Medieval scholarly costume on the cheap.
October 3, 2013 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Halloween is coming, which means it's costume time. This year I've decided to go with a medieval theme, so that I can also have something to wear to the Renfaire which comes around in November. I have a vague idea that I'd like to dress as some kind of wandering scholar or scribe (it would allow me to wear glasses and is a nod to my academic real-life persona) but I don't really have a lot of ideas for how to make that awesome (or even really recognizable). I would like to keep the costume more on the realistic/historical side of the costume continuum than the funny/cheesy side, as much as is reasonable. I also am pretty broke, so I want to keep the Buying of Things to a bare minimum. I am happy to scrounge and to craft -- my main handicap there is that I do not have access to a sewing machine, nor do I even know how to use one, but I am otherwise pretty resourceful. How can I build a good costume around this?
posted by Scientist to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a graduation gown, or can you borrow one? I think you can probably wear one of those over some opaque tights and shoes (preferably soft and pointy) and you'll be pretty good. If you have a colleague who has a particularly snazzy academic cap (not a traditional mortarboard but one of the softer tam-like velvet styles) and you can ask to borrow it if you/they don't see it as an affront to the discipline, all the better (you might be able to make something like this, also--much more easily than you'd be able to make a gown, I'd think!). Carry a big feather for a quill and a scroll of parchment, possibly with some pretty Gothic lettering on it (if you get sick of this, maybe belt your gown and tuck the quill and scroll into the belt).
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:25 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

One of my most favoritest costume sites discusses costumes for women, but some of their ideas for "props" would obviously be unisex. For their takes on Christine de Pizan and Marie de France, they suggest carrying this writing set to underscore the "medieval writer person" aspect. The rest of the outfit is pretty basic, so I think the graduation gown idea plus the writing set and you'd be good to go.

Even better - you could go as a scribe from a monestary, which would indeed be accurate in and of itself, and there are a gabillion "monk" costumes at costume shops and available for order online; while the costume shop option would be a little tacky, they do give you basic pieces you can dress up with more authentic-looking accessories.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here are some illustrations of clerical clothing. For the robe you could try using a long section of black fabric with a hole cut out in the middle for your head. You could tie a rope or wear a black belt over the robe Wear a black long sleeve shirt and black pants under the "Robe."
posted by JujuB at 7:48 AM on October 3, 2013

If you look at paintings from the time (well, around that time) a lot of them wore a tunic with a poncho thing over it, and a stole kind of thing over that. Ex 1 2 3

It's a bummer that you don't have a sewing machine. But to give you some ideas, you can buy a large, long flowy solid color skirt from the thrift store, like these, (i see them there all the time), and if you cut slits down the the sides (but not all the way down) it would do for the "poncho" part of the outfit. If you really wanted to go all out, you can glue gold edging/ribbon to it, and it'd look like the poncho in example 1.
As for the hood/stole thing, that's just a large circle of fabric that they drape over their shoulders and let hang down in the back. Kinda like the v stoles for graduation, but rounder and lots more fabric.

That, and carry round some scrolls, and I think it'd be obvious you were a scholar.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:37 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

JujuB is on for this. Here's some examples of costumes, and here's a page that details some "how to's" that may give you ideas.

One has a pointed hood that would work if you have longer hair--braid it up in some sort of loose french braid, or roll it along the sides and tie back. Would you consider a page-boy cut? if your hair is short and you don't want to change it, think about a skull cap. You should be able to find links on how to sew this stuff. The one link shows a tunic and pants if you're not to enthused about a robe. Certainly the robe would be your warmest option.

The site mentions that black was a more expensive dye than brown. Black pants/shirt would still work under a brown robe, or purchase/dye something from the thrift store. Thrift stores or army/navy stores are your friend here. Most authentic would be a wool blanket dyed brown. Doesn't have to be exactly a brown color, faded looking would be fine. You could sew your shoes out of leather or heavy sueded fabric distressed with dirt. Think creative to get your leather--maybe large purses cut apart? Keep your feet warm inside with lining or inserts on the bottom and several layers of heavy socks, or if you have smaller feet, make them to fit over sneakers.

The belt is a great idea. Maybe a longer braided belt with the buckle cut off then tied? A longer narrow belt, buckle off, tied? You could tie one or two skeleton keys to your belt with a leather thong or sew a leather drawstring pouch to keep a few odds and ends in.

Google medieval parchment for examples--maybe use thin cardboard, distress the edges and then dye in coffee? Roll and tie with narrow frayed black ribbon.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:49 AM on October 3, 2013

Oh, I would think you wouldn't have to do much sewing on this. A few overcast stitches would work dandy on hood and shoes. Maybe find a friend with a sewing machine to trade favors with?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:51 AM on October 3, 2013

Dang, I meant to link this book.

You could fake it out of cardboard (so it wouldn't be heavy) dyed with coffee, and then hang it from your belt.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2013

For a costume, you can use hot glue for seams; I recommend a small hotglue gun for the smaller nozzle. Use fabric glue to layer fabric on fabric; it's more flexible, and for hems, use fusible hem binding stuff that irons hems into place. I buy clothes at Goodwill just to re-purpose the fabric. Large men's twill shirts have a lot of fabric, same with women's skirts - cheaper than the fabric store. Good tights are quite sturdy, or dye waffle-weave long johns.

Bloomers can be made of too-large elastic-waisted pants. Cut them off, and use elastic in the hem. Add diamond shapes with fabric glue. There's fabric paint that can be used to edge the shapes.

If you're ambitious, get a man's shirt, and use a seam ripper to remove the collar, then glue it back together. Remove the sleeves. Get a too-large man's shirt and use those sleeves. You might have to actually sew this - this part of a shirt gets a lot of wear. Or use a graduation gown (the disposable ones are kind of shiny, but findable), cut it off, and wear a shirt under it.

Get a good vest to cover the elastic waistband, to look more polished, and to cover any workmanship errors of the short. A vest can be made smaller by sewing 2 vertical seams in the back by hand. Or look at women's jackets for something large and unstructured, a dressing gown or robe. You could cut a tunic out of something - don't be afraid to shop the women's section.

The hat and shoes make a huge difference to a costume. You may have boots or sandals that will work. If not, try thrift shops, craigslist\free and/or freecycle. There are almost certainly tutorials on how to make the shoes and hat. I always see lots of chunky leather belts at Goodwill.

Suitable habits for Benedictine monks
a waffle-knit shirt could be laced up.
You'll post pictures, right?
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2013

interesting project
posted by theora55 at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2013

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