Intro To Garb

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What do you want to wear?

The time period that the SCA covers is pre-17th century. It would be impossible to give you an accurate overview of everything that you could wear, even if I restricted it to just one country. Keep in mind that much of the information we have about the clothing of the early Middle Ages is sketchy because there only a few whole garments and lots of fragments of clothing that have survived.

The best suggestion is once you think about different types of garb, go to the library and find a general history of costume, and look at the styles there to see what you like. Some of the books are not particularly careful or reliable with the details of costume. The costumes pictured sometimes combine different elements from more than one drawing. This will give you a starting place, check books with period illustrations before starting construction of a new outfit. Your local Minister of Arts & Sciences will be able to help you find other sources.


What we wear

In general, the T-tunic is based on what the Europeans wore during the Middle Ages; specifically those items in common use before 1300. As people get more experience with the SCA, they tend to concentrate their interests to a specific country and time period. 

If you've been to an SCA event, you'll notice many people in tunics that reach to the knee or longer, with long loose sleeves; worn over trousers or hose. Most medieval men wore knee or calf-length tunics over hosen. The Norse wore something similar to trousers; they were wrapped tightly to the lower leg with fabric bands. Medieval women wore a long tunic (ankle length). Both genders wore a white or ecru under-tunic and headwear. SCA people tend to wear boots or slip-on shoes. The clothing is often decorated with trim at the neck, hem, sleeve end, and often biceps (over a seam that falls on the upper arm). 

In the SCA, there are pieces of apparel that symbolize something about the wearer. Usually they symbolize something the person has earned—a title or office.  Most of these items have a basis in the medieval sumptuary laws. If you avoid wearing these things, you can avoid many misunderstandings and hard feelings.


Belts: Belts can be made from cloth, leather, metals, rope or a combination of these materials. The color of the belt has special meaning. You should not wear the colors listed below unless you have earned them. Other colors are okay to wear. Belts with patterns may contain these colors; but beware, a white belt with a blue pattern may look like a solid white belt from a short distance.

White: Knight
Red:  Squire
Yellow:  Protégé
Green:  Apprentice

Spurs: Spurs are reserved for Knights and Squires in Meridies. Gold spurs for Knights and silver spurs for their Squires.

Chains (necklaces): Unadorned chains are reserved for Knights and Squires. Anyone can wear chains with things hanging from them. Unadorned gold chains are worn by the Knights and unadorned silver chains are worn by their Squires.

Crowns, coronets and circlets: You cannot wear a crown or coronet unless you are a King, Queen, Prince, Princess, Duke, Duchess, Count, Countess, Baron or Baroness. Unadorned circlets (metal bands) that are 1” wide signify the wearer is a bestowed Peer - Knight, Pelican, Laurel. Unadorned circlets that are ½” wide signify that the wearer has earned the title of Honorable Lord or Lady, also known as a Grant of Awards. Unadorned circles that are ¼” wide signify the wearer has earned the title of Lord or Lady, also known as an Award of Arms. These people are also allowed to bear arms (weapons) in the presence of the Royalty.

Collars of Estate: These are long necklaces that have cast metal squares connected by metal rings worn around the neck at shoulder width. Collars with 2” squares are for Royal Peers and Bestowed Peers. Collars with 1” squares are for a person with a Grant of Arms.

Baldrics: A baldric is a sash of cloth or leather that is worn across the body from a shoulder to the opposite hip.  Baldrics symbolize various ranks and offices which are too numerous to list here.  The simplest solution for a newcomer is to avoid wearing a baldric.

Coat of Arms: A coat of arms is a picture often in the shape of a shield that is used as a representation of a name. There is a coat of arms that represents Meridies, the King, Queen, Prince and Princess. SCA groups also have their own coat of arms. Individuals can have arms also. You will see them displayed on garments, banners and many other things that a person owns. Every coat of arms is different. A coat of arms is called a device until you get an Award of Arms from the King and Queen. To get a device consult with the Herald. They can help you design one that fits all the rules of heraldry.



Fabric Choices

Linen, wool, fine silks, brocades and cotton were available in our period. Fine silks are those without slubs and with very small fibers; they are lustrous and thin. Silk noil would not have been used in period, but its texture makes it resemble wool and it breathes well.  Solid colors, either  plain or with a woven pattern, are a common choice. Stripes and plaids are also suitable for a tunic. Many people find cotton to be an economical choice, but be advised that you'll be more comfortable in pure cotton than in polyester-cotton blends. 

The weaves used, even early in our period are often quite complex. One of the most popular for the upper classes was a diamond patterned twill; the pattern of the weave makes diamond shapes in the fabric. In general, a woven geometric pattern that is symmetrical will look believable. 

The best advice about fabric choice that I’ve heard came from a friend of mine, Mistress Muirghein inghean Rioghain:

"Don't think that you need to buy the most expensive fabrics such as linen, wool, or silk right away for your first garb.  What you want to look for are fabrics that pass the "ten-foot rule".  Does it look like a fabric that would have been used in period from ten feet away?  When going shopping for the first time for fabric for your first garb take these things into consideration.  Take a look at the fabrics you like and then take a look at the fabrics you can afford.  Now narrow it down to those you like that you can afford.  Happy shopping."

The color choice is up to you, extremely bright or neon should be saved for more modern sewing projects.  So how do you construct something these garments? There are two easy ways to arrive at the basic "T" tunic. So-called because when laid flat, the arms and the body form a T shape, unlike modern fitted clothing, which doesn't have as much play in the arms. The various dress accessories are also relatively easy to construct, so let us begin!


Next Page: The Tunic