November 2018
Renaissance-Style Costumes
for Recorder Players
by Helen-Jean Talbott and Cynthia A. Sutton
As a recorder player you can easily find yourself in a situation where you either want to, or have to, come up with a Renaissance-style costume for a performance. Cynthia and I perform in costume with our recorder group Consort Anon and we sew our own costumes. Before getting started creating something, ask yourself if it would be more practical for you to rent, buy or borrow a costume, particularly if this is a one-time event.

Clothing styles during the Renaissance varied greatly depending upon social class, country/region, and time period. Sumptuary laws during the Renaissance specified what types of fabric, colors, and clothing that different social classes could wear. If you are playing as a group of musicians, your costumes need to represent similar social status — all court musicians, or all middle-class musicians, but not a mixture.

What makes a costume look Renaissance?
Predominant colors of Renaissance garments are burgundy, gold, red, black, forest green and warmer shades of green, cream, white, and colors achieved from natural dyes such as browns, mustard yellow, and some blues. Although they are lovely, avoid light pastel colors that are popular for images of princesses.

Renaissance fabrics for outer garments (gowns, skirts, bodices, pants, jerkins, doublets) were woven, so avoid most knits, as well as fabrics with printed designs, and fabrics with modern embellishments such as sequins.

  • Upper-class outer garment fabrics include velvet, satin, silk, silk and linen blends, wool, velvet and silk with metal threads, silk damasks in rich colors and textures.
  • Lower classes would wear wool and linen for outer garments. Inner garments include shirts, which are generally called chemises for women and smocks for men.
  • All classes wore linen inner garments. Avoid shiny/metallic fabrics (such as lamé or especially shiny satin) and any fabric containing lycra.
Women's Outfits
  • Start with a chemise/shift (a long-sleeve, loose-fitting smock next to the body) and knee-length stockings. Next would come a corset, worn by all classes. However, in order to breathe deeply, this should be avoided by musicians.
  • An underskirt or petticoat would fill out the gown, and add extra warmth.
  • An upper-class woman might also wear a bum roll at her hips, above a farthingale, or hoop skirt.
  • Lacing is the most forgiving and common method of closure for bodices, and is done in front for lower classes.
  • Gowns and bodices cut to expose a lot of neckline and upper chest were acceptable and fashionable.

Photo by Thaya Shaeffer
Photo by Matthew Kuehn
Photo by Charlie Sutton
Men's Outfits
  • Start with a loose fitting long-sleeved shirt/smock.
  • Men wore knitted full-length hose on their legs, which could be two separate hip-high stockings, or what were called “joined hose,” which resemble modern tights.
  • The upper leg was covered by knee-length, often puffy, trousers called trunk hose.
  • A doublet (close-fitting waist-length jacket) would be worn over the smock, either by itself, or with a close-fitting vest-like garment underneath called a jerkin.
To complete your outfit you will need a hat, some shoes, and some accessories.

  • Hats: Both men and women always wore hats and headwear in public. Long and full feathers, such a ostrich, pheasant, and peacock, were popular decorations for both men’s and women’s hats.
  • Shoes: Most shoes were made of leather, often a latch style, and they were low cut on the foot and had a rounded toe. Women might consider a "mary jane" slip-on shoe. Men might consider simple slip-on leather shoes, or boots which fit close to the leg.
  • Belts: Belts are useful and practical. They were wrapped around the person's waist over the clothing and hold items such as mugs, fans, pomanders, and various pouches. Most garments did not have pockets, thus the pouches.
  • Jewelry: The most common piece of jewelry item from the Renaissance is the pendant (worn on a chain or belt around the neck), often made of gold, various gemstones, and pearls. Rings were worn on any or all five fingers. Earrings often were suspended simple pear-shaped pearls or jeweled drops.
Costumes for Purchase
Several online companies also have Renaissance-style costumes and accessories available for purchase. Here are a few (with apologies to the folks we are missing):
Consort Anon, photo: Marketa Ebert
Consort Anon at Maryland Renaissance festival, photo: Katie Wanschura
This is a very small introduction to the many resources available to help you succeed in sewing a costume that makes you look fantastic, and enables you to concentrate on playing beautiful Renaissance pieces while wearing it. For more information, expert tips, patterns, and links to excellent resources on costuming, please read the full version of this article provided on the ARS website .
Composer and ARS member Helen-Jean Talbott
Cynthia Sutton
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