What clothing doth one wear to a medieval festival?

As the Loxwood Joust approaches, our medieval costume style guide tells you all you need to know…

Over the years we’ve been running the Loxwood Joust, we’ve seen the enthusiasm for dressing in character grow stronger and stronger and, while you don’t have to dress up, it’s highly encouraged!

During our immersive festival we take pride in ensuring that every detail is as authentically medieval as possible! Whether encountering our medieval characters throughout the lands, learning how to do traditional crafts, or dining in our medieval banquets, it’s all about getting in the spirit. You won’t see food trucks – you’ll see hawkers. And while the loos are fit for your modern convenience, they’re disguised to fit into their historical surroundings. So, if the toilets can dress up – why can’t you?

Reasons to get dressed up:

  1. You’ll fit right in

2. You’ll look mighty fine in pictures

3. You’ll get to escape into character

4. It’s just more fun

So, now that you’re convinced, what should you wear?

Get into character

You’ll find plenty of costume providers on the mystical ‘world wide web’, or you might want to get creative and fashion your costume from scratch. However you choose to approach the task, choosing a character to play will help you to thoughtfully pull your costume together.

How you dress will depend largely on whether you want to be a ‘Prince’ or a ‘pauper’. In medieval times, status could be observed simply by glancing at what one wore. While the items themselves were similar, their colour and quality were what gave the game away. Because the cost of dyes and fabrics varied dramatically, those in low society had a basic wardrobe with undyed, poorer-quality fabrics. Meanwhile, high society luxuriated in bright colours and finer woven fabrics which, together with glistening accessories, acted as an expression of wealth.

Whether you are more aligned to the elegant and fair, or the filthy and free, here are the core items to consider for your medieval wardrobe:

Core items of medieval clothing

Capes and cloaks

Hooded capes and cloaks were all the rage in the days of yore, providing ample protection from the elements while adding a flash of splendour to any grand entrance. The longer the cape, the more dramatic.

Tunics

Quite literally, anyone who was anyone wore a tunic, which could be short or long-sleeved and fell below the hips. They were baggy and would be worn with a belt (most important for one’s modesty in windy vales). For lower classes, tunics were plain, single-colour garments, while the wealthy often coloured their tunics with dye and customised them with elaborate embroidery.  

Trousers

The ideal accompaniment to a tunic was a pair of trousers, which were usually ankle length and often closed at the cuff. It wasn’t uncommon for men to wear ‘tights’ as they wandered around the market, or to wear ‘drawers’ as an undergarment, particularly in harsh winters.

Kirtles and dresses

A kirtle was a tunic-style calf or ankle-length medieval dress that would lace up at the front or back. In early times they were fixed in place with a belt, but later, they were commonly attached to a corset.

Buckles and belts

One of the most common accessories was a belt. Serving multiple purposes, no outfit was complete without this practical leather or fabric attachment. Knights would wear particularly flashy belts, with metal plaque adornments, while wenches might wear wide fabric corset-style belts to tame the waist and win favour with the local innkeeper.

Buckles provided another opportunity to demonstrate wealth with etchings and gilded mouldings providing a touch of class to those who could afford them.

Hats & headwear

If you didn’t wear a hood, you’d wear a hat – alas, you may wear both! Hats performed both a functional and a fashionable role in medieval times and there were many varieties: wide-brimmed straw hats, coifs and bonnets of linen or hemp, cone-shaped hennins, caps and veils. A headdress was, quite simply, a must-wear item.  

Chainmail & armour

For knights, the only headgear they could possibly be seen with was a helmet, and we couldn’t write a medieval costume guide for the Loxwood Joust without mentioning the attire of the brave soldiers of our kingdom!

Chainmail and plate armour (made with interconnecting metal plates) are the proud garb of our valiant heroes. Don’t forget to buff your metal before you grace us with your presence – a dull chest plate will do no good in battle, whereas shined steel will do its job to blind the enemy and render them incapacitated (on a fair day).

Fabrics

Man-made fabrics such as polyester would have been considered ‘witches work’ in medieval times. Instead, tailors made the most of what nature provided. Wool, linen and cotton of varying thicknesses and quality were most common and usually woven or crocheted. Silk, hemp, leather and fur were also of the era. And of course, iron and steel!

However you decide to dress at the Loxwood Joust, your costume is sure to be well received. Just look to previous years for inspiration…