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Performance Costume Guidelines

For questions or more information contact: James Morehouse, Master of the Wardrobe for RSCDS Twin Cities Branch
e-mail: jmorehouse01 [at]


When we are dancing at socials, balls, and at class, we are dancing for our enjoyment. When we are performing, we are dancing for the enjoyment of the audience. Doing a professional performance requires flawless footwork, precision of movement, and teamwork as well as the ability to convey the joy of dancing. Appropriate costumes add visual appeal and provides context and atmosphere for our performance. A level of uniformity in costume makes the group appear an ensemble, not just a haphazard group of people who are dancing. These guidelines are designed to give the branch a more professional and unified look through our costumes.

Please note that the following costume descriptions apply only to branch performances, and not to socials, balls, or classes.

There are three types of costumes used by the Twin Cities Branch: Renaissance, National, and Formal. Some performances dictate what sort of costume to use. The Renaissance Festival of course demands that performers dress in Renaissance costume. Other performances may specify the sort of dress as well. At these performances having the correct costume, or being able to borrow it, may be as important as being able to do the dances. Sometimes the costume decision will be solely up to the Facilitator of the Day (FOD). The FOD may also modify the dress as needed for specific performances, for example requesting T-shirts, or polo shirts for a relaxed demonstration. Longer performances may include costume changes.

A dancer is not required to have all three of the costumes in order to perform. The majority of performances require either the Renaissance or the National costumes. Since the first performance for most people is the Renaissance Festival, it is suggested to acquire the items for this outfit first. As a way to plan which costumes to acquire, here is a list of some of the performances the branch regularly does along with the costume usually used. Note that these are guidelines only, as the final decision about costume for most performances is up to the FOD.

Renaissance Festival Renaissance costume
Macalester Scottish Country Fair    National or Renaissance
Scottish Ramble National costume
Edinborough Park Renaissance, National, or Formal costume
Brooklyn Park Historical Farm Renaissance costume
Festival of Nations Formal or National costume

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Working Statement
We portray a group of highland peasants and merchants from one village coming to the fair for a day of dancing. The time is some where between 1590 and 1620.

drawing of men's and women's renfest costumes by Jim Morehouse
Basic man's and woman's Renaissance
Festival costumes
General Notes on Renaissance Clothes
Most people had only one outfit during the Renaissance. The basic garments are listed below. People did not have one set of clothes for summer and another set of clothes for winter. They would simply add a cloak for cold or bad weather. A person's head would always be covered.

Some of our dancers also have the opportunity to participate with MRF outside of RSCDS's scheduled shows as characters. Character actors should dress following the below RSCDS costuming guidelines to participate in any RSDCS performance. Any character specific accessories should be removed prior to coming on stage. It is acceptable to obtain FOD approval prior to a performance to dance in Character costume; however this should be limited so as to keep focus on the dancing

Fabric Ideas
During the Renaissance there were many fabrics available from all over the known world. Most were too costly for anyone but the wealthiest person. Fabrics suitable for merchants, peasants and the lower classes were made from wool, linen, or a combination of the two. Silks were costly. For our purposes a small amount of silk trim such as a ribbon decorating a bodice or doublet, or tied in the hair would look nice and be acceptable. Cotton was very expensive during the Renaissance era as it came from the middle East either by overland caravan or by sea. Shirts and chemises were made from linen, rough weave for the poor and finer weaves for those who could afford it. In creating Renaissance costume, cotton with a home spun or rough look makes a good linen substitute. Outer clothes such as doublets, bodices, and skirts would have been made out of heavier linen, wool, or a blend of the two. When choosing fabric it is safer to stay with a plain-woven fabric with no decoration to it (if you like a particular fabric but are unsure of its suitability check with the Master of the Wardrobe). Patterned fabric was popular and worn by those who could afford it. Suitable fabrics include damask which has a pattern woven in the same color as the background. Brocade which has a pattern woven in multiple colors, was also popular but was very costly (tapestry is a form of brocade). Patterns for the Renaissance need to be large stylized floral or natural motifs, often times having an Arabic feel. Small patterns such as paisley (which didn't come in to use until the early 1800s) and any small spot pattern, regardless of the motif, need to be avoided. Fabrics were often embellished with surface decoration in the form of slashing, pinking, or embroidery. Any of these would be appropriate for Renaissance costume. Printed fabrics are not appropriate for the Renaissance.

Fabrics for bloomers or under trousers should be in more natural or neutral colors and patterns; however it should still be obvious that you are wearing an undergarment. Dancers should try to avoid brightly patterned or black bloomers/under trousers if at all possible. These are not period appropriate; please refer to the previous paragraph for helpful ideas for appropriate fabrics and patterns. Any undergarment approved by a previous Master of Wardrobe will be allowed to be grandfathered under current costuming guidelines. Please be mindful to keep any modern fabrics hidden as much as possible from patron view.

Tartan During the Renaissance
During the Renaissance and earlier times, tartan had no association to clans, districts or specific people. Tartan was simply a cloth that was practical for the Highlands. It was tightly woven in a twill weave which is one of the stronger weaves, which would help to keep the wind off. The lanolin in the wool was water repellent, and the pattern of checks and over checks helped to act as camouflage when hunting. The yarn was spun and dyed at home using local plants for color. The yarns were most often woven in the village into cloth. When the tartan cloth was finished one of the easiest ways to use the fabric was as a mantle that was wrapped or draped on the person. The next logical step was to formalize the mantle into the great kilt or the arisaid.

The dyes available during the Renaissance era were quieter than today. The dyes came from natural materials and would fade or mute with washing and exposure to sun and weather. You don't have to think dull, just softer. Some of the popular colors that a village might have available include the following. Greens in the forest, pine, and emerald ranges work well. Reds in the garnet and wine, brick and terracotta are good. In the blues the dark bright blues, such as royal blue, were hard to produce so it may be best to stay with lighter tones. Wode was a popular dye that was readily available to most. It produces a very dark blue, but it is not bright, it is close to the color of new blue jeans. You can't go wrong with browns or yellows, but stay away from the saturated yellows.

Although black was the most fashionable color for the period, a true deep black was one of the hardest (and most expensive) to produce. A muddyor grey black is more correct than a deep black or blue-black. Since most black garments would not be affordable to peasants, and since we want to be eye-catching to the audience, we suggest a minimal use of black.

Also, please note: The Minnesota Renaissance Festival reserves the use of the color purple to royalty.

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Women's Renaissance Festival Costume Guidelines

drawing of an alternative woman's renfest costume by Jim Morehouse
An alternative woman's
Renaissance Festival costume
with apron and a different
style bodice
The chemise is a loose garment worn next to the body. It should be white or off-white in a linen-type fabric. The neckline is low and on a drawstring. The sleeves most often extend to the wrist ending in a small ruffle or pleat. The length of the chemise is between the knee and mid calf. In place of a chemise a shift could be used. The difference is the shift has a collar. The collar is often finished with a ruffle at the neck. The sleeves of the shift can be three quarter or long sleeves. Do not use lace or eyelet on the chemise or shift. Eyelet is not appropriate to the time period and lace would have been too costly.

Petticoat (Skirt)
In the Renaissance a skirt was called a petticoat or kirtle. The petticoat should be made in the Renaissance fashion. The sections can be either gored or straight but there should be some fullness at the waist in the form of pleats or gathers. Fabrics should be or should look like wool or linen in plain weave or Renaissance style damask or other suitable fabric. Edges can be trimmed with ribbon or braid.

Length of the petticoat should be to the anklebone (any longer and it is hard to dance and hides the dancer's feet). Several petticoats may be worn at one time. These do not have to be the same color, in fact petticoats in different colors can look very nice. It also looks nice for the top petticoat to be pulled up to reveal the under one. The top petticoat may be open up the front as well to show the under petticoat. It is very proper for a petticoat to have a pocket.

We prefer that a solid color fabric be used for the petticoat, as tartan is used in the arisaid.

The Renaissance bodice is a tight fitting garment that laces or hooks up the front. It can have sleeves or be sleeveless, or sleeves can be laced on. The shoulder edge can be finished off with epaulets or wings. The neckline is usually low in either a square or rounded shape. A high-necked doublet style with sleeves would be quite appropriate as well. The color does not have to match the color of any of the petticoats. Ideally all seams of the bodice should be covered with braid. Tassets, or tabs at the waist look very nice and are appropriate.

drawing of woman's arisaid by Jim Morehouse
Woman's arisaid from front and back
This is a garment that looks nice and gives the costume a Scottish appearance. The arisaid is a large rectangle of plaid or tartan wool or wool blend. It is pleated and held to the waist by a belt, similar in style to a man's great kilt, but left open in front. The extra fabric is pinned over one or both shoulders.

Headwear A Renaissance hat, a coif, or a combination of these would be very appropriate. Note: Large hats may be removed while we are actually dancing.

A young unmarried woman would leave her hair down, however uncovered hair is not appropriate to MRF costuming guidelines. Married women and women of a respectable age would wear their hair pinned up and under the coif. This can also hide modern, short hair as well.

Most Scottish women of all classes wore a brooch; either the circular annular shape (annular means unbroken ring or circle) or the 'C' shaped penannular (penannular means almost annular, or almost a circle). Such a brooch was typically regarded as a prized possession. Depending on the wealth and status of the owner the brooches were made from iron, bronze, brass, silver, or gold. They ranged from very plain to very ornate. Other jewelry should be in keeping with the time and the class portrayed.


Many peasants in Scotland went bare foot. This may be appropriate for the time period but Renaissance Festival rules (and common sense about safety) prohibit going bare foot. You must wear shoes. Renaissance-appropriate footwear, however, is not necessarily ideal for country dancing. lease remember that you will be dancing outside, often on rough and uneven, and occasionally slippery ground. Your safety is most important. Leather sandals, shoes, or boots are appropriate footwear. Minnetonka Moccasins are a popular brand of footwear, however any fringe should be removed. Please consider wearing insoles to provide better support, as many inexpensive footwear options do not provide adeuqate support for a full day of dancing.

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Men's Renaissance Festival Costume Guidelines

Man donning the great kilt
Man donning the
great kilt
The first reliable mention of the great kilt is in the late 1590s. The great kilt is strongly recommended as the only kilt to wear for Renaissance performances, although the small kilt with matching plaid is an alternative. Fabric for the kilt is wool woven in a twill weave in a tartan or plaid design. A wool blend is acceptable. Make sure the color is woven in and not printed. It is not necessary to have a recognized tartan for the great kilt. The fabric should have a hard finish. Avoid any brushed or flannel sort of wool. You will need a piece 54 to 60 inches wide and six to eight yards long.

Underwear (boxer or brief style) should be worn.

The shirt most often used is the Renaissance/Scottish style, which is often referred to as a Jacobite shirt. The shirt should be in a natural cotton or linen type fabric. The shirt can be white, off white, saffron, or other soft colors to harmonize with the great kilt.

A hat or bonnet in a Renaissance fashion is strongly encouraged. MRF costuming guidelines require the head to be covered.

Short hair was very fashionable for most of Europe in the later Renaissance. In Scotland long hair was popular. The first section of hair was often braided.

The sporran should be of the pouch sort, but most sporrans are acceptable.

Renaissance-appropriate footwear is not necessarily ideal for country dancing. A lot of men in the group use tall lace up moccasin boots (remove fringe). Please remember that you will be dancing outside, often on rough and uneven, and occasionally slippery ground. Your safety is most important. Leather sandals, shoes or boots are appropriate footwear. Minnetonka Moccasins are a popular brand of footwear however any fringe should be removed. Please consider wearing insoles to provide better support as many inexpensive footwear options do no provide adequate support for a full day of dancing.

Doublet or Jerkin
An optional garment for a man would be a doublet or jerkin. A doublet is a sleeved garment, with the sleeves either being sewn on or laced. It usually has a high collar. A jerkin is mostly the same but with out sleeves. They are made from leather or fabric. The entire garment can be decorated with slashes, braid or left plain.

See the section of jewelry under women. Men should not wear a kilt pin, as it is from the Victorian era.

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Accessories for Both Men and Women

Both men and women carried knives in the Renaissance. The knife was used for eating, as a utility knife, and for defense if needed. A person often carried their knife suspended from the belt, like the Scottish dirk, which is very appropriate for the Renaissance. A small knife such as the sgian dubh was used but it was most often carried in the sporran. Wearing the sgian dubh in the top of the kilt hose came later. Many men wore swords as part of their outfit. A Scottish style certainly looks very proper, but please remove the sword before dancing. For safety reasons, any weaponry should be "Peace Tied" to prevent accidents and misuse.

A leather belt with a plain but heavy-duty buckle is a useful and appropriate accessory for both men and women. In addition to holding the great kilt or arisaid in place, the wearer can attach drinking mugs, money pouches, and other useful items.

When the weather turns cold or rainy a cloak is nice to have. Most cloaks were large half circles of fabric, often in wool in any of appropriate weave including plaid. Follow the same guidelines in the selection of color and trim as mentioned earlier. The cloak can be fastened with decorative clasps, ties, or a large brooches.

Carry All
Modern items such as water bottles, sunscreen, bottles of aspirin etc. need to be out of sight at the fair. You will want a basket with a cloth cover or bag that has a rustic look to carry all of the modern items we need. If you need to use these items please move out of patron sight or into the green room.

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drawing of men's and women's national costumes by Jim Morehouse
Man's and woman's national costumes
Working Statement
The national costume is a contemporary, playful, and colorful interpretation of Scottish dress. For the most part this costume will follow the guidelines used by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance for the national costume in highland dance competition.

Women's National Costume Guidelines

A full skirt gathered or pleated to the waistband. Fabric can be cotton, wool or blend (not taffeta or any frabric with a shiny finish). The pattern should be tartan, but does not have to be a recognized tartan. The skirt can be made from two widths of 45-inch wide fabric sewn edge to edge. Alternately the skirt can be cut in gores to reduce some bulk at the waist. Do not cut it as a circle, as the checks and over checks should remain parallel to the ground. Length of skirt is to be mid calf.

A petticoat to be worn under the skirt is highly recommended. This should be cut like the skirt, but not as full and an inch or two shorter. It should be plain white cotton. A little white lace at the hem is optional.

The blouse for the National is white or off-white cotton or cotton blend fabric. The blouse should have a relatively low, round neck, which may be gathered with elastic or a ribbon, and full, elbow-length sleeves. There should be no lace, such as a jabot, on the blouse.

The bodice is made of velvet or velveteen and laces up the front. It should be a solid color that harmonizes with the skirt, but no pastels or light colors. The bottom is finished off with either petal tabs or petal extensions of the bodice itself. The neckline can be either rounded or square.

Plaid (pronounced like "played")
The plaid is a square made from the same fabric as the skirt, about a yard to a yard and half square and fringed out on all sides. One side is attached to the waistband of the skirt and a corner is worn pinned on the shoulder with a brooch.

A Scottish style brooch to hold the plaid in place on the shoulder is a must. A clip or barrette can be used for the hair. Personal jewelry should be kept to a minimum.

The hair can be left long or put up but it should be kept off the face.

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Men's National Costume Guidelines

The regulation tailored kilt (i.e. the "small" kilt) in a recognized tartan is worn for the national costume.

Hose and Flashes
Standard kilt hose are worn in off white or a color to harmonize with the kilt. No argyles or dicing are to be worn with the national costume. Garters with flashes are needed to keep the hose from sliding down. The flashes can be tartan matching the kilt or a color that harmonizes with the hose and kilt.

The Sporran finishes off the look and should be worn. A leather sporran with or without tassels is used with the national costume. A fur sporran or one with a metal cantle is acceptable. A full mask fur sporran should not be use with the national. The strap for the sporran can be either chain or leather.

A wide leather belt with an appropriate Scottish or Celtic style buckle should be used.

Shirt and Tie
A white dress shirt with long sleeves is worn with the national. The long tie should be a solid color that harmonizes with the kilt.

No bonnet should be worn when dancing. Long hair needs to be kept off the face.

A tiepin or clip should be used to keep the tie in place while dancing. A kilt pin is optional but does finish off the look of the kilt. A sgian dubh in the hose is very nice also. Personal jewelry should be kept to a minimum.

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Working statement
The costume is intended to convey dignity, elegance, and timelessness, with some historical touches. The qualities of the strathspey step are the inspiration.

Women's Formal Costume Guidelines

drawing of women's formal costume by Jim Morehouse
Woman's formal costume
The over-gown is made as a one-piece garment. The skirt is of tartan or plaid in a silky type fabric, pleated and sewn to the bodice but left open in front to show the skirt beneath. The bodice is made of black velvet or velveteen. The gown has short sleeves and a low neckline, either square or rounded. The front can be closed with decorative metal clasps or a row of metal buttons down both sides of the center front closing. The neck edge and sleeves should be finished off with a ruffle of fine white fabric or white lace. The ruffle should be kept small. The length should be just slightly longer than the skirt.

The skirt should be white or off-white color in a soft elegant fabric that flows nicely and has a good twirl factor to it. This garment is cut in several gores so it lies flat around the waist and is full at the hem. It may be a good idea for the waistband to be rather tall; this will help keep it in place under the gown. The underskirt should be to the anklebone.

As an alternative to a skirt, dancers may wear a simple white dress (short-sleeved or sleeveless) under the over-gown. The skirt of the dress should follow the same specifications as outlined above.

A sash finishes the look of the Formal costume. It is made from the same fabric as the skirt of the gown. The sash is 11 inches wide and 90 inches long. The two short ends are fringed out for two to three inches. The long sides need to be hemmed. The sash is worn on the shoulder and secured with a brooch. A rosette of the same fabric looks very nice under the brooch

The gown looks good when it stands away from the dancer at the hem. A petticoat with one or two deep ruffles at the hem will hold the skirt out. The petticoat can be made out of any fabric you wish but it should be white. A cotton or cotton blend would be the most comfortable and easiest to clean. It is suggested that the petticoat be cut in gores. It should be about two inches shorter than the skirt. Lace decorating the hem is optional.

White or off-white sheer hose are recommended. Since the skirt is long, knee-high hose are acceptable if the dancer prefers.

A Scottish style brooch is worn to keep the sash in place. With the lower neckline, a necklace would look very nice and finish off the gown.

Can be worn the same as for the national costume.

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Men's Formal Costume Guidelines

drawing of men's formal costume by Jim Morehouse
Man's formal costume
Standard formal eveningwear for men is most often the Prince Charlie or the black Argyle, but these can be expensive. The men's formal costume is designed to give a formal dignified look, and be more affordable. The FOD may request that some or all the men wear their Prince Charlie or Argyle if there are enough men in the performance that have them.

The regulation tailored kilt (i.e. the "small kilt") in a recognized tartan is worn for the formal costume.

Shirt and Cravat
The shirt is reminiscent of older style shirts. A standard white, cotton, tuxedo shirt with a banded or wing color may be used, but the preferred style is cut with fuller sleeves. This should not be confused with the Jacobite style used for the Renaissance dress. In place of a tie, a white cotton cravat is used. An alternative style of shirt is the sort worn with the evening doublet. This has lace at the wrist and the cravat is replaced with a lace jabot.

The vest is black in a silk or silk-like material, in a matte finish. Suitable fabrics are silk taffeta, or silk doupioni. The back of the vest is cut in the same fabric as the front. The vest is cut with a higher more old-fashioned neckline. Silver Scottish type buttons should be used but any silver button with a Celtic look will do.

Hose and Flashes
The hose should be off-white kilt hose. Flashes in a solid color to harmonize with the kilt or in tartan to match the kilt should be worn.

Sporran and Belt
These can be the same as for the national costume. The sporran can be of fur, or any other of the evening-type sporrans.

A pin for the cravat is optional, but if used it should be in a Scottish style and not too large. Any of the formal jewelry items used in full Scottish dress are appropriate. A fancy sgian dubh would not be out of place.

No bonnet or other head covering should be used.

Long hair needs to be kept off the face.

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