So to discuss Garb, I want to first note what our governing documents say about it:
- Members dress in pre-17th century clothing styles worn all over the world and participate in activities based on the civil and martial skills of the period.
- Requirements for Participants at Society Events - Anyone may attend Society events provided they wear an attempt at pre-17th century clothing, conform to the provisions in Corpora, and comply with any other requirements (including but not limited to site fees or waivers) which may be imposed. At business meetings and informal classes, the requirement to wear pre-17th century dress may be waived. All participants are expected to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner.
This is what is required to participate in events. Nowhere here does it say that the clothing need to conform to any set of standards. Some other groups have guidebooks on the minimum requirements for participation, but we do not. These other groups actually recreate specific periods of history in a manner that is very much in the public-eye. We are not those groups.
I have said this before, and will say it again, we have a minimum requirement for entry and that is actually a really, really good thing. This allows us to show up at an event and test the waters before really making a commitment. This allows us to wear something simple, if we choose, while trying to decide what it is that we really want to dive into. This also allows those who really don’t much care about garb to show up in the basics and pursue their other passions, whether it is archery, or cooking, or illumination, without having to invest too deeply (in time or money) into a field that holds little interest for them.
The exception here is those who are wanting to be considered for a Peerage. There is an additional bullet under the General Requirements for Patent of Arms that reads, “They shall have demonstrated support for the aims and ideals of the Society by being as authentic in dress, equipment and behavior as is within their power.” This is an entirely different situation than any I will discuss here, as I am mostly talking about newcomers, those in the Society who are still trying to figure out what they like, those who have interests that do not include garb at all, and casual players who want to be involved but with little commitment.
So let’s start with an example that I have used online before. One year at Pennsic I was visiting Merchant Row (probably for the 20th time that day). I love to browse the shops and chat with merchants and just really soak up the atmosphere there. In one of the leather worker’s shops I saw a young man, adult but barely so (if he was old enough to drink it was just barely). He was wearing dark sweatpants, an oversized t-shirt, that was bloused over a modern belt, and he had a cloak of some sort that might previously have been a curtain or sheer or something.
This young man was excited to be there. You can feel the joy of Pennsic rolling off of him. He was in the process of buying a standard SCA-style belt pouch. Based on the animated conversation the young man was having with the merchant, I am guessing it was probably his first purchased piece of garb and I was happy for him. I was happy that he was there. I was delighted that he was enthusiastic about his new purchase and the game he being drawn into.
THIS is the person I want to come to events, and to keep coming back to events. It did not matter at all that his costume was comprised of modern bits, what mattered was that he made an attempt and showed up and was happily engaging in what it is that we do. This meets the definition of “an attempt at pre-17th Century clothing” that is the base requirement for participation as far as I am concerned.
The fact is, he might have been anxious about his clothing choices before showing up at the event (many people are). He might have become even more anxious about it once he saw some of the masterworks of art that surrounded him. Some people are very unsure about what events are like, if their gear is “good enough” to even show up, or if they will fit in at all. But he was still there making the best effort he could, and hopefully he is still around.
Ultimately, the fact remains that this young man did not need my advice or help in any way. He did not need me to tell him how to make a tunic or what he could do to improve his garb. If he wanted assistance, there were plenty of folks to ask, or classes to take (it was Pennsic after all). If he struck up a conversation with me about garb, that would open a doorway, but until then, there was nothing for me to do beyond smile at him let him finish his transaction with the merchant.
There are folks who come to an event because they heard about it online and really do not know what to expect. They might show up in a cosplay creation, or something far more fantasy than medieval, or they might just be making do with a bedsheet toga because it was all they could manage on short notice. Make them feel welcome. Let them see what it is that we do and hopefully they have enough fun that they stick around and can learn our ways. We are increasingly seeing more and more crossover with other genres of playing dress-up, and we need to be welcome them as the newcomers that they are if we want them to keep coming back and bringing their friends. Yes, modern faeriefest attire is not part of what we do, but if we treat these folks kindly, they will stick around and learn what our hobby is all about and hopefully will dive in. (Yes, the first SCA event did, in fact, have fantasy as part of it, but the group has evolved a great deal since then and we have formal mission statements, a historic focus, and even rules about certain things. If anyone has an issue with that, that should be addressed to the BoD, and not screamed on public forums, or my blog either, because that serves no point at this time.)
For some people, glorious garb is part of what they bring to the game. It really does help provide atmosphere in the way that pretty back drops or an elegantly dressed feast table does. For others, what they bring to events is their service, or their prowess on the field, their laughter as they listen to a story while we feast. Everyone chooses how they participate and what they will bring to the table at events, and I think we all need to respect that our choices in what to offer might differ than another’s and, yes, we are all most definitely welcome here.
So, this is where I stand, and yes, it is a hill on which I will die. And while I don’t usually sling around an SCA title in conversations, I will do it here. I am a Laurel whose focus is on clothing and textiles and material culture, and no, I am absolutely not judging anyone in their choices. Most of the Laurel’s out there feel similarly, likewise with others who passionately work towards authenticity in dress as much as their ability (and wallet) will allow. Everyone starts somewhere and follows their own path and own timeline and own passions. We all need to embrace that idea a little bit harder and keep an open mind (and a closed-mouth if need be) when it comes to how others choose to participate. When do we need to speak up? When we need to encourage others, and to combat the misinformation that exists (did you know that many of the Ren Faire folks are afraid to try an SCA event because they heard that you have to have authentic clothes?).
And yes, this article is only Part 1. Part 2 can be found HERE and 3 will follow soon, and hopefully it will help those who need to pull together easy garb for a first event, or perhaps it can even help experienced players to bulk up the wardrobe for events like Pennsic.