Costume Today

When I’ve first found out about my perverted love for historical costumes, I started indulging myself with those nice BBC series made after Dickens’, Catherine Cookson’s, sister Bronte’s and Jane Austin’s novels.

Maybe that was actually the way I fell for costumes… I usually minded the costumers for not lacing the actresses tight enough in corsets. Only recently did I find out that this was not the main purpouse of corsets. Now, it’s all nice, but does it mean you have to become a British actor/actress in order to be able to wear a historical costume?

Or is a TV screen the only place where you’ll see them? That is certainly not the case. Whoever lives near some castle or ruin may have noticed a periodical appearance of a wild bunch dressed up in earth-tones rags, performing folk music and introducing themselves as Malcolm Duncan James Dougal MacLeod of Eilean Donan. If Shooglenifty doesn’t have a tour in your area, these events are called historical markets.

Historical markets

If you would like to have your life’s opportunity to wear a historical costume and not be followed by strange, investigating looks all around, you could join this wild bunch. One warning, however: on most of such markets costumes from 16th century on will not be tolerated.

Most of these historical markets take place around castles and are really made for masses, usually to financially help out the obtaining of the monument. Masses usually consist of people of not so terribly great financial state and, when choosing the cheapest period of history, they usually take Middle Ages (with all that fur, the Stone Age would come up to be the most luxurious period!).

In Middle Ages, people didn’t need such a complicated garments as corsets and hoops and for that reason they also didn’t need too much textile. So it is quite obvious why you would be followed by growls if you would appear there in any kind of garments from later periods.

Historical markets are most popular (in my opinion) in Germany, Great Britain and France. You may also run into several of them in Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland etc. They may be organized around a castle, fortress or a ruin, but this is not the rule. Any kind of a very old monument or a town dating back to Middle or some older ages may become a place of meeting of people who share the interest for history and re-enacting. Some of these happening could really give you a day full of fun. There are people who have their own tables and kiosks, selling food made after ancient recipes (cheese breads, cheese pancakes, cheese cakes and hot-dogs).

Also, there are really talented people who are playing very old instruments, like harps, hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes, all other kinds of pipes and whistles and are performing songs from Middle Ages. There are also people who don’t want just to find a Medieval substitution for a modern kind of fun, so they are presenting fun as it really was in that times, namely with recitals, story-tellings and morality plays.

Quite often you will also see tournaments with knights, royal banquets and such stuff. But what is most important, all of those people are in costumes. When given to masses, the historical accuracy is usually doubtful. The fact is that, among several hundreds of people scrumming there, you will notice maybe ten of them who are wearing fully authentic, accurate and, what I find most important, attractive costumes. But for those it really pays off to visit such places.

Since I live in Germany, I can tell you how it is there. Especially in southern and south-west parts of the country, castles are very often ornaments in landscape. If they are not touristical hot-spots, like Neuschwanstein or Eltz, people really have to find a way to make money with which they will obtain them and lure more people in.

Historical markets are that way very popular events and people living near-by appreciate having an interesting place to go to over the weekend. Some of the castles have several events over the year, respectfully on big holidays like Christmas and Easter, Halloween, Walpurgis night and some local anniversaries.

Historical markets and visiting them have become so popular, that you have several magazines dealing with them and listing all the events throughout the year. There you will find several ads for costume makers, but also the other vital participants of such events like fools, jesters, musicians, sorceresses etc. If you are so lucky to live near a place where such events are being held, you shouldn’t miss them. Besides, having in mind “Oh, I can do that far better!” is great for spurring you into really better costume designing.

Related links: – on the Ronneburg castle, Germany – re-enactment in Britain

Castle Neuschwanstein – THE castle in Germany Castle Eltz – was on the 500 DM bill for years

Karfunkel – Scene magazine Tempus vivit – site about re-enactment in Germany


I must say that theatre is today being less and less a place to see nice historical costumes. This is mostly because people prefer modern productions with modern or all kinds of stylised clothes. Even when a play is in historical settings, costume designers are having more and more freedom.

Today, Hamlet is in jeans and Ophelia prefers a “little black dress”. Something that would be unimaginable several decades ago. However, this doesn’t seem to influence the opera too strongly.

Costume designers there are still (fortunately) quite conservative and you can expect quite a treat for your eyes. Opera productions need a lot of money and that is certainly obvious on costumes. While in ordinary theatre costumes are rather simplified, opera still preserves most of her baroque heritage and no stage is too small for several wandering hoops.

Related links: – on “Clarissa” costume series – on “Vanity Fair” series – on “Pride and Prejudice” series