By this point in your participation in the Society for Creative Anachronism maybe that you have attended a couple of events wearing some borrowed clothing or an historic outfit made from what you have laying around. We assume that the reason you’re here is that you want to do a little bit more. To learn and grow.
To begin assembling your historic wardrobe.
If you have been to some of the events held around the kingdom or around the world you may begin to feel intimidated by the wide variety and complexity of the outfits that other participants are wearing, but remember many of these people have had years or decades to learn the skills to make these outfits or to gather the components of the outfits. You are at the beginning of your journey towards constructing your wardrobe. You may find that it helps to have a plan.
Finding Your Direction
One of the first steps in having a plan building towards your own historic wardrobe is to know the direction that you are headed in. Hopefully by looking through the SCAIowa Garb Guide you have found something that interests you. Starting with a culture, a region, a time period or a specific style, this is often the first thing you need to do because this determines following steps.
Some styles can easily be assembled piece by piece and from the outer layers working inward. Meaning you have functional outfits to wear to events from the very first piece you acquire. It is easy to start with a Roman or Anglo-Saxon tunic and add some of the other accessories with some of the under layers being last. We can contrast this with some of the late period clothing such as Tutor or Renaissance Italy. Many of these styles really need to be constructed from the inside out, starting with the base layers of the garments and building on these foundational garments outward. This is one of the reasons why these styles are more challenging for newer members. Challenging but not impossible.
First Steps First
Part of figuring out your wardrobe plan is not just understanding the direction you’re heading in but what steps you will need to take along the way. What components and what layers as well as what accessories you will need to put together to eventually reach your goal ensemble. Consider this as one of your next steps, and it can be as simple as collecting a few images of some of the garments and styles that you would like to emulate. Break them down by components, list off the garments that make up the outfit as well as the accessories you would like to collect and add.
Once you have a list think through what is absolutely essential, what you need first and then what you can add later on. This can give you an order of operation. You don’t need to complete outfit in order to meet the ‘attempt’ at historic clothing requirement for attending events. As stated before, some styles can get you pretty close with just the first couple items. A tunic or tunic dress with a belt, and then add on the bits and pieces as you go.
When it comes to making garments or accessories you may want to look into what materials you will need and how much it will take. Some of this may need to wait until you have a pattern (as that often determines how much fabric you need to buy) but even before that you can make lists of colors, types of fabrics and fabric weights (an idea that may be new to some people.)
Whether you are constructing the garments or looking to buy components that are already made part of the process will likely involve purchasing something. If you have a list of the items you want to have or make and the materials you need to make them, then you can begin to look around in the marketplace to see what is available. You may not want to rush the process of shopping around.
One of the advantages you have is that there are more online vendors now than ever before. For everything from the cloth to make the clothing to the accessories that finish off an outfit, there are vendors specializing in historic recreation and they are available online.
However, like so much in this world, not every person who wants to sell you something is honest about it and not everything that is for sale is worth buying. Luckily there are many people who can give you advice on purchasing any number of things because there are already people participating in the SCA who have been interacting with these vendors. They can easily give you advice from what websites to look at to what weights of fabric are good for different garments.
Another advantage you have is time. Patience is important when it comes to purchasing. Not only in the fact that many of the clothing cloth merchants have sales that will occasionally provide a tremendous amount of savings to a project, but also the patience to look around and see if there are better resources for some of the items. There are also many vendors who only sell at events or who sell online but give better discounts to SCA members at events. Ask your local SCA members about which events have good shopping.
There are also many vendors selling things that you can make for yourself. Some of the people who participate in the SCA really just want the things. Their fun comes not from the creation of the items, but in the having of them. Others very much enjoy learning and making all of the little bits and pieces along the way. The enjoyment and pride in making something, even if it is flawed, adds to the enjoyment of their participation.
In one of the side links to the SCAIowa Garb Guide we have some links to some basic projects we like to share with new members. Many of these are slightly simplified versions of other projects, but there are a number that directly add to a new member’s early wardrobe. Consider flipping through these for some thoughts on objects, items and accessories that you can make yourself
Patterning and Construction
You know the direction that you’re headed in, you know the components and the accessories that you want to have, and you’ve begun to patiently gather together resources. The next steps will likely involve patterning and construction. Some styles lend themselves very easily to patterning due to geometric construction, the simple patterns and garment construction techniques used by many cultures roughly before 1300 CE.
We know from some of the surviving extent garments that many of the earlier styles, such as the early tunics, were constructed with very simple geometric patterning and there are a variety of online tutorials as well as classes held at events to help you learn how to do this process. It really is simple, easier than modern patterns you buy in the store. Often this process starts with you taking a few measurements off your body and laying out the squares, rectangles and triangles that these garments were made from. Some of the more challenging patterning comes with the fitted garments that begin to show up in the high middle ages (1000-1350 CE). There are several different ways to pattern for fitted garments including the old duct tape pattern technique, the classic draping pattern technique and even some that involve just a little math. We have provided links to at least one of these patterning techniques as it is the one that I commonly use when I assist new members in making fitted patterns. Some of these patterning techniques best involve the assistance of other people, which means it’s a great opportunity to get some assistance from your local members of the SCA or even people at events. There are many times you will be able to find people with a lot of expertise who are willing to help you at events when you are patterning for specific garments. Believe me, it is not unusual to see a group of people at an event measuring someone and helping them to draft a pattern.
Your Path and Your Journey
To some members of the Society for Creative Anachronism the clothing they construct and wear represents that main part of their adventure. There certainly is plenty to learn and explore in just the subject of the clothing people wore and the items they carried around with them. To many others the historic clothing they wear at events is just a small part of their Historic Adventure, a checkbox to mark off or a step along the way to other activities and learning. No matter what historic clothing represents to you, be sure to allow yourself the time to learn and grow.
If you have a plan and you are making progress than, from the perspective of the vast majority of participants in the SCA, you are winning the game. When the SCA is about learning, personal growth and a greater understanding of the past and the life experiences of those who lived in it, then the SCA and its members are at their best.
We can’t wait to see what you do next.