The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them!


 Over the years I have been asked about  a variety of problems within historical costuming – and how to avoid them. I have already written a few posts on different aspects such as the look, fabrics, etc – but here all of them will be linked in one place, providing a good reference base. 🙂

 Please note, this post is targeted at folks who want to aim for the elusive ‘authenticity pinnacle’, (and ‘aim’ is usually all we can do – 100% authenticity is, of course, not achievable; Still, that shouldn’t mean that we cannot try…), and who need information to ‘up their game’ a little – either for  personal satisfaction, for work, ( re-enactors, interpreters etc), or for both.

 Many thanks to my FB followers on Prior Attire  who also contributed their ideas for this post !

1. Poor fabric/embellishment choice.

 A pretty obvious one – but  it happens again and again, often because people are not aware of the fact that the fabric they bought as ‘silk’, is actually a polyester/rayon mix… Sadly, often such fabrics are wrongly advertised as silk.  Also, it is not obvious to everybody that there are many kinds of velvets, satins and damasks – we can have cotton velvet, rayon, silk, silk/cotton blend, silk/rayon blend; many sellers say just ‘damask’, and we all jump with glee at seeing the price of £9.99 a metre… Well, guess what? Proper silk damask starts from about £40 per metre, if you are lucky – and goes on to £200 per metre, or more.

 The same is true for wool, linen, etc – some linens which are sold as ‘pure’ are in fact cotton/linen blends; some wools are blends too. Always make sure; and if it looks dodgy and too good to be true, it probably is:-(

  If you are after correct fabrics beware of these – nice patterns, but not only plastic, also dangerous near fire!


Flocked damask on ebay 

…and this – very popular; I see it on lots of medieval and Tudor gowns – ebay link here


 Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful; I made a gown from one from of these when it happened to land on my table – but be aware that this is not silk. They do make nice clothes that can look good from a distance, can be washed frequently and are cheap – but they will not pass muster if you plan to be portraying high-quality living history roles. I would recommend them for folks doing horsey displays  – nobody fingers those gowns to check the fibre content; and it is rarely  re-enactors, who do so, to be fair, rather it is public members do that frequently – invited or not! 😦
These fabrics are easy to clean, so may be suitable for this specific purpose.

 For living history, however, a proper fabric choice is a ‘must’ – and buying a poly-cotton mix instead of linen doesn’t really make much sense. It is marginally cheaper, but  for a few quids-worth of savings you get a far lower quality of cloth that will not last that long. Polyester taffetas may be cheaper than proper silk- but they not only look plastic, they feel like wearing a plastic tent too – or a mobile sauna, as poly fabrics do not breathe – making them a nightmare in the summer!

 Nobody expects you to spend a fortune on fabric –  if you cannot afford brocades, get plain silks; if you cannot stretch to silk – get nice wool or linen. Also – a silk chenille doublet will be both more expensive and less accurate than a wool or linen one – so the high cost does not always mean the fabric is suitable!

A short note on wool – nowadays we  associate it with winter coats, etc, and think that it is just too hot to wear at other times; But there are lots of kinds of wool with different weights and textures. There are some lovely soft lightweight woolen cloths that make fantastic summer kirtles, gowns, doublets, etc. As a natural fabric, wool breathes well, is non-sweaty and nice to touch – and since it is worn over a chemise, it need not be itchy, or unpleasant in any way. So choose the type of fabric suitable for the season, (or the country you live in…)


a gown for a lady doing a medieval horse display

Choosing the right fabric can be a real maze – so when you are starting your costuming adventure it can be intimidating. The best way forward? Simply ask reliable people – it is much better to seek advice before mistakenly splashing gazillions of pounds on silk velvet for a 9th century gown; or an expensive chenille cloth for a medieval robe… More on which fabrics to use for which century, and a list of providers, can be found in this post: Historical fabrics

2.Wrong pattern/shape/finish

Very tricky, this one! Obviously there were several different variations of many garments, and claiming that there is just one ‘proper’ pattern for a doublet, codpiece, bliaut or sack gown is a bit silly – especially for periods when publicly accessible information about patterns was non-existent. Still, folks tried to achieve the fashionable look in whatever way they could – and so can we. I  base my patterns on existing examples, paintings, etc, showing the seams, and then experimenting to achieve the right look and shape. There are also some historical patterns, (or books with patterns), that can start you on the right path.

The most common mistake though? Not enough fabric used to make an item. This happens a lot – and believe me, folks, If you are going for a posh garment, then that requires volume; sometimes splashing out for one more meter can make all the difference…

I have used, and can recommend, the Tudor Tailor Patterns, Truly Victorian, and some Reconstructing History ones. Still, be prepared to do a mock up and to fiddle with the item a lot before it fits!

Books with patterns –  just a few favourites:

Series of Victorian fashions by Francis Grimble



The  must have – Janet Arnold series, Patterns of fashion


 The Victorian Tailor

The Tudor Tailor

Corsets and Crinolines

17th century women’s dress patterns – 2 volumes

 The cut of women’s clothes – Men’s in separate book

The Medieval Tailor Assistant


friends rocking their lower status gear

As for sewing per se, you can go authentic and sew everything by hand, (at least until the sewing machine arrives in the 19th century) – and I do like making my own clothes this way. But sometimes there is just not enough time – and for many people time is money. I offer my clients different levels of finish – from modern, ( still minimal machine stitching used, but may be visible at a very close distance),  to the ‘golden middle’, (inside seams machined, all finishing by hand, etc), to completely authentic for the period (Hand stitched throughout). If you are participating in battle re-enactment, you may not want to spend lots of time or money on hand-stitched garments, and the public will not be able to tell from a distance. But if you are ‘up close and personal’, with people talking to you about what you wear, it is nice to show at least some hand finishing (e.g. hand woven braids instead of cheap sari trims on medieval garments, hand-stitched eyelets or buttonholes), at least on the outside.


handmade eyelets on a medieval arming doublet

Oh and zips? – Just don’t… A post on what fastenings were used throughout the ages – Fastenings

Also – Mixing things up. If you are making a Teens era outfit, using items  30 years earlier as your inspiration is just wrong.  If you have a dress from 1450, do wear a matching  headdress, not one that is 50 year later ( or the other way round).  I have seen a late Elizabethan doublet pointed to single hose – that is at least 1050 year of discrepancy, plus  braires  hanging out from the doublet looked extremely unsavoury. The poor bloke , were asked about the costume said he was told to get a hose that points to a doublet for his 1400 outfit. Nobody explained to him the differences between a medieval and an elizabethan one so he bought the two items not being aware of the mismatch.

People often defend such things saying tha they are based on original items – and that is often true – but if the items belong to 2 different eras, it is really a no-brainer –  although some overlap may exist, it is seldom to such an extent…. So stick to one era and do your research ( don’t always trust a friend who tells you so, or a seller –  no trustworthy dressmaker is going to have a problem with you asking for evidence etc) before you buy!


3. Status

A huge issue here – everybody tends to want to be the queen/king/lady/knight. Well, that is all fine, but in the past, social status was evident – and it cost to show it. Today it is not much different – if you want to portray a posh persona, be prepared to dig into your pocket. Really deep.

In this case, the dress and the fabric is just a small part of the whole – you will also need shoes, accoutrements, jewellery/bling, headgear, a retinue, weaponry, even a horse – a wealthy knight without a horse and a squire? At least get a squire -cheaper than a horse! 😉 It all costs…

But generally, if portraying wealth, the fabric, the cut, the layers, the jewelry, everything needs to be there to form the right impression. There is nothing sadder than a queen walking alone in a skimpy polyester dress and sneakers.

Most people say the cost is too high – they want to be royalty but cannot afford the fur, silk, bling. There are short cuts (more on that in the article below), but to be honest, there is no shame in not being able to afford such royal kit – we all have modern lives, and modern priorities, and have to live and pay the bills too – people will understand if you say, “sorry, cannot do a queen/king, but can do a lady in waiting/a peasant woman/ a sailor”. And, more to the point, portraying a less affluent persona is fun, too. Usually even more so, especially if you are demonstrating  a craft. Middle class is both more practical, comfortable and affordable – and can be very pretty  – and there is a lot of scope to show off your sewing skills as well. You cannot afford  10 metres of purple  silk velvet? Settle for 7m of good quality cloth and nice linen, with a touch of poshness, ( 1 or 2 rings instead of  8, a small brooch, a tasteful pendant); Or go even lower – a lot of research and work  is still needed to create a great-looking lower class person, and it is just as much fun! My all time favourite is a portrayal of a middle class lace maker – I get to demonstrate a rare skill, and people are far less intimidated (full-on royalty can be a bit too much for some!), and they are interested in what I am making, so great discussions usually follow. I will take a ‘craft demonstration’ over a ‘swan around in a posh frock’ job anytime!


For Victorian  I love these guys, showing the less glamorous side of the era –  The Ragged Victorians

pat jacobs_n

The Ragged Victorians- Photo by Patricia Jacobs Photography

I wrote a detailed post on the costing giving examples, so I won’t repeat myself much – simply head here for more details – A queen on a budget


a late 12th century/ early13th court, nicely decorated room, the queen with her ladies in attendance, all busy – what a joy to behold! Photo courtesy of the Feudals

3.a –  HORSES – so related to status.

A quick note on the horses and their use – if you are portraying a noble, or a knight and want to do it right, DO learn how to ride a horse properly. Too often have I seen a full armoured ‘knight’ or a ‘king’ sitting on a horse, being lead  around at a very sedate walk, usually by a lower rank person ( more often than not, a woman).  Knight being led by a woman, a king not able to control their own horse – not authentic, not particularly safe either. Until you  can attain the skills necessary, simply forgo the sad display – it will be far more accurate to see the same knight  holding court or engaged in ground combat.  And yes, the practice, whether on your own horse or a hired one is not cheap and takes time, effort and a few bruises too. It makes for a really joyous sight to actually see folks who  do it right –  recently at a Richard III event at Sudeley Castle the King was portrayed by Jason from Destier, the owner of the Tournament Stud –  mounted on his own horse, displaying the ease and professionalism of an adept rider and jouster,  and able to answer numerous questions about the  horse mounted warfare of the period. It was a joy to behold.

Oh, and the other way round is not too good either -having a horse and being a rider doesn’t mean that leggins and a  generic cotton tunic  or an Eroll Flynn shirt are ok for portraying a knight….

Horses and Ladies – recently side saddle riding has been coming back – which is great:-)  However, it has to be noted that using a late 19th century sidesaddle for a medieval display is not authentic.   Medieval women rode astride  ( usually mid class) or aside – either on planchette saddles or riding pillion ( a beautiful example of a hunting party with a lady riding pillion can be seen in this promotional video advertising the tournament at St. Wendel). Planchette saddle doesn’t really leave a lot of control over the mount and is  not the safest or the most comfortable contraption, but  that’s what it  was.   It is towards the end of the 15th century that the beginning of the proper side saddle are starting to emerge ( with the lady actually facing forwards) – but even then  they do feel  very different and do not offer the full comfort and support of the  later Victorian saddles, with  a leaping head (a short summary of the history -here history of side saddle ).  Again it is not cheap and pain free to learn ( my own adventures here), and it takes time and money –  but for the determined it is possible to find  a saddler specializing in reproduction saddles, be it for jousting, travelling or ladies riding.

LJP_2849 LJP_2865

A lovely reproduction of a late 15th/early 16th century saddle – and a lady riding in it, in a reproduction Holbain gown – both at St.Wendel tournament.

Also: Riding habits. very popular nowadays, and whereas it is true that in some eras they would be worn for travelling  ( in a carriage, not on a horseback) as well, their primary use was for riding.  So if you are wearing one, but do not ride, and are not currently on a horse, make sure  it does come from a period when it can be worn for general travel.

4.   Silhouette – Lack of foundation garments.

Simple –  if a corset, stays, etc are needed, then a modern bra just will not do.  Bustle cages, panniers, starched petticoats, shoulder supports, chemises, etc are a MUST… A detailed post on what supports and underwear goes in which century  here – Looking the part1 

Undergarment comparison

the same dress worn without supports -corset, petticoat and bustle cage – and with….

5. Modern make up and hairstyle

Again, a very common mistake, and one that is very easy to spot…   Fortunately it doesn’t take a lot to rectify it – there are ways to use makeup suitable for the portrayed century, ditto with hair – and it is not very pricey :-). Again, a whole post with examples and a run through from Medieval to Edwardian fashions – Looking the part2

6. No accessories/Or modern ones!

Accessories do complete the look, but they also serve a purpose: that Regency shawl may look pretty, but it will give some extra warmth on a windy evening; a reticule may look silly, but it can contain your necessary bits-and-pieces (you know, mobile phone, car keys etc 🙂 ); a hat pin is not only an ornament but prevents your hat from sailing away on a stronger gust of wind…  Medieval glasses may not be the most fetching items, but if you need glasses and contacts are not an option, they are a way to go.

In short – Do accessorize! Again, styles and examples here – Looking the part3

Regency Stock April 2015-6

5. Age/maritial status

It doesn’t really matter if you are married or not, you can choose the suitable fashions for either – but if you are portraying a married woman, a widow, a young maiden, make sure you wear styles, hair, accessories, etc which are suitable to that status and age.  Wear a cap or a bonnet, in short cover your hair in most periods, especially if you are married, (over 20 or so).

Also, this maybe a bit harsh, but  act your age… if you can pass for 25 when 35 – fantastic, good for you! – but if your character is  significantly older/younger, it might be just a poor choice? A 20-year-old ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’ collecting a ransom for Richard is a bit of a joke… We are lucky, as it may be argued that in the past people matured/grew up/got older earlier – nowadays with advances in medical care, with better lifestyle, nutrition, and beauty care, a 50 year old may well pass for 40 – but it is wise not to stretch the boundary too much… 😉 Yes, it is fascinating to be portraying a 20 year  old princess,  and as I get older I feel sad that some interesting characters are forever beyond my grasp – but then again I have discovered a plethora of intriguing characters closer to my real age, giving me an excuse for more research  (and more frocks to make!!)

Ladies Mediaeval Attire-31

6. Children

Believe it or not, children are authentic!  🙂  But if you take your little ones to work/events, you may want to consider making it fun for them too. I do understand that sometimes this is not possible, but if it is, there is rarely a cuter sight  than lads in tunics and hose, playing with wooden swords, or a little girl  dressed in a lovely frock learning her first stitches. At a living history display it is often possible to hide away any modern conveniences in part of a tent, away from the public – so when the little darlings get bored with the swords and bows and wants to play a video game, get him/her inside –  they will be happy, the public won’t see it, and you will remain sane:-)


lovely picture of Julia and her daughter at an event

7. Modern items.

If you are working/demonstrating etc – just switch off that mobile, take off the watch, (unless period correct), or modern jewelery, and resist the temptation to get that burger/ice cream.

Yes, we all need to eat – if you have modern food, cover it with a piece of linen, and eat it discretely, away from the public. Anachronistic photos are fun to take – after hours, when the work is done. During an event, eating a big Magnum ice cream or chatting on a phone sticking out from under your gable hood is a no-no.

You can snack on period-correct or similar looking items, and if you are going for a lunch break and eating in a cafe/restaurant, make it clear that you are on a lunch break to the public too – ask them not to take photos.  People understand that you are not really a 14th century physician, but a modern bloke who is working and needs sustenance – and will come back later to chat once you are back at work.


nothing wrong with cream tea for Edwardians… 🙂

8. Behaviour

A tricky one, this, but the least we can do is to try to behave in a way that our character reasonably would.  A noble lady would not be running around with her skirts hitched up, showing her knees, chasing a lowly page boy, for example; a Victorian lady would not be riding in trousers, astride, a peasant would not be amicably chatting with the king, etc – you get the idea 🙂

Our behaviour towards the public counts too –  even if you are not working, and if re-enacting is your hobby, if you are  interacting with the public simply be polite – it is difficult at times, but one sarcastic word or inappropriate remark can taint the experience and give the whole community a bad name. If you prefer sitting in the corner and quietly polishing your sword, tending the pot, etc, that is all fine, you don’t have to be the main public entertainer all the time, (unless you were hired to do exactly that). For some people it takes time to overcome their shyness, and talk to strangers without problems (it is in a way a ‘public speaking’ engagement, and many folks dread it).

Also – speech. Nobody expects you to speak Old English (mostly because nobody would understand it; trust me, I studied it at Uni, and it sounds like a funky mixture of German and Scandinavian spiced with a few vaguely recognizable words…), or Middle English (more understandable, though pronunciation still very different). Just stick to normal speech, avoiding obviously modern phrasing and words – better still, learn a few period swearwords :-). Authentic is fine, (and many people do take the time and effort to research and replicate speech patterns, syntax and phonetics of their period – fascinating stuff!), but your public will be more grateful if they can understand what you are saying….

Ladies Mediaeval Attire-33

reading Chaucer…  I love middle English, and it’s fun for people to compare with modern English 🙂

9. Lack of knowledge

This is utterly unforgivable, if you are paid to do the job – but in my books it is just as bad  if you are just swanning around some country house in a posh frock ‘being Anne Boleyn’, or Jane Austen, and ‘looking good’ (though regrettably most often not – somehow the lack of knowledge goes together with all those rayon brocades…) and being unable to interact with the public. In the majority of cases historical interpretation is there not simply to entertain, but also to educate. So if you are at an event and dressed up, people assume that you know what you are talking about. So – do your research for the character and for generic period – and by research I do not mean just Philippa Gregory’s or other historical fiction books. Entertaining as they may be, and they do have a place in sparking an interest, do follow up with proper research before the event.  If you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer – well, simply admit that you don’t – it is not a crime, nobody knows everything after all. Whatever you do, do not invent the answer just to ‘save face’. I have met members of the public repeating some incredible nonsense they were  told by re-enactors – mostly untruths or sensationalized facts (such as – ‘Victorians in the corsets couldn’t walk or breathe’) – an article on the corset myths here .

One of the most ridiculous things I have heard when demonstrating some lace making at Aston Hall was by one visitor who claimed I was too old to do any sewing, etc. According to a re-enactor they had met last year, only children and very young girls were doing such fine work, and because they were working at night, they were blind by the time they were 13 – so they stopped sewing then and were married off… The image of 17th century England with every woman over 13 staggering blindly into matrimony was perhaps entertaining, but I was amazed that someone could tell something like that, (and also, that it was believed…)

And so, research, study and learn –  that’s the part I love about my job, you never stop learning! 🙂

Regency Redigote A La Hussarde

Well, that is all at the moment; I will no doubt add more bits if I can think of them – feel free to suggest more points here too!

And if you would like to know about me and my work, please check out my fb page or my website 🙂


48 thoughts on “The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them!

  1. Fascinating – thank you. One thing that I think tends to get overlooked is the age of the character you’re portraying in the sense that, if you’re in the English Civil War period and you’re obviously 60 years + the the likelihood is that you should be wearing whatever was in fashion in the late 16th century or early 17th rather than what was ‘appropriate’ to 1642. It’s one of the things that I find odd about TV programmes such as ‘Poirot’. It’s set in the 1930s but nobody seems to have any old furniture. It’s all beautiful art Deco stuff.

      • Absoluely, she does. But she doesn’t describe everyones furniture as being brand-new and in style. Yes, for Poirot himself it’s absolutely fitting. but not for everyone else on the show.

    • I presume when you are portraying a late medieval lacemaker you are portraying either an Italian or Flemish character as pillow lace was invented around about 1500 more or less independently in those countries? prior to this, lace crafts were all some form of needle lace. It would not be reasonable to be entirely authentic in using fish bones for pins. Reticella work of all kinds was the speciality of young girls in Tuscany who were shoved into nunneries because of the ridiculous conspicuous consumption of dowries, leading to any but the oldest daughter unable to marry; they were encouraged to sew and make their own dowries so they had a chance of marriage as an alternative to taking vows.

      • I do not portray a late medieval lacemeker – I do late 16th century onwards, for the reasons you mention – no evidence of lacemakers in England till 16th century, and the continental style lace arrived together with the protestant refugees in the second part of the century.
        For lade medieval I do mostly weaving, or usual needlework

  2. Brilliant, thank you! I’m now getting into period costuming but authenticity is definitely what I’m aiming for. Two of my favourite periods are pre-Roman Celtic and very early Viking so it’s difficult to find surviving items to study but I’ve got the Sagas and archaeological sites to get info from. Saying that though, my daughters like Victoriana (well, Steampunk lol) so I can see my having to learn those techniques too. 😀

  3. How do you feel about the distressing of a historical garment? For example, I cringe when I see someone portraying a “peasant” in a crisply-starched, white shirt. I feel there’s a lot more authenticity and character in a garment that looks well-worn.

    • good point – I think it depends on the occasion. If the said peasant is off to a church on Sunday morning, dressed in his best, it may be appropriate – but not if he is heading into the fields. Everyday activities should be portrayed wearing everyday clothes, and as such, worn ( depending on the status it will be to a different extent i suppose) is good; but a debutante heading to her first outing in a dirty frock would be just as inappropriate:-)

    • Completely agree with so many peasants being WAY too clean, and most of them get upset when they spill or get anything on their clothes!

      My guild is really good about helping people get their garb to look more worn (as long as it’s only being used for that station). Since none of the kids wear higher than peasant until they’re about seven, we don’t worry about having the little ones be careful not to get their clothes dirty–we encourage it!

      • Am sure this wasn’t your point, but there is a difference between “well worn” and clean and brand new and squeaky clean.
        Working class people (unless the really poor like those portraying the Ragged Victorians), did take pride in keeping their garments and environment as clean as they could and care for those garments. After all, they had to last as long as possible. New items were expensive. Even second hand ones were expensive.

  4. You look SO LOVELY at your fully dressed pillow!
    About the blind 13 year olds….
    (And I think your character was 17 or 18th century, and therefore in an earlier time than the crazy singular abuse.)
    There are distinctions between factory, or workshop laces, and cottage or even region specific laces.
    In the 19th c., as handmade lace was dying out and before machine made laces were possible, some young workers in cities were sent to basements to work under the light of one candle (placed behind water to amplify the light) with many other girls to “do prickings.” And some were mistreated, and there were public concerns of the young workers’ health.
    But by no means does it follow that older women no longer took up fine needlework, netting, or their pillows.
    In Ireland, Catherine McCauley sought to bring back and foster hand made laces in cottage industry, to help supply the needs of mothers with children, and the destitute, and women in want of
    work generally. (Early 19th c.)
    So yes, I can pick up my tatting and bobbin lace in my withered 44 year old hands, well into the 20th century due to the cottage industry revival and the Arts and Craft movement.
    And I would certainly be expected as a lady in particular regions, in the 17th and 18th centuries to do some sort of fine work. If only for my daughters and underpinnings!

  5. The two things that make me cringe most (and I’m not _that_ concerned with authenticity, as a hobbyist) are modern hairstyles with period garb and VHL (Visible Hoop Line, from not wearing a petticoat over one’s hoops, or not having a ruffled hoop).

  6. Pingback: Avoiding Millinery Mishaps | If I Had My Own Blue Box:

  7. Sorry, but this is unintentionally (I hope) hilarious.

    Now, remember. Thoroughly research your period name and only think of yourself by that name or It Will Not Be Authentic.

    Also, be chronically ill and don’t use toilet paper or toothbrushes.

    Most people were poor and you are also probably too tall.

    • This is exactly why I stated at the beginning that it is impossible to be completely authentic – we do live in different times, in a different environment, with a different mindset. Still, that should not stop us from improving our standards in portraying the past – especially if we are paid for it and are educating others:-)

    • Toothbrushes date back to at least the 17th century in England, and many places used various kinds of cleaning sticks for their teeth before that. Though they used animal hair and thus retained bacteria too easily, they did exist. Toilet paper was invented in the 6th century in China; though it didn’t catch on in Europe for a while, people used grass, straw, rags, and many other materials for the same purpose.

      Just some points of interest. 🙂

  8. Fascinating! I’ve been a reenactor since 2002 different periods and have always stuck to the adage ‘if you’re going to do something, do it right!’
    Lovely to read that being exalted throughout this article. Exploded myths wonderful!
    I wear stays for my tudor reenactment and find them so helpful. I can cope all day no problem and in fact it helps my back, which previously has given me serious problems. I had surgery in 2003 so any support is welcome.
    Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to write such a fab article.
    Love the part about bending in corsets, along with the photos! I’ve always been told ‘boots before corsets’ is a golden rule! But have tried and will admit it is easier the other way round but it can be done.
    I would say I agree to some degree about the quality and fit of some mass produced corsets, but I tend to wear all over busts as midst as I have a very long body and owing to a serous health condition have a large upper tummy. Its the only way to make them look decent. The spiral steel corsets certainly fit much better than the standard & I treasure those. Wish I could afford hand made but I do the best I can. But appreciate hand made will always fit best!
    Thank you for taking the time on this, it’s fab!

  9. I am glad you liked my photo enough to use it in this article, there are more photos of Victorian reenactors on my Face book page “Patricia Jacobs Photography” It is a fascinating period of history to photograph.

  10. It’s so fabulous to see something like this, because people don’t realise that polyester NEVER looks right! I also wouldn’t ever use a white-as-white-can-be … I collect vintage fabrics, and white was always a natural milk-white colour. So dip it in tea to give it more authenticity. I also find that nylon lace is so easy to see – even from far. Great blog, enjoyed it.

    • Be careful, I’m not going to state either way, but natural fabrics do yellow with age. A bright optic white is probably not correct, but the vintage fabrics probably aren’t quite the color they started out either.

      Especially if you are in a period that is using lye as the cleaning agent, that and sunlight will act as a bleach every time it is washed, so it may be fairly bright.

    • Laundry used to be dried in the sun, which will help bleach the material before optic brighteners came on the scene. Before those, something called “laundry blue” was sometimes used, blue pigment in the rinse to help neutralize the yellow. It was not within the budget of most laundresses until synthetic dyes arrived, though.

      I have used cloth nappies on three children (oh deary me, I’m not right in the head), and all the yellow stains bleach right out when dried in the sun, for a clean, natural white shade. Works on towels as well, which is wonderful, as I use them to wipe up spills when a child gets rambunctious and makes a mess. It won’t be an unnaturally crisp snow white, but it will have that beautiful clean natural white linen or cotton shade to it.

      If a stain hasn’t bleached completely out from one round of drying, spray with water and dry another “cycle” in the sun. The UV rays work wonders.

  11. Thank you for this! Your image for the foundation garments is my favorite! Demonstrates my number one problem with historical”esque” costumes that I deal with on a regular basis with more casual costumers.

  12. I’ve always hated watching movies, television, and re-enactors wear the absolute wrong thing, plus the lies told about corsets. I personally prefer then over bras. They have more support.

  13. Good article. You’ve missed a book. The Medieval Tailor would be a good one to add for those who want to do accurate Medieval dress.

    Am with you on all sections but am SO with you on the “knowledge” section. Particularly when people are spouting myths of everyone being so short in the past or ever working class person was always dirty and didn’t wash.

    • thanks! added now – I didn’t not include it to start with, as not exactly favourite, but – you are right, good to have an earlier pattern book there too, and it does provide some sound basics:-)

  14. Obviously, period clothing was designed for smaller people. The average woman today would probably have been considered obese back in the day. What design styles and corsets did hefty Victorian matrons wear when the wasp waist was unobtainable?

    • Clothing was designed to fit a person – whatever the size! you will find the answer to that in the post below – women of all sizes wore corsets of very similar constructions – the amount of panels/boning, layers etc depended hugely on individual built – original patterns etc state that a pattern is for a ‘ stout’ woman, or a ‘broad shouldered’ or ‘long torso’ person. more details here –

      • Also, the myth of ‘they were all tiny in the past’ comes about because clothes were handed down, and often ‘cut down’ to fit a younger recipient so got smaller with each recycling. The ones that survived to the present era tended to be the really small items or the ones cut down so small they couldn’t be cut down any more.I’m also both saddened and amused by the ‘we are all obese by historical standards’ – we are, on the whole, a different shape to women in the 50’s and earlier, but this isn’t actually the same thing (and a well-made corset can make a substantial amount of difference!)

  15. Think I love you =o)
    “If you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer – well, simply admit that you don’t!”
    Fantastic bit of advice & something I try to stick to, being 3rd person helps.
    I’d add if at all possible write down the question & find out, ‘all adds to the knowledge base.
    Also never underestimate your visitors or their level knowledge, once whilst doing a cookery display I looked up to see renown food historian Ivan Day lurking at the back listening in, had to do a quick mental check to make sure I hadn’t gone a bit ‘jazz’ with the info.

  16. Correct period food is a major problem. Mostly poor people eating food out of season. Romans eating runner beans. High status foods being eaten by people who would not have them. Modern strawberries are far too large for most early periods. I could go on but won’t.

    • gosh, yes! thanks for adding it – will include
      the food in the next update – I am no food specialist, so didn’t want to write about something I know so little about, but i suppose a general remark would be useful!

    • Homemade bread, cheese, a meat, seasonal fruits and a sweet are my usual take alongs for events. Now these will vary with time period location and availability, but pretty much everyone has some variation of these things.

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  18. Plenty of food for thought here. However, while your section on Horses covered much that was relevant, you missed out the most obvious item – the horse itself!

    Now I appreciate that many times you have to work with what you have, but the fact is that there is no such thing as a horse suitable for all periods! Each era had its preferred type/breed of horse, and to use the wrong one is as anachronistic as turning up on a Harley.

    My particular bugbear: modern heavy horses (drafters) being used in medieval re-enactment. These breeds were not developed until the very late 18th/early 19th. And they did not achieve their present-day shape until the 1870s or so. The medieval destrier was not a big horse – around 16h max – and though it was stocky in build, it did not have hairy feet. Hairy feet (feathers) are also a 19th development, so that although a lighter/taller type of cob is suitable in build for a destrier, you should not use it for re-enacting without giving its legs a trim. Also skewbald and piebald (pinto) horses, though known, were not as ubiquitous as they are today.

    From the mid 1500s onwards, the decline in the use of armour meant a lighter horse came into favour for warfare. Spanish and Spanish-influenced breeds of horses were preferred, and this held true until the second quarter of the 18th, when the influence of the English Thoroughbred began to be felt, suiting the need for a faster, more active mount. By the Napoleonic period, even the French were using Thoroughbred blood in their cavalry horses, and Napoleon himself went further, riding and importing Arab horses from Egypt. Again, skewbalds and piebalds were not as common as now, and only trumpeters rode greys.

    In the 19thC, the preference for cavalry was a bay, brown or chestnut horse of medium build, and around 16-17h. Wherever possible, in peacetime, units tried to keep to a uniform colour of horse for the trooper (officers supplied their own mounts). Artillery horses were of a heavier build, but again conservative in colour. In civilian life, greys were out of favour for a number of reasons, and did not regain popularity until the 20hC.

    To go into proper detail of the types of equines suitable for various periods would require a book, but I hope these pointers are of help.

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  21. Hello,
    thank you very much for this post.
    I joined a re-enactement company last september, (late medieval, 14th century, France), and we are trying to “up-grade” our look, especially for newcomers like me, with no outfit yet.

    We have an issue because some people among us believe that linen was not used for outer clothes such as kirtles for example, only wool (and others, find it difficult to believe). You seem to say linen would be correct.
    Where can I find sources about it ? I checked the Medieval Tailor Assistant but it is very much on the “wool-side”…

    Médiévalement 🙂

    • As far as I know, linen was not used for outer garments in England it probably Northern Europe st all- except as a lining. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise. It makes sense- linen is perfect for undergarments, but as an outer not only doesn’t provide protection from the weather, but it creased a lot and is difficult to keep looking presentable without frequent ironing. Wool, lighter for summer and heavier for wi get us much more suitable/ looks good, breathes well, easy to clean, waterproof- perfect.another alternative is silk of course. I don’t use linen for oitergarments- a bit perplexed why you though I do! Wil is just so much more practical

    • Don’t forget that we think of wool as a heavy garb, but it need not be; because many more weights of fabric were made up until Cotton became more than a curiousity [and yes there was cotton in the 14th century, it was brought back from Moorish lands and there was a book in which it was described as coming from ‘lambs that grew on bushes’ by a fraud of a supposed traveller; it was used in some applique.]. Don’t forget too there were the lindey-woolseys of Suffolk, a woollen warp and linen weft. Kersey made in the same region was napped and sheared so often it was a soft, fine cloth and may have been calendared for a shine. Peasants might well have worn nettlecloth, which is what it says on the label. If you ret nettles like flax you can get a linen-like cloth which could make working garb if wool is out of their pocket. Frieze for outer garments would be good heavy, coarse peasant wear.Remember that in the 14th century there was a fashion for smocking the tops of aprons to fit them into the bands, the earliest depictions of smocking coming from a Book of Hours of the time. Hose were just tubes at the time, the first time men had panty-hose was after 1400. High end could include silk including velvet. Remember the humble goat as well. The goat is combed twice for its hair, the first combings are the coarse hair to make peasant garb, with or without sheep’s wool in the mix, and the undercoat is used in high end camlet aka camelot, a mix of camel or fine goat hair with silk. very, very warm and lustrous fabric. Would probably be a Florentine import.
      Invest in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles; it has a wealth of historical detail in it.
      There;s a wealth of costume and fabric detail in “Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight” which dates from your period. It’s an irritating read, but worth struggling through, especially when you consider the social and political implications of the various colours and look at it in the context of being political satire on John of Gaunt and Lollardy.

  22. Oh, please, emphasise the “do your research” ! I recently went out (once, it was enough) with a group of re-enactors who did not do much research, purchased most of their kit from online resources or markets and went out and propagated myths to the general public. One favourite was that “Only royalty wore purple.” I pointed out that archaeologists had found many examples of wool dyed with organic dyes (not Imperial purple, but purple none-the-less) and the Lutrell Psalter shows workers wearing pale purple. They were also convinced that the sumptuary laws were obeyed at every level of society. I provided examples of cases where people, when confronted, lied about their excesses. Their excuse was that the National Trust believed that to be so, therefore, they did too. Suffice it to say, I do not go out with them, if you can’t do your research (and for goodness sake, if you can’t be bothered to so *some* things for yourself) perhaps you might consider another hobby?

  23. Exellent post. However, about status and horses I would add, that most horses used in medieval tournaments (not with Destrier group, though, they are special) are modern breeds far too tall even for medieval warhorses.

    Indeed, a nother aspect of re-enacting a high status character is that the medieval high status person was most often a military man, born and bred to the skills of the man-at-arms. Hence, they would have known about the martial arts. Most re-enactors who prance around with swords, and engage in all manner of combat re-enactment have no clue as to how the weapons were really used handled, or even carried. This is much more visible than wether the seams in their clothes are by machine, or by hand, yet there is much more fuss about it in the hobby. To make matters worse, we today have all sorts of medieval combat sport/buhurt type of activities, that lead people to think they know how medieval combat was done, while these ridiculous competitions of butting heads with blunt instruments (remotely resembling swords) have almost nothing at all to teach anybody what we can learn from the plentyfull & actual contemporary sources.

  24. Thank you, I have been doing living History for 25 years , have grown and learned more each year. I am in perfect agreement with you . Well said

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