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Performance Costume Guidelines

For questions or more information contact: Andi Helebrant, Mistress of the Wardrobe for RSCDS Twin Cities Branch
e-mail: argea16 [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 currently three types of costumes used by the Twin Cities Branch: Renaissance, formal, and casual. 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. Since the first performance for most people is the Renaissance Festival, it is suggested to acquire the items for this outfit first.

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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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