Going medieval for Halloween

Halloween costume shopping in a most olde English manner

Buffalo Breath costumes
  • Buffalo Breath costumes

So, we’re going medieval for Halloween this year, thinking up costumes that can do double duty at Renaissance fairs (don’t ask). Fifteen years ago, I would have jumped at the chance to play a princess. But all these years of mommyhood later, I’ll probably just go with “serving wench.”

Molly Mueller, manager at Buffalo Breath Costumes in Middletown (619-297-1175; buffalobreathcostumes.com) was ready to help. “The first time people go to Renaissance fairs, they tend to want to go as royalty. You could rent the Black-Gold Queen, $99 for 24 hours. That includes hat, jacket, blouse, choker, skirt, and hoop. I have ten of them in stock. King Arthur — crown, collar with griffin overmantle, belt, shirt, pants, and boot spats — is $79.”

But once folks have been there and seen how much there is to do, “they go with peasant costumes. They’re just easier to wear — a blouse and skirt or a shirt and pants. Royalty costumes have hoop skirts, velvet bodices, and jackets. They tend to be a bit warm.” A basic Renn Fair lady costume — hat, choker, bodice, blouse, overskirt, and underskirt — rents for $59, as does the men’s merchant costume. (Guys love the vests.)

Sizes run from XS to 2XL, “depending on the costume. We do have lots of options for smaller women and larger women. You can come in and try them on; we just ask that you be ready to rent. You reserve it for the day you want and pay for it, and that costume is taken out of stock and saved for you.”

Buffalo Breath puts an emphasis on quality — “nice fabrics, individual pieces instead of sewn-together combination blouse-bodices” — but not so much on historical accuracy. “A lot of the people who actually work at Renn Fairs have specific do’s and don’ts, such as, ‘no zippers or velcro.’ They have to use certain fabrics and fasteners. Our costumes look good, but they’re also user-friendly.”

If you fall in love with a particular outfit, some rentals are available for sale. “You’ll be purchasing from the rental stock, but we keep our costumes immaculate. That Black-Gold Queen costume sells for $449, and King Arthur goes for $299. And we have an annual sale in March. The costumes will be worn, but they won’t have flaws, and they’re up to 75 percent off. A lot of people come to that, even other costume-rental companies.”

Chris Martenson at Gypsy Treasure in La Mesa (619-466-2251; gypsytreasure.com) told me that he carried “a few thousand costumes, ranging from peasant to royalty and everything in between. They’re all handmade and unique, and I can accommodate anybody. Alterations and hemming are included in the price. Rental prices are $35–$85 for 24 hours, with $15 for each additional day. But, since we’re closed on Sunday, we don’t charge for that day.”

I started wondering about getting my crafty friend Bernice to stitch something together for me. Cindy Piselli, president of the San Diego Costume Guild (sandiegocostumeguild.webs.com), told me that her organization is a dues-free group of enthusiasts who hold monthly meetings and regular costume-related events. Their next meeting is October 28 at 7 p.m. in the Souplantation on Mission Gorge Road. All skill levels, from beginner to expert, are welcome. Member Paige Patterson first came to the group through her interest in Renaissance costume-making. “If you have a question, they’ll have an answer,” she says. “I’ve learned about historical sewing workshops through the group. And one of the members has a sort of miniblog that reviews patterns — whether it’s easy or hard and how you can tweak this or that stitch to improve it.”

Patterson grants that costuming can be expensive. “I have a friend who sews her own for the queen’s court at a Renaissance fair. She probably has $1000 just in materials. You have to remember that a nice Renaissance skirt and blouse can require close to ten yards of fabric. One way to save money is to go to the guild’s costume sale, which is held once a year. It’s basically all of us getting together and having a garage sale. You can find anything from buttons, handbags, jewels, fabric — even fully made dresses. Sometimes you strike out and sometimes you strike it rich, but you always gain some knowledge.”

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