Clothing Makes the Man

It seems that I hear people more concerned about the dress code of a Renaissance Festival than by whether or not they could own a business there. Oh, like dress slacks and a button down shirt are not a costume of a sort?

Maybe it is that folks in the festival business are not as narrow minded as people who’ve bought the “this is a real job, which makes me a real person” package. Perhaps it is that we are in the entertainment business first, and so we realize every role requires a costume. Years ago, a friend of mine pointed out that everyone had a “drag” they put on, whether it was “I’m going to work now” drag, or “I’m a hunter-fisherperson” drag … the clothing allowed them to communicate to strangers an image with which they wished to be associated, even if it wasn’t really who they were.

Renaissance Festival clothing rules are really just guidelines set forth by the show’s Director, in setting the stage for the audience. On the actor’s end of it (and we are *all* actors in this great play), the costume helps us get into the character we represent to the festival guest. On the Director’s end of it, a unified aesthetic provides the ability to turn the entire venue into the theatrical experience that our guests have paid for.

This herd of cats group of people that chose an alternative lifestyle often bristles when given specifics about their clothing. While it is rarely a business owner that is doing the complaining, folks who consider themselves part of the festival community can really come up with interesting excuses as to why the costume directive “won’t work for them”. As a business owner and manager, I find it easiest to simply have spare acceptable pieces of costume, and toss them onto my workers who’ve shown up inappropriately clothed. I have an investment in the guest having the experience the Director has designed. But I know other business owners who can rail just as loudly about the “mistakes” being made with the costume edicts.

I understand that the event is considered a bawdy entertainment venue, but the “everyone must wear a shirt under their bodice” rule does not inhibit bawdiness, it sets a time period. Besides, the 15 and 16 year old girls in the soda shoppe really aren’t old enough to be experienced at setting boundaries with the public. Let a grown up show loads of cleavage, and she can find a gentle and entertaining way to tell a guest to get lost if he violates her personal space. I refuse to believe that the soda shoppe will miss sales if the 15 year olds are properly dressed.

Other types of festivals have dress codes of their own, but they are enforced socially rather than as a set of rules referenced in the vendor contract. Renaissance Faires are escapes from reality for our guests. Wearing a hat as part of one’s work “garb” is a small price to pay the opportunity to sell to thousands of customers.

By Rhonni

Rhonni is a blissciplined serial entrepreneur, who has crafted a life in which she is surrounded by people who do what they love. She curates and you can see the internet version of her business card at


  1. I am a costume designer who prefers to design period accurate products. I am also an entertainer. Casting the period ambiance can make or break a show. Even vendors are part of the show and need to dress appropriately. I am biased in that I think vendors need to wear the period appropriate image professionally made rather than sweat pants and a linen shirt or a Victorian costume bodice in an Elizabethan venue. The vendors create the illusion and magic as much as the performers do. I appreciate you point that though there is a bawdy element to many faires there is now reason for a young lady to present herself on a platter. The guest wants the escapism not to exploit young people. Excellent article, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Great article, Rhonni; while I fully understand a Renaissance Festival is not meant to be a purely historical re-enactment, I fear we may be diluting the visual aesthetics far too much these days. Ardent feminist that I am, I couldn’t help but think as a fellow “crafter” walked past my booth last summer in her bejewelled bikini top and harem pants that if this really were Elizabethan England, she’d be burned as a witch before nightfall. Meanwhile I dread another season of Khaleesi homages when we should be taking our fashion tips from the BBC’s Tudor Monastery series.

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