Monday, August 17, 2015

Buying it: High Medieval Men's Clothing

While there is certainly a lot of pressure in the SCA and other reenactment/cosplay groups for participants to make their own clothing and accessories, it isn't necessary and is not the best solution for everybody. I have mentioned this in several other places on this website, but ultimately for those who lack the time and/or interest in making their own clothing, it is perfectly acceptable to buy what you need. However, purchasing medieval clothing can come with several pitfalls and it is easy to spend a lot of money on clothing that is of poor quality and that isn't authentic. As mentioned throughout the "First Garb on a Budget" series, authenticity, quality, and price are often competing goals, however, I have gone on a virtual shopping trip in order to help take some of the guess-work out of balancing these priorities. To do this, I provided myself with several limitations:

1) Items must be purchased from permanent merchants - I limited my shopping to online merchants who have been well-established within the SCA community and to those where I expect that anybody who is reading this article could follow the link to purchase the same item at any point in the foreseeable future.

2) Items should be off-the-rack - Given that one of the primary reasons for purchasing clothing rather than making it is time constraint, I have prioritized items that are available off-the-rack rather than custom-made pieces. Off-the-rack pieces also tend to be cheaper, which is another advantage.

3) The outfit must include all of the necessary layers and parts - Simply put, it is easier and cheaper to look good by wearing a simple version of all of the right things than it is to disguise the absence of an important part with bling.

4) The number of unique merchants should be limited - this should help to keep shipping costs down.

5) The selected clothing items should be reasonably authentic for the period between 1100 AD - 1350 AD.

6) The outfit should include the basic accessories - Long story short, a medieval person without shoes, a belt, and a head covering isn't dressed.


In order to balance the competing goals of authenticity and cost, there are a couple compromises that you might consider. First, some of the items in the list above aren't strictly necessary. You won't need a hat if you have a hood and coif, for instance. Likewise, the cloak, shoulder bag, knives, and belt pouch can be considered to be optional, however you may also decide that they are necessary from a practical standpoint. I will list these items below as optional rather than as part of the basic outfit. Second, you might consider buying outer garments that are made out of linen rather than wool. This is common in the SCA, but it may not be acceptable for other reenactment groups because it is not an authentic practice. Linen tends to be a little cheaper and slightly cooler than wool (though wool is surprisingly breathable and I prefer it to cotton even in the summer). My list below will provide both options so that you can see how this affects price and make the decision for yourself.

Where to Buy:

While there are a multitude of merchants who sell medieval clothing, I have selected only three of them based on their reputation for quality, customer service, authenticity, and price. Furthermore, by limiting the number of merchants, we can save money on shipping. I ultimately chose Historic Enterprises and Linen Garb for clothing items and Viking Leather Crafts for the leather goods. I generally find that HE's clothing is more authentic than LG, but for some items there is a significant cost difference, and so I have included both below:

Underwear Package with Linen Chausses - $134.95

Underwear Package with Wool Chausses - $139.95

Buy Separately:
Basic tunic from Linen Garb - $59.00
Basic linen tunic from HE - $89.95
Basic wool tunic from HE - $164.95

Linen coif from Linen Garb - $10.00

Linen hood from Linen Garb - $39.00
Wool hood from HE - $47.95

Buy a Package:
Bocksten Package - linen tunic, linen coif, wool hood - $153.95
Bocksten Package, wool tunic and hood, linen coif - $224.95


Shoes: Viking Leather Crafts has several shoe options. If you're going for a specific century, follow the headings on this page. The shoes start at $54.95, but I recommend purchasing the rubber half-sole for an additional $15, which will improve your traction on grass and also increase the lifespan of your shoes as gravel and pavement are very hard on leather soles. Total: $70

Belts: Viking Leather Crafts offers several belt options. As a general rule, medieval belts were rather narrow, so go with the 1" or 3/4" belts available here for $29.99 or $21.99 respectively.

Optional Items:

Belt Pouch: I debated whether to include this as necessary or optional because you'll want somewhere to put your wallet, keys, etc. Viking Leather Crafts provides several options, and you may as well order at the same time as your shoes and belt. Price: $29.95

Hat: Historic Enterprises Felt Hat - $21.95

Shoulder Bag: Historic Enterprises Forage or Pilgrim Bag - $24.95

Striking a Balance:

Using the options above, it is easy to see that the cheapest outfit consists of the linen underwear package, the linen tunic, coif, and hood from LG, and a pair of shoes and a 3/4" belt from VLC. The total for that outfit ends up being $334.85 + s/h. However, my personal recommendation would be to splurge just a little bit and to go with the wool chausses and hood from HE, which would add $5 to the total for the chausses and $8.95 for the wool hood instead of the linen one for a total of $348.80. You also may decide that you want a 1" belt rather than a 3/4" belt, which ends up adding another $8.

Depending on your priorities, however, you may find that you're willing to pay a little extra for more authentic clothing. In which case, you might consider the outerwear package deal from HE. It doesn't end up being much more expensive, coming in at $380.80 for the linen underwear and outerwear package + shoes & belt or $385.80 if we get wool chausses. Both versions include a wool hood as noted above. So if we consider the price difference between this package and my recommendation above, we're looking at a difference of $37. This would allow us to save on shipping from LG, which is currently $10 for the items on our list, resulting in a $27 difference in cost, which you will note, is essentially the difference in cost between the tunics.

Based on the above numbers, you can also see how much more expensive it is to purchase all of the appropriate pieces in wool. We'd essentially be purchasing the HE undergarment and outer garment packages in wool, which would run $456.8 total including shoes and a 3/4" belt or $464.80 with a 1" belt.


For starters, it should be clear that one of the first considerations in purchasing garb is to establish a budget and consider the degree to which you are willing to make trade-offs between cost and authenticity. My findings suggest that a basic outfit can be accomplished with a budget of about $350, though this involves compromising authenticity in terms of material (choosing linen) and construction (LG vs. HE's tunic and hood construction mainly). For SCA purposes these are completely reasonable compromises, but will likely result in an outfit that is not acceptable for stricter reenactments. If we instead consider a $400 budget, then we still will likely need to compromise on material, but we can expect to be able to also purchase some of the more optional items. I would recommend starting with a pouch, as it really is helpful to have somewhere to put your wallet. If our budget is instead closer to $500 or more, then we can afford to purchase the appropriate garments in wool and can also afford some of the optional accessories.

In general, the idea behind this guide is to get a newcomer started. For the vast majority of SCA events, a single outfit is sufficient clothing, as most events occur on a single day, two at the most. However, eventually you may decide to attend one of the SCA's larger week-long wars such as Pennsic, Gulf Wars, Estrella, Lillies War, etc. For these events, wearing a single outfit for a week is going to make it difficult for you to make new friends (and also to keep the ones you already have), so you will need even more clothing. One of the benefits of the outfit and options that I have written about here is that it is modular. By this I mean that you will only need multiples of certain items and that you should be able to mix and match those items as needed. For example, you probably only need 1 pair of shoes, 1 belt, and 1 hood because if you stick with the same time period, you will be able to wear those items with different tunics, etc. So, how do we expand this individual outfit for going to a week-long war?

The "War-drobe" 

As noted above, you only need one pair of shoes, one belt, one pouch, one hood, one hat, etc. However you will need several sets of clothes, as otherwise, you're going to get stinky. In general the primary cause of clothing getting dirty is our bodies, so it is the layers that touch our skin that will get the nastiest. Therefore, we will need more underwear than anything else. I generally recommend no fewer than 3 sets of underwear. Historically the layers of clothing that touch the body were made from linen precisely because linen can be boiled in a pot and left in the sun to dry. There was no need to dye this fabric, as this treatment would ultimately bleach it in the sun. We can do something similar at war by rotating through our clothing, wearing 1 set, letting another one air out in the sun, while keeping a third set dry in our tent in case it rains.

We need fewer outer garments because they aren't in direct contact with our body, so I recommend at least 2 outer tunics. I also recommend more than one coif, as it will pick up oils from your hair, but you can probably get away with only having 2.

There are a few other ways to stretch your clothing. For starters, wool is much better at resisting moisture than linen. As a result, wool chausses, tunics, and hoods are going to stay fresher over the course of the war because they will resist dampness in the air and will wick sweat rather than absorb it. Wearing modern clothing as an additional under-layer can also help stretch your medieval clothing. Most people are wearing modern underwear beneath their braies and while many do it for comfort, it also helps to keep your braies from getting quite as funky. Another trick is to wear a pair of wool hiking socks underneath your chausses. They will help keep your feet dry, provide a bit of extra padding for your feet, and can generally be dried out quickly using the same method as the one used for the other undergarments.

Overall, my recommendations for a week-long war are therefore 3 shirts, 3 pairs of braies, 2 pairs of chausses (if they are wool or we use the hiking sock trick, otherwise we'll want 3 pairs), 2 tunics, 2 coifs, one hood, one pair of shoes, one belt, one of any accessories that you may have. In other words, starting from our basic outfit, we would need to purchase 1 additional tunic, 1 additional coif,  1-2 additional sets of chausses, 2 additional shirts, and 2 additional sets of braies. We could accomplish this by purchasing 2 of HE's basic underwear packages (I do recommend the wool chausses) for $139.95 each, a tunic from LG for $59, and a coif from LG for $10 for a total of $348.90. If we really needed to cut costs, we can save some money by buying only 1 additional complete set of underwear and 1 of HE's basic underwear sets that do not include chausses at $89.95. This would result in a total cost of $298.90. If we put everything together then we can see that enough garb to attend a week-long war will run a minimum of $633.75.


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