It’s Almost Mardi Gras!

Are you looking for an excuse to dress up, post-holidays?  Well, look no further.  Carnival (traditionally known as Carnivale, in Italian), the period of time leading up to Mardi Gras, begins after the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6th.  Traditionally, from this time until Fat Tuesday—the night before Ash Wednesday, six weeks before Easter—there was revelry.  People tried to use up all their cheese, bread, and other treats before Lent—in Catholicism, a time of giving up indulgences such as meat and alcohol.  Jambalaya, wine, and cake, anyone?  Since Fat Tuesday lands on February 17th, it’s time to get started on your costume making!


The Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold (representing justice, fidelity, and power) were chosen because they were the family colors of the Romanov family—since Alexis Romanov, Grand Duke of Russia, had landed in New Orleans in search of a woman.  So there was a parade thrown in his honor, as well as a masked ball—hence the tradition of a ball, a king and queen, and the theme of royalty that still pervades festivities today.

Based on this information, there is a lot you could do toward dressing up creatively, while still fitting in one of the traditional Mardi Gras themes.  For example, you could dress all in gold, and declare yourself to be Power!  How about a scepter or wand, a gold robe or toga, golden sandals and bangles?  Athena, anyone?  Your outfit can be as outlandish or elegant as you like—it’s up to you!  If you’re at a loss for finding a golden dress or robe, there’s always gold spray paint for textiles to help transform that old T-shirt into a fabulous glittery top ready for display.

Athena Or you could dress up as a King Cake! In addition to giving out miniature pieces of cake on a tray, you could wear a crown and have a miniature baby figurine hidden somewhere in your hair or on your outfit, for revelers to find.  (The latter idea is based on the tradition of hiding a small plastic infant figurine symbolizing the baby Jesus inside the King Cake—and whoever finds the figure gets to make the cake next year.)  Just be careful with the implementation of that idea—you don’t want to invite unwanted attention!  As for the icing, go crazy with the purple, green, and gold: try bright stockings for arm coverings, legwarmers, and a fun, brightly colored wig!  Oh, and silly string: have you ever thought of a better use for it?


Remember the theme of royalty? So, think of the different roles and variations of those titles: King, Queen, Court Jester, Lady in Waiting, Falconer, Maid of Honor, Knight, Page, etc.  Perhaps you can convince a friend or two to dress up as the royal court with you!  The key to looking like an aristocratic member of the court is to dress in rich jewel tones like deep purple, ruby red, emerald green, royal blue, and bright gold.  Velvet helps, too—faux or not. Oh, and you don’t have to be male to play one of these characters, of course!  Look to Gwyneth Paltrow’s squire outfit from Shakespeare in Love for inspiration:

Paltrow as Squire

So go, revel in your mortal pleasures before the Lenten season descends upon us.  Don’t forget your mask and your beads!  And remember: Mardi Gras started with a parade.  So grab your closest friends, form a line, get thee downtown, and start your own miniature parade!  You can’t have a party without friends—so be sure to be silly with them while you can!

Good Morrow: Are You Going to Scarborough Faire?

Renaissance fairs are a widely varying experience for the fair-goer, depending upon whether you are a fan or a spectator of Renaissance fair culture.  You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?  The Society for Creative Anachronism crowd or your Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends from high school would fit the bill.  Well, I confess: ever since I attended a Renaissance fair in high school and purchased a bodice and muslin peasant’s blouse, I was intrigued.

And not just because I could no longer breathe in fully whenever I wore my newly acquired outfit.

Choices, Choices

Little did I realize that many of these fairgoers take the endeavor quite seriously—especially the historically-accurate-clothing part.  I mean, there’s an entire list of merchants cited on the SCA Juried Merchants List page for Clothing & Fabric.  I noticed a considerable difference between outfits from Viking and medieval times and mid-to-late Renaissance-era times—as well as variations in outfits from different regions of Europe.  Also, depending on which class you want to represent, your costume could look dramatically different: it’s the difference between muslin and satin, linen and velvet; royalty also tended to wear brighter colors than the peasant classes, who wore more earthy or natural tones, simply because the fabrics were likely to be undyed.

To Buy or To Make: That is the Question

After browsing through of some of the outfits on these sites, I realized that historically accurate clothing reproductions are not cheap!  However, it would be easy to buy some of the more elaborate pieces, such as footwear or bodices, and make the rest of your costume, yourself.  There is no shortage of patterns for medieval and Renaissance-period costumes on the web.  What better way to put yourself in a wench’s shoes than to become a seamstress for a week or two and tailor your own outfit?   Many of the patterns are relatively simple for skirts and blouses.

Shall We Conjugate, Then, and Go to the Faire?

I recommend attending a Renaissance fair in order to see various societal roles—such as cobbler, bar wench, maiden, and knight—enacted in person.  In general, though, a good guideline for a basic Renaissance/medieval-era outfit includes the following:

  • A natural/cream-colored chemise, which is a loose-fitted blouse with drawstring collar usually made from muslin or linen.
  • A long free flowing or gathered skirt — either undyed or brightly colored, depending on your character’s socio-economic class status.
  • A hat — if you like — with hair braided either way, if it’s long enough.
  • A close-fitting bodice, often dark or brightly-colored, and usually made of either twill or brocade – again, depending on your character’s profession or class status.

Fare Thee Well!

Though the list of possibilities may be daunting, there are a limited number of factors to consider, and a lot of potential fun to be had, in the process.  I hope you have a blast inhabiting the garb of a Renaissance-era woman, next time you have an excuse to dress in costume!