Monday, November 5, 2018

Northwest Pirate Festival July 2019: Non Pirate Option Costuming for Women

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The 'pirate' garb sold at renfaire, and in costume stores, isn't historically based. However, your level of historical accuracy is an individual choice and we aren't criticizing - just educating. 

Ladies - if you plan to base your female character on a townsfolk other than a "pirate" (menswear) I have some suggestions for you.

You may wonder how THIS picture (left) fits into a piratical theme? Hollywood has heavily influenced our concept of what a "pirate" should look like. So has the commercial "costume" industry. Striped pants torn at the bottom, huge feathered tricorn hats, and hooks have become the "uniform" look; however, there isn't a uniform or a "look" that pirates would have worn. They were every-day men (and a few women) who took to pirating - but their clothing would be styled after the clothing available from the time period. Black eye patches, striped pants, fancy frock coats, feathered caps are Hollywood's invention.

If you are like 99% of the Rennies I have been talking to you may be completely clueless about what pieces you need to add.

As I told the gents in my other post - - Start EARLY! If you commission garb your seamstress will be grateful for the early start and you'll save yourself the headache.

Many of us, myself included, got VERY excited about this particular faire when it was announced. The 18th Century is hands down my absolute favorite! You may find that odd since the majority of my commissions have been for the 16th Century - but that's due to popular demand, not a lack of knowledge or experience. Because the 18th Century is my favorite, I have squirreled away lots of information (and fabric and shoes) hoping for the opportunity to wear such costumes.

The theme for this new venue is 1719 - Golden Age of Piracy. The setting will be a port town. You will find villagers, and merchants, sailors, pirates, and perhaps a few bawds, some ale-house wenches and pubs, and people from mostly the working class. The temptation to wear a upper-class or court gowns will be great for some of us who adore this time period, but there are no nobles - no visiting royalty - and certainly no members of court wearing ball gowns in the middle of the day!

The characters you will see will range from a few middle class - with modestly better clothing in printed cotton to lower or working class in linen and wool, and even the poor; but the majority will be the lower classes. These are earthy people! Doing earthy jobs! Wearing natural fibers such as linen and cotton prints. Silk court gowns with flounces and such are not practical - nor will it fit in the theme of a pirate festival. Upper class MIGHT be seen boarding a ship as a passenger, but this will be the exception rather than the rule So rather than fancy gowns worn by the elite of society - lean toward lower to middle class as depicted in the pictures I have included herein.

So, the question many of you are asking is:  Can I wear my Rengarb for my 18th Century character?

You can ultimately wear what you want, but if you want to portray a character that reflects the 18th Century, your typical Renfaire garb will be off the mark. BUT you can use certain pieces, and make additions to your wardrobe that are fairly easy to accomplish for the DIYers.


Most of the "pirate" characters you see at Renfaire are loosely based on 18th Century styling rather than the 16th Century so there is a lot of confusion - especially for women about what styles to wear. If you plan to base your character on an 18th Century townsfolk rather than just the ubiquitous "pirate" - I recommend you keep your garb as simple as possible. Not everyone in a port town would be pirates! If you watch/watched Black Sails there were more people than just the pirate crews. The women in this series didn't wear silks and frills - not even the wealthier characters.

So with THAT thought in mind, let me offer you some suggestions and guidelines on how you can take pieces from your Renfaire garb and make some simple costuming additions to move your character into the 18th Century. Remember: Our Renfaires take place in the 16th Century - approximately the 1570s. The clothing for 1719 will not look the same!!!

Let's start with some visuals for working class women and girls:

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There are some absolutely GORGEOUS examples from "Diary of a Mantua Maker." I found these images below on her blog:  They feature jackets worn over your stays and skirt.

Add a jacket, an apron, and a neckerchief to your renfaire garb! Hike up your skirts to make them shorter - and show those ankles! Add a layer or two of white petticoats! These are simple Hacks you can employ to stretch your existing garb.

For those who want to have garb that is separate from their renfaire garb - Here's what you will need.

An 18th Century Pair of Stays:  - - Not Victorian - or a corset that cinches you in around the middle and cups your breasts.  You need a pair of stays like the pair shown - Either with full channels (as shown) or half the amount of stay channels (known as half-boned).

18th Century Stays by Christine Helman
ECONOMIC HACK:  You may be able to cheat and use your renfaire "bodice" for your stays (corset) and wear it underneath an English gown or a jacket.

18th Century stays are not an easy project for someone who isn't proficient with pattern altering and fitting and general corsetry. I recommend you commission a pair. But if you need to stretch your budget, you can use your Renfaire bodice as a last resort - - BUT it needs to be covered up!

Stays have a lower neckline than some bodices - so your bodice may sit higher. It will depend on your individual garb.

Full channels (a.k.a Full Bones) are more expensive. Most shops sell half-boned stays for the same amount as we sell our full-boned stays. However, I caution you about vendors on Etsy who are based in places like the Ukrane. I hear the nightmares all the time.

Having a pair of stays that fits YOUR shape is necessary for comfort. The lavender and cream pair pictured are 'double' laced - in other words they are laced in both front and back. This is more convenient when dressing yourself.

Stays by American Duchess
To the right are a pair of "half boned" stays that were made by Lauren from American Duchess. You can see there aren't as many channels.  If the proper fabrics are used, you can get away with half-boned stays. These are back laced and you will need help getting in and out of them - but half-stays that are front laced will work great!

If you want FULL support, then the full-stays are the best choice. By the way, Metal Stays are NOT necessary for better support - and they aren't as comfortable as synthetic whale bone or industrial cable ties.

A proper set of stays, those made to fit YOU, can run from $700 to $350 - but the lower price point are usually half-boned stays.

We allow payments, and there may be others who will do so as well. Shop around and READ their reviews. Our schedule is pretty full, but if nothing else we can steer you in the right direction. So before you purchase stays see if your renfaire bodice can double as stays - but if you purchase stays send us a picture of their work and we can tell you if they are from a reputable vendor.

Our price point:

Fully-Boned Front and Back Laced:  $339.00 and up to $380.00

Half-Boned - Front Lacing:   $229.00


A jacket will be the one piece you can invest in that will allow you to wear your Renfaire bodice and skirt.

These jackets are NOT that difficult to make - for those of you who sew your own garb.

You'll want to stick with linen. Stay away from synthetic fabrics or anything from the upholstery section.

There are several styles to choose from. The style pictured to the left is called a Pierrot Jacket. They have a ruffed peplum in the back, are worn with a stomacher tucked behind the laces, and with 3/4 length sleeves that are SEWN into the jacket - rather than detachable.

This particular style is actually one you would see worn later in the 18th Century, but it can pass!

Pattern is by JP Ryan.

It only comes in single sizes rather than multiples but they are an excellent source.

These black and white drawings (below) from the pattern cover show the different styles that come in the JP Ryan pattern.

WARNING:  Stay away from ANY patterns published by "Reconstructing History!" also known as "RH."

RH patterns are a waste of money!!!! Absolutely horrible drafting and most of the pieces don't even fit together properly. There are MANY other better resources whose customer service is actually available to assist you.

Save yourself the stress!

Fashion Petticoat or Underskirt:
This particular look (pictured left) is more upper middle class as she is wearing panniers (pocket hoops). I am offering this pic as a visual of what the petticoats of that time period looked like in comparison to 16th century skirts. 18th Century were shorter.

They are different from 16th century; however, you could conceivably use your renfaire skirt - - so long as it is not a tiered skirt like the gypsies wear.

Rather than draw string or pleated in a circle and attached to a waistband like we see at Renfaire they were slit on each side. This is to accommodate your tie-on pockets - and panniers for the upper class clothing styles.

Here's a tutorial on the construction:

English Gowns a.k.a Robe a l'anglaise:
This English gowns as seen in this pink striped example were a staple for the 18th Century women's wardrobe.

They were worn with an apron. The apron wasn't always just white, it could be a contrasting color or print.

Two styles of Robe a'la Anglaise:

View A is moving toward middle to upper class. But View B is a good resource for both lower and middle class - though may take a bit more experience.

Here is the link to the pattern.  Again, all of JP Ryan patterns come in single sizes rather than multiple sizes. You need to go by your CORSETED measurements!! And by "corseted" I mean wearing a proper pair of stays.

If you do NOT want to invest in an historically accurate pattern, American Duchess has two patterns that can be used - with a bit of alteration:

Leave OFF the ruffle around the chemise neckline and sleeves! - and add a bit more fullness to the skirt. Add a neckerchief, and a few more accessories and this pattern will work well.

There are some hacks available for this pattern to make it more historically accurate and to give you some style options such as "winged cuffs."

Download the PDF file handout here:


Linen fabrics are a staple used in the 18th Century. They will last longer than cotton - - provided you launder them properly. By that I mean:

-  Never wash your linen garb in the machine - always hand wash by soaking in warm water.
-  Never use harsh detergents - Stick to OxyClean.
-  Never put your linens in the dryer.
-  Never use bleach or bleach for colors.
-  Rinse them in 1 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup Salt to help set your dyes.

There are some linen-cotton blends that sell for approx. $8 a yard. Stay away from synthetic fibers such as polyester. You'll roast!

You are not limited to plain or solid colored linen - Striped linen is/was available, and checked cotton aprons are an option!  - as seen in the picture to the right.

Burnley and Trowbridge has some gorgeous striped linen. I purchased this beautiful linen from them for my English gown.


18th Century chemises were draw string - BUT the sleeves were not as bloused nor were they as long. They were 3/4 length and shorter in order to fit into the snug fitted sleeves from this time period. American Duchess has a pattern for a chemise that is VERY good!  -Much better than the one with the ruffles around the neck that came out a couple of years ago.


 If you have visible tattoos on your forearms or wrists, a pair of Mitts will be an essential addition! Since chemises do not reach to the wrist as they do in renfaire garb, and gowns and jackets only reach 3/4 length, a pair of mitts will help you to meet Fair Board's costuming guidelines which may prohibit visible tattoos.

Larkin & Smith has a pattern that you can use. Lightweight linen can be used - unless you know someone who can knit - in which case, they need to start selling them on Etsy - - like right now because I need a pair!!!


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You can make your own kerchief by cutting out a square of fabric 36 x 36 inches and hemming the edges. You'll want to use a sheer cotton voile or a lightweight handkerchief weight linen.

If you aren't a DIY'er and cannot sew straight seams - you can purchase some authentic 18th Century printed kerchiefs through Burnely & Trowbridge. The cool thing about these neckerchiefs is that you can use them as hair coverings styled for 1940s vintage.

They also have a white pair that can be used to create the looks you see in the pictures I've included throughout this post.


Women wore caps. If you don't plan to wear one, I would recommend putting your hair up - - See Hairstyles below.

Caps were worn for every day, but straw hats known as "Bergere" or Shepherdess hats were also fashionable.

FashionableFrolick on Etsy has some nice quality Bergere hats for retail.


Just keep it simple! You can pull your hair up or wear a pretty coif cap with a silk ribbon.

If you don't have long hair, or a lot of hair, hair pieces will be your friend.

Here's a couple of hair tutorials that may help.


Last, but not least - Shoes! Wear something comfortable. You can absolutely wear your rengarb shoes!

American Duchess can kit you out with a beautiful pair of historically accurate shoes.

The nearest to the time line of 1719  would be her "Frasers."  Inspired by Outlander, these shoes harken from about 1740 - 1750.

They do sell for a premium, but she DOES have a layaway plan. You can split your payments up into 3 monthly payments.

Jas Townsend sells a low-heel version of latchet shoes for those who don't want a "pumpkin" heel like those by American Duchess.

Another source for reenactment shoes are found at the following link.

They are a bit more reasonable at $118.15.  They only come in single sizes  in comparison to American Duchess who offers half sizes.


Unlike the gents, there really aren't any ready-made resources I would recommend for women's clothing for this time period.  Unless you plan to wear men's wear!  In that case, a pair of britches and a men's waistcoat is an economical option.

Again, to repeat my opening statement: 'pirate' garb sold at renfaire isn't historically based. However, your level of historical accuracy is an individual choice and we aren't criticizing - just educating.

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