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A Basic Guide to Period Gypsy Costuming for Renaissance FairesThis is meant to be a helpful introduction to the wild and wacky world of Gypsy costuming for those of you new to it. It comes frommany years of accumulated research & experience at Faire and is as culturally & historically accurate a guide as you're likely to find.
One of the most important things about the Gypsies is that we are quite different from everyone else in just about every way -- westand out because we are so foreign and exotic. Romany customs, speech and beliefs have little in common with those of our English"hosts". We are a wandering, freewheeling people who are the most widely traveled group in a fairly isolated and insular Europe.Because we are so far from "home" we seem quite exotic in comparison to othercharacters. Our costuming, especially, reflects this.So many of the things you may have learned about Period costuming apply more to Gaje (non-Gypsy) characters than us. This guideis all about those differences. And the suggestions contained herein are valid for both Tudor and Elizabethan era Gypsies, as Romanyclothing didn't change much at all during the interim.
Also, if you are also creating a Gypsy character to play at faire definitely keep in mind as you createyour characterthat yourcostume should reflect his/her personality and his/her profession within Gypsy society. For example, if you are a poacher you mightwear some fur or feathers on your costume, or if your character is a little more grumpy than most, you might favor darker shades of color than other Gypsy characters. Personalize your costume and make it your own. Decide where your character got all thesegarments & accessories -- a great story and thus a great bit can revolve around something as simple as a pouch or a ring.
Certain differences in our costuming apply to both genders. One of the most noticeable is our use of vibrant colors in our garments.Unlike peasant characters, who mostly wear earth tones because vegetable dyes were the only ones readily available to them, weare known for our colorful chemises (shirts & blouses), skirts, pants, etc. This is due to the fact that we have traveled to so manydistant lands where these dyes are plentiful or at least cheaper, or we have learned how to make them. Colors especially suggestedfor your costume are blues, greens, pinks, darker shades of red like burgundy and maroon, browns and tans, yellow and orange.Black dye was at the time very expensive the world over, so you should use it in your clothing sparingly (it's not colorful anyway!).We encourage you to wear some bright colors, but don't go too far and use fluorescent or neon fabric -- it's not Period and just lookstacky. Also, don't overdo it with color, the rule of thumb is to have a couple of really brightly colored costume pieces, and one or twoin darker colors to give contrast. Oh, and don't be afraid to clash!
One final note on color that applies only to Gypsy characters: primary, basic, fire engine red is never worn by Gypsies because it isclosely associated with blood, which in Romany belief is connected with the worst kind of bad luck. Other shades of red are fine,though.
Jewelry is worn profusely by both genders. Accessories like amulets, beads, exotic earrings, rings and anklets greatly add to ourGypsy look. Gypsies are so well traveled that we may wear jewelry from a variety of cultures, although most of what we wear atScarborough has a Middle Eastern, Indian or Russian look to it. In general, as long as something could have actually been made inEurope, Africa or Asia during the period (i.e. no class rings, Native American jewelry, etc.), it should be OK. We suggest you leavevaluable pieces at home where they're safe, though. As the old saying goes, if you can't afford to lose it, don't take it to Faire. Faux jewelry works well for something showy.
Also, at most faires all participants must carry their own period eating utensils: wooden bowls, mugs (use wood or pewter ones --glass and ceramics WILL break), utensils, etc. This is especially important to us as Gypsies because in Romany belief it is consideredvery unlucky for men and women to eat and drink after one another. You can usually find good bowls, mugs and such at thriftstores like Salvation Army for really cheap. Make sure when buying anything pewter that it's lead-free, though.
A final note that applies to both Gypsy men and women: because the Rom are sometimes forced by necessity and oppression toengage in illegal activities (thievery, swindling, etc.), we can wear in *small* amounts pieces of fancy fabrics that only Nobles aresupposed to wear. A patch of velvet here, a piece of fur or gold ribbon there, is encouraged for it adds to our look. Such things areassumed to have been stolen or scavenged and thus can lead to great bits with other characters as you are forced to explain whyyou have something so fancy. Don't go too far with this, though, and make a velvet bodice or brocade jerkin. If you're a castmember, more than likely your Costume Guild won't allow it if you do.
Female Gypsy costuming presents a lot of challenges, but when it all comes together these are some of the most stunning costumesat any faire. All of the basic pieces are the same as for peasant women: bloomers, bodice (no, you can't get out of wearing a bodicebecause you're a Gypsy! Nice try, though), chemise (blouse), skirts, and hat. The main differences are in color and presentation. Bellydance costuming is *NOT* appropriate for Gypsy women -- Middle Eastern dance and the clothes that go with it come from acompletely different culture.
The normal patterns for female peasant clothing work well for these pieces. Our bloomers are pretty much the same as everyoneelse's, usually lacy and made of cotton, though they are often of a bright color. Gypsy bodices can be made of tapestry material, of aheavy embroidered fabric or out of leather (keep in mind that leather's a royal pain to sew, though). They are embroidered withpatterns done in bright colors and/or decorated with ribbons or bells either sewn or tied on. Feel free to get creative with thedecoration.
Chemises are made in the standard way, except for the bright colors used (you could even have sleeves of a differently coloredfabric(s) than the body of the garment). Gypsy skirts are usually worn in layers (between two and four) of differently colored fabrics.Also of note is that all women striving for the accurate Gypsy look must wear some kind of head covering. The appropriate one for amarried Gypsy woman (or Romni ) is a diklo, a square bandanna-like cloth that is tied on the head. Non-married Gypsy women andgirls can wear a diklo, a Gypsy-looking hat (as many of us do) or even just a scarf used to tie the hair back. Garlands, snoods andmuffin-style hats are NOT appropriate for Gypsy characters. By the way, if you want to buy or make a diklo, solids work best unlessyou can find or make an embroidered one with an exotic and interesting pattern. Remember that printed fabrics are not Period.
Gypsy women are known for braiding their beautiful hair and wearing lots of jewelry. Accessories that really work well includessashes (they're more Gypsy than belts), shawls, bracelets, anklets (chain or mail jewelry is also NOT appropriate), strands of bells (notthe cowbell or jingle bell types, though), trinkets pinned or tied on the bodice, amulets, beads, pouches, etc. The best thing to doabout footwear is to get the kind that the peasant women are wearing or maybe a pair of period-looking sandals. Remember, also,that wild colors of hair, makeup and nail polish are not appropriate.
Being a man myself I have more expertise in this area than with female costuming. All of your basic costume pieces are the same aspeasant men: chemise (shirt), jerkin (vest), pants and hat. Ours mostly differ from everyone else's in color and form. The normalpatterns used in making peasant clothing will work well for your major garments.
The chemise is often made of a brightly colored fabric but is otherwise pretty much the same as peasant shirts, though you shouldkeep in mind that some designs are far more Gypsy than others. Gypsy shirts are usually full to the point of being baggy. Buttoned ortied collars are much more appropriate than ones with big lapels or laced open fronts. Gypsy jerkins are made of a thicker materialthan the chemise and pants. They can be made out of a solid material (which may then be embroidered with thread and beads),colorful embroidered cloth or even leather (stick with the more natural-looking leathers and keep in mind that leather's a royal painto sew). Jerkins are buttoned closed. Pants are baggy with elastic at the waist and ankles, and may also be made of a colorful fabric,although usually not as bright a shade as the chemise is. Gypsy men do not wear codpieces, though a front triangular piece of clothlike the ones commoners often wear isn't inappropriate.
We suggest you wear a hat or head covering of some sort. You have a variety of styles to choose from. You can wear a diklo, abandanna-like piece of square cloth that is tied on the head. A plain bandanna will work as long as it's the right color and doesn'thave any sort of printed design (no printed roses, Harley bandannas or anything like that), but just using a fairly large piece of solidcolorful cloth works better. You can embroider your diklo as well to give it a more authentic look. Or instead like many of us youcould wear a round skullcap with exotic designs on it (similar in shape to the ones that Jewish men wear, but larger -- look at ourphotos pages) or a short Middle Eastern fez-style hat (not a long one with a tassel like they wear in Turkey, though). Remember thatthe sort of hats English characters wear are NOT appropriate for us. Gypsy men are known for wearing a variety of accessoriesincluding rings, amulets, pouches, sashes (they're much more Gypsy than belts) and weapons (usually daggers and swords, especiallyscimitars). Stick with Middle-Eastern, Indian and Russian blade designs. A loop earring (either pierced or clip on) adds to that Gypsylook as well. Boots are fine (as long as they don't have that Tandy Leather Native American moccasin look with fringe on them), andso are many kinds of period shoes (except for the ones Nobles wear) and rope sandals. Gypsy men usually have some kind of facialhair, particularly a mustache and goatee. Keep in mind that bizarre hair colors aren't Period.
I hope this has been helpful in aiding you to achieve that perfect Gypsy look. If you have any further questions on Period Gypsycostuming, send us an email and we'll be happy to help you. -- Matthew Duvall (aka Nikolai) 2003. Fourth Edition