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Clothing Makes the Man

Rhonni —  February 26, 2013 — 4 Comments

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.