Merchant Tailor: My History of Historical Clothing

Based on the general content I’ve focused on thus far, it would seem to the casual observer that the woodworking aspects of the project are the parts that I’m most comfortable and familiar with. The casual observer would be wrong.

It’s the clothing.


It is true that woodworking is the craft I’ve pursued the longest, but it’s also the thing I learned without any personal effort. Making sawdust was a Thing Boys Learned in the time and place I grew up; sewing was not a Thing Boys Learned in that time and that place.

I had to make an effort, and for that to happen, I had to move 1,500 miles and meet a girl.

A long time ago, in what seems to be a galaxy far away (it was actually Denver), I asked my girlfriend to make me a shirt for a renaissance faire costume. I provided the pattern and cloth, and she was happy to help, but I wanted to make alterations, and those changes and tweaks didn’t stop after she began sewing.

She got up, put me in the chair and said “We’re not doing this; you’re going to learn to sew.”

weddingA few years later, in an uncharacteristic bout of wisdom, I married that girl. It was a renaissance themed wedding and we made our own costumes. No one would call my doublet and paned hose historically accurate; the fabrics are heavily weighted toward wedding brocades of a Victorian style. The style is an almost perfect reflection of what little men’s costuming information was available on the internet in 1999/2000, mostly in terms of photos from the California renaissance faires.

But it was my wedding and perfect for that reason alone.

The push she had given me on that day in Denver had enough momentum to carry me forward under my own steam beyond the wedding preparations. I kept learning, kept experimenting, and kept researching. As new research was published and new Elizabethan costuming groups formed online, I joined and chatted and argued and read more, growing my skills in both design and execution.

I started blogging at a long-defunct blog called Garb for Guys meant to address the gap in male historical costuming information on the internet at the time. It was a doublet diary to sit alongside all the dress diaries that were so common, providing a touchstone for anyone trying to get started at a renaissance faire or the SCA with Elizabethan costuming. I interpreted paintings, redacted patterns, made tutorials for hand-construction techniques, buttons, leather, and walked through what I understood at the time about creating accessories such as masks.

Pretty much the same as I do here, but strictly related to clothing, and tempered by the realities of sewing from what you can find at your local fabric store.

Why bring it up? Because I’ve put off the merchant tailor’s portion of this project because on some level I feel like I’ve already done it all before. Which leads to the impulse to just copy and paste the previous excursions into the new project so I can look like I’m moving forward even though I’m standing still.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the content on Garb for Guys, as long as you’re willing to take it for what it is: an historical document charting my course from “A good start” to “attempting to achieve some measure of historical accuracy.”

By linking to those tutorials, I’ve also effectively put them out of reach for my cut/paste impulse, but not out of reach for re-doing from scratch with the knowledge I’ve learned since that first time through. If I do borrow content, I’ll be sure to call it (myself) out.

In the meantime… you might’ve noticed that the project has been warming back up, ever-so-slowly, and we’re moving forward with a little help from our friends. More later, as always.

– Scott


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