deep-blue velvet dress with black lace angel-sleeves. It’s full-length and zips up the back. It fits well, stretching where it needs to. It can be worn in heat or in cool weather. Bonus: it’s machine washable! I also have a very simple black cloak that ties simply at the neck. No sleeves or holes, but easily moveable. Offers an underrated layer of protection against chilly wind. Holds up in all but cold damp weather, which will penetrate several layers anyway.
Warrior-Princess with a Gypsy Flare: This was this weekend’s brainchild, sort of on a whim, and I’m dang proud of it. It’s as who-loves-kitty as I truly get. I picked up a simple black shirt with what I call elf-sleeves (they hang down in a point, looking very Tinkerbell-ish) and shiny comfy-but-quite-form-fitting black velvet pants, a maroon knit layer that wraps around the top, and a matching maroon coin belt (layered sheets of semi-sheer material, with dozens of faux gold or silver coins threaded onto it) that covers the entire lower abdomen, with a decorative ties that can be tied either in back or off to the side (the latter is recommended). I acquired a simple black ladies belt that I hid under the coin belt. Its sole mission in life is to hold the bitchin’-looking and semi-functional (!) sword. Last but not least, a hot-pinkish (don’t worry; it matches the maroon-ish clothing) Gypsy-style scarf with shiny gold threads is tied almost-karate-kid-style in my hair. I was one Bad-Ass Kitty!
Future ideas include:
The Sorceress: a pretty shiny indigo hooded velvet robe/cloak, a necklace with an iridescent crystal ball being clutched by a claw hand, a knobby wooded walking stick with a crystal ball on the end of it, some elaborate glitter face paint in a beautiful design and rich bright colors, and bright flowers around the hair, and perhaps a symbol on the forehead; I haven’t decided yet.
The Medicine Woman: earthy tan/brown shirt and full-length skirt, brown suede boots that lace up, a ring of ivy around the crown, and a silver/bronze bowl with dried herbs. Perhaps a necklace that carries a small bottle of aromatherapeutic or medicinal herbal oil.
Shiva: I clearly understand that I am female and that Shiva is a male Indian god. Yep, got it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dress like him. In fact, I’m not even sure that would qualify as cross-dressing. A personified deity with 3 matted locks, a crescent moon off to the side of the forehead, a necklace of skulls, a snake around the neck (obviously a fake one should I include this in my own get-up), a third eye midline and above the eyebrows, gold hoop earrings, three horizontal lines of white chalky ash across the forehead, and the zenith–a trident, which is a long, magnificent-looking gold, 3-pronged spear-like weapon. Yeah!
Hippie: the obvious and typical tie-dyed shirt, bell-bottom jeans, scarf around the head, peace sign pendant, braided hemp bracelets, and sandals. A less-interesting and played-out theme, so it’s not super-high on my priority list.
Ceremonial Wicca Initiate: basically, a Wiccan ceremonial robe. While this isn’t required for a ceremony, and many don’t even utilize these, I still think it’d be cool. A pendant of an encircled Pentagram clinches the look.
(East) Indian Woman: a real-live salwar kameez or sari, hair in a single long braid, gold hoop earrings, a decorative bindi on the forehead, bangle bracelets, and sandals. My Om/Aum pendant is a good finishing touch, as are toe rings and ankle bracelets.
Time for bed…the kitties beckon, and we owe them bigtime. 🙂