This article is about Garb, and my personal perspective on it. I ask that anyone who chooses to comment please read the whole thing first and understand that all comments must be positive in nature (I will delete anything else). We have all heard about misdeeds of the past, and it serves no purpose here to retell these things. Instead, I want a conversation about bringing more positivity and understanding to the game, about how to be more welcoming into our Society. There were be additional parts to this article coming soon.
I think I made my position on garb pretty clear in the first write-up in this series, I want to offer the reminder that we can be our own worst enemies at times. I have spent more than one late night crying before an event because something I felt I “had” to have ready either wasn’t going to be finished or just plain wasn’t working out at all. I think most SCA artisans do this at some point or another and we need to remember that none of this is actually necessary.
Would it be nice to show off the new dress? Yes! Should anyone else care if it is not ready? Oh heck no. Yet we put this pressure on ourselves and I find that newcomers, who might not even have been to an event before also feel that pressure to have the “right” outfit before they even know what “right” is.
Do you thrive under pressure and feel joy in wrangling that dress through the sewing machine at 3am? Please, do so if you love it. Do you really just _want_ more than anything to own that classic princess dress of your dreams? Please then, make it! But you are not require to put in these hours to please anyone else.
Other things to keep in mind when taking the dive:
- It is not necessary to make a new outfit for each event. It is also not necessary to match the theme of the event if there is one. I made that mistake for years and really got burnt out over it.
- Historically, most people had very few garments compared to today. That means it is totally period to have a very small wardrobe!!! I even have a friend who goes to Pennsic (for a week or more) with only a couple of gowns and I think three underdresses is what she told me. She washes out the underdresses after wearing them and so she always has something clean to wear. This is a far more accurate way of doing it than my own rather expansive garb closet, lol. Some people prefer to have enough garb to never do laundry at a long event, but this is still good to keep in mind that one can absolutely take this approach if needed.
- Don’t let the idea of perfection get in the way of actually coming out to play. Your garb does not need to be perfect to come to an event. This especially applies to relative newcomers, but still is good to keep in mind for long time players as well. I would rather see someone show up in a tunic they just made tossed on over sweatpants because they did not have time to get the pants done, than to have them opt out totally due to lack of ‘period’ pants.
- You are not in a competition with anyone else. Folks are not judging your garb by comparing it to the person next to you. Even if you are entering a competition, you are likely being judged against a rubric (a set of criteria) and then whoever scores highest on that will win, rather than just comparing two entries to each other.
- We absolutely allow for accommodations. Do you need to wear glasses at all times? Do you have to wear sun glasses if the sun is bright? Do you need to wear sneakers (or in my case, Birkenstocks) to prevent damage to your feet? Do you not handle the heat well and find that short sleeves, even if not period for your persona, make Pennsic more tolerable? Cannot afford wool or linen, cotton fabric is totally fine. All of these things are more than reasonable choices and they should never be questioned.
- Kids always get a pass. Is your kid sensitive to certain fabrics? Then don’t push linen or wool on them, a loose cotton tunic and PJ pants might be the way to go! Does your little princess prefer to be a Disney princess? Totally fine as long as they are happy. The entire event is happier if the kids are happier so definitely do not fret kid garb!
Now let’s talk a bit about how to get garbed up.
Sewing – This is the obvious one. Learning to sew and taking time to make your own clothing is the most common approach. The problem with this is that many people don’t like to sew, and they should not be pushed into doing something they really do not enjoy. Some people know how and even enjoy it, but just do not have time for whatever reason. Some people are happy to sew simple things, but not comfortable tackling bigger projects. (For example, I don’t enjoy sewing, but will do so for some things, I do hate tailoring and pattern making with a passion though and go out of my way to avoid it.) Others might want to learn, but have been unable to find a teacher and the pandemic has made SCA sewing gatherings much more difficult. So sewing your own garb is an option, and I will address some very simple options for that in the last part of these articles. I will recommend that if you are new that you do opt for simple over complex for your first event. One will see so many types of garb at an event that it can help overcome some uncertainty about what to make.
Gold Key – Is there are group local to you? (https://www.sca.org/about/kingdoms/) Many groups have what they call Gold Key Garb. This is loaner gear that is set aside to help newcomers enjoy their first event with less pressure. Some places have a well-stocked closet, others might have a simple cloak or tabard that one can wear and a mug to borrow to explore the event while you figure out what you might want to make or buy for your next one. Talking to the local Chatelaine (an officer who can help with newcomer questions) can let you find out if they have loaner gear (and can often be helpful in other ways as well, these folks love to be helpful).
Thrifting – Some people love to haunt thrift shops, Goodwill, and yard sales. Some items can be taken apart and have the fabric repurposed for SCA use. A large men’s wool sport coat can have the fabric salvaged for a woman’s bodice, hats or other items. Curtains or bedding offer large lengths of fabric that could become any number of garb items with some sewing skill. Other things can be purchased and used as-is, because they meet the “attempt” that is required. Long, full skirts, particularly in solid colors, can make a great base wardrobe item. Modern tunics in woven fabrics (rather than knit like t-shirt fabric) might work over a long skirt or cotton PJ pants as suitable first garb. Shawls can become cloaks, as can heavy wool blankets. I know people who have found long, loose summer dresses in 100% linen at Goodwill. Something like that can be a great item to have in the garb closet and you can accessorize it with a belt or sash and a veil and look fantastic at an event while learning more about different garb types to decide what you might like to pursue.
I think at this time I need to talk briefly about fibre types and how they might affect your comfort levels. Linen is going to typically be your coolest fabric in hot weather due to the way it wicks sweat and draws it away from the body to evaporate. One of the real pluses to linen is that it dries rapidly, which means you can wash out linen garments at Pennsic and hang in the sun during the afternoon and they will almost assuredly be dry by nightfall. Linen-cotton blend is also a good call for hot weather. Many people also find cotton comfortable enough (particularly very light weight gauzy cottons). Wool is fantastic for keeping you both warm and dry, and very, very light weight wools can even be comfortable in the summer. Rayon is a cellulose based fibre as well, but it is heavily processed and wrinkles very easily, but many applications of that have a nice drape that people enjoy. It also can shrink drastically, but it can also be comfortable in hot weather for many individuals. Synthetics like acetate or polyester typically do not breath well at all, but the nice patterns we sometimes find on home goods still make up into lovely garb (it just might not be the best choice for hot and humid events like Pennsic). Synthetics typically will not do well around fire. A pretty chiffon skirt might look lovely for dancing, but you will not want to wear it near a fire because one spark could cause it to either melt to you or go up in flames. Learning about different weaves and fibre types can help you better search out thrifted items to expand your wardrobe.
SCA/LARP Vendors – Of course there are vendors that cater specifically to our hobby and I love to see folks supporting them as much as possible. There are dozens of them out there, and I am only going to list a couple here because I have personally seen their wares and because they offer items at a low price point (such as basic tunics in linen for under $100). There are artisan vendors that can make pretty much anything you would like to wear if one is willing to pay for it.
Neverland Designs - http://www.neverlandgarb.flyingcart.com/
This company offers a number of simple designs in linen or cotton that tend to be durable. You can layer a shorter linen tunic over a longer one for a great look. They have aprondresses as well. A long linen gown, a shorter flared linen tunic (listen under men’s on their site) and an aprondress could provide a versatile wardrobe. Either dress could be worn under the aprondress, or alone, or both gowns could be worn layered together. They also have decently priced chemises for those who like to wear bodices and skirts.
Linen Garb - https://www.linengarb.com/
This company is also fantastic for producing basic garments that have real lasting power. They are currently trying to find a new source for linen, but I hope to see them start vending at events again soon. They produce very nice tunics, pants and dresses and also have some fantastically embroidered specialty items as well.
Bad Ass Garb - https://badass-garb.myshopify.com/
I personally have not handled the clothing from this shop but know several folks who swear by it. They do offer 100% linen tunics for men at reasonable prices on their site and the photos also show a variety of women’s wear.
Hooded Hare - https://thehoodedhare.com/
This company makes tunics, dresses and aprondresses in 100% linen that one can use for many years. The decorated tunics are a somewhat fantasy interpretation, but they are a staple for many SCA wardrobes. They are more pricey due to the work that goes into them but look and wear well. They do offer simpler undertunics that fall under $100 for a 100% linen garment as well.
Grimfrost - https://grimfrost.com/ (Updated 4/1/22) - I was aware of this vendor but did not know anyone who has specifically purchased clothing there until last night so I am now adding them. I have long known that the clothing was not suitable for serious reenactment, but based on the review last night the garments sound sturdy and they offer things like linen gowns for $75 and tunics for $69 which is not bad at all. Their aprondresses with the side slits are a modern interpretation rather than historic, but they would still be more than suitable for SCA purposes if accuracy is not the goal.
There are many additional SCA and LARP vendors online, but I have not personally been able to vet their wares, so will not go into detail about them here. I would LOVE, however, if those who have purchased from other outlets would chime in in the comments with other options for affordable garb that folks can use to get started. I will note that if you can afford an entire outfit to start, that Historic Enterprises (https://historicenterprises.com/) offers whole outfits and even does custom sizing.
Easy to Purchase/Inexpensive Mundane Crossovers – Another way to get quick and low priced garb is to search online for vendors that sell basic garments in natural fibres that can be repurposed to SCA use. There are a few things to watch out for when selecting vendors:
- Don’t buy from Wish. Just please don’t. There are many unreputable vendors there who sell items that lie about metal or fibre content, and many that are just scams outright. It is not worth the problems you can get by purchasing from this source. See my rant about Wish here if you like.
- Vet other sources carefully. There are plenty of vendors on Amazon that are overseas and it can take weeks to get your items, or where they are not returnable at all, or that the sizing is based on sizing charts in China and not what you might be used to in the US. Read reviews carefully and also ask friends or SCA groups online if they have used these vendors. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is.
- Facebook hosts a ton of scam ads. Unless you know the company is legitimate, just avoid these completely.
I personally have found a ton of wonderful linen or wool scarves/shawls on Amazon or Etsy that made for fantastic veils for SCA use (you can search this blog for headcoverings or scarf to see some I have reviewed in the past). There is a brand named FLAX that sells very basic linen dresses, that while not cheap would make lovely additions to an SCA wardrobe (and occasionally these show up in thrift shops). Garments like this can also serve two purposes as both SCA and modern apparel.
Things like woven (not knit t-shirt) PJ pants in solids or sometimes plaids are a great way to cheaply purchase pants to extend a wardrobe. No one will see the waist band when a tunic is worn over them. And if you already have solid ones that are knit fabric in your drawer, they will be passable for a first event as well. Likewise, a simple pair of modern summer linen pants will be comfortable and passable when under a tunic.
I recently saw a conversation on Facebook about beginner garb and someone linked a shop called AnySize on Amazon that has cotton linen blend dresses at reasonable prices. I decided to get one to check it out for myself and it arrived this week.
I opted for THIS ONE with ¾ sleeves, despite that that is not the most period of choices for many times and places. I want the dress for working in camp at Pennsic and for working outside in the summer and that is just more practical for me for that purpose (and it is totally fine by SCA standards as well). It washed and dried well (despite saying Dry Clean Only) and did not seem to shrink too much as the fit felt pretty similar before and after washing. The fabric has a texture to it, almost like a very heavy gauze (or Deva cloth, for the local folks who might remember that stuff). The weight is not bad for hot weather, I don’t think, but I have not been able to test it yet given that it has been snowing on and off here for the last few days. It is not as smooth as a good quality 100% linen (though not scratchy at all), and it might further soften with wear and additional washing. For me it will still be perfectly comfortable. Long sleeve version is HERE (they have more than one long sleeve style so looking at their storefront can help you find those).
Regarding sizing - I ordered the Medium and it has almost exactly the bust size that the underdresses I make myself have (39-40” in circumference is what I usually make, my bust measurement is 34”). I would say these run pretty true to size. I am 5’6” so it is mid-calf on me, which is fine for me for hot weather or a work dress or for layering. Some folks prefer to wear shorter garments regardless of any other factors (when I started I made a bunch of Ren bodices and skirts and those skirts were never longer than mid-calf on me, and I usually wore Docs for shoes and the world did not end over it).
The dresses also come in long and short sleeve versions. These are essentially T-tunics and could serve well for a first dress or for bulking up a wardrobe for Pennsic. In addition to having the option of wearing it on its own, I dressed up my dummy to show some additional options. While I used this Amazon dress in my photos here, these would work with any basic garment (and serve to show why anyone could make use of a few simple tunics/dresses whether from Amazon, Neverland, or elsewhere) as part of their wardrobe. While browsing Amazon I saw a number of vendors selling men's simple caftans in linen-cotton blend (my partner purchased one and I will review later when it arrives) and even cotton-linen drawstring men's pants. If ordering something from a new source, I do recommend ordering a single item first and checking quality before stocking up. lol
I also purchased another linen scarf (which can be found at Amazon HERE) that can be seen in these photos. This one would make a great head wrap, veil or sash. It comes in other colors as well, but note that some colors are cotton and others are linen.
This is where I need to crowd source. Do you have basic garments that are reasonably priced (under $100) that you use for events that you love? Please leave a review and a link in the comments so that others can see what their options are!
This aprondress is a wrap style. Apron dresses that had some sort of opening to them used to be considered likely, but those theories have fallen out of favor with academics. Despite that, some people like them still because they like the versatility in sizing that they get from the garment. I personally do not prefer them because they do not sit well with big, heavy brooches without a belt but they still look nice.
Many vendors sell aprondresses now, and there are a variety of styles to choose from. Some are more period than others, so whatever direction you opt to go with this garment is up to you. Perfection is not required! And if you sew, there are some very easy to make styles out there. The Second Breakfast Dress that I talk about HERE is one of the simplest.
For Fibula here I have some of the simplest ones that ThorThor sells. His work is very good quality and very, very well priced. It never hurts to have an extra set of pins or two around!
Again, please feel free to leave your own suggestions for simple garb and reviews of items you have bought in the comments. Please keep all comments positive (though I will allow negative reviews) and have fun!