Renaissance Wench Costumes | Renaissance Clothing and Medieval Costumes

Renaissance Faire Wench Costumes

One of the most popular Renaissance faire costumes is the wench.  Lots of women enjoy dressing as a saucy barmaid or servant girl.  Most of these costumes are pure Hollywood - off the shoulder chemises and bursting at the seams bodices, while charming, aren't historically accurate. 

Do you need to be accurate?  That all depends on why you're dressing as a wench in the first place.  If you're part of a guild or an accuracy oriented living history group, a historically correct wench costume is a must.  If you're a faire goer who's in it for the fun, are part of a play, or are going to a Renaissance wedding, accuracy is less important.  Of course, it's still a good idea to be able to identify what's historically accurate and what's not.

In general, accurate wench costumes won't involve visible grommets on bodices, off the shoulder chemises and elasticized skirts or chemises.  They'll probably be more subdued in the amount of skin they show, but this isn't the case in all countries and time periods.  When in doubt, take a look at the source material.  Paintings and drawings from the time will tell you what to look for.

A good wench costume will probably involve a number of layers.  You should have, at minimum, a chemise that's opaque, one or more skirts, and a bodice that covers your bust.  Underbust bodices and bodices worn with just a chemise may make an appealing costume, but they're far too risque for the sixteenth century!  To really make the look, cover your hair with a white linen or cotton veil, and avoid makeup.  Good shoes will also help you look the part of a lower class serving maid or bar girl.

Wenches from different countries and time periods tended to look different, too.  The commonly seen skirt and bodice combination dates from the later part of the sixteenth century, and was popular in England.  By contrast, women in the Low Countries (what is now Germany, Denmark, etc), and the Italian city states tended to wear dresses that were all one piece. 

A lack of stiff corsetry is a common thread running through the wench costumes of all countries, though.  You should also avoid rich fabrics like velvet and satin in favor of colorful, but more durable cloth.  Skip fancy gold ornamentation, too - a wench wouldn't be able to afford these items.  Cotton, linen, and wool are a better choice, and come in a lot of appealing colors.

You can find wench costume pieces and entire costumes at the faire, or through online retailers.  Before you buy something, be sure to make certain it's the right size, and goes well with the impression you want to give.  You can also choose to make your own costumes if you're more crafty than wealthy, or ask a tailor or seamstress you know for help.  No matter what you choose, make sure you're comfortable in it and that it fits you well - that'll make a big difference in how you look and feel at the faire!