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tudor ensemble 1

Kimiko Sews

A Gentlewoman's Creative Blog

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That Old "Irish Dress"
tudor ensemble 1
(Cross posted from A Gentlewoman's Blog: http://kimiko1.com/blog/2015/12/that-old-irish-dress/)

On Wednesday, there was a query on the SCA Garb group in Facebook, asking the following:

I am looking for an SCA history lesson.

Someone has asked me about the “Irish Overdress” and how it became part of SCA culture. I have some theories, but I am still relatively new to this game, so I would greatly appreciate some insight.

All I can find is “Renaissance” costumers which feel very Ren faire. I suppose it is supposed to be relatively late?

Simplicity Pattern #8855, Out of Print. Scottish or Irish Traditional Womans Costume Pattern cover image. Simplicity Pattern #8855, Out of Print. Scottish or Irish Traditional Women’s Costume Pattern cover image.

Well, I wasn’t around way back when in the SCA, but I was around somewhat way back when, before the Irish and Scots became such a popular costuming hit in the renaissance faire (RenFaire) community. So, I decided to share my story, which I tried to keep brief in reply.

I then decided why not share that same story in my blog, with photos! So I dug into my digital files, and found some old photos that can help illuminate the narrative, a little.

. . .

When I first joined renfaires, it was 1988, and I started off English. The first bodice the folks at faire told me to use was the Folkwear Dirndl bodice pattern, with a separate circle or gored skirt. They gave me a handout that explained how to make the basic outfit, but it had to be separate, they said. That was somehow important.

About a year later, I was asked to join a newly formed Scots group, based on The Highlander movie (yes, those MacLeods – there should have been only one, movie that is). We had very little info to go on for highland Scots costuming, so we turned to friends who were active in the Big RenFaire communities in Agoura or Novato, CA – the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, when it was run as a non-profit educational group, and when the SCA still had members crossing between the two.

It was the larger renfaires that provided what little info we had initially. Their Irish had a one piece outfit, a bodice with an attached skirt, worn over a leine with the drawstring sleeves. My friend MaggieRos (who is also an SCA Laurel (not a costuming laurel)) had posted some years back (as described here) about how their washerwomen used the drawstring to keep their big sleeves out of the way while they washed their clothes, and it became THE WAY to do leines for everyone. I got a badly photocopied (of a photocopied) copy that showed me how to cut and sew a drawstring leine from a friend who had attended the Big Renfaire workshops.

Me in my old Scots/Irish dress with drawstring leine. Photo taken by Katherine Funke, c. early 1990s. Me in my old Scots/Irish dress with drawstring leine. Photo taken by Katherine Funke, c. early 1990s.

The all one piece dress (bodice with attached skirt open in front), along with the leine, was one way their Irish could distinguish themselves from the two-piece (bodice and clearly separate skirt) English peasant outfit. I didn’t know until much later that this was a theatrical decision, to make the English peasants not look matchy matchy in their outfits. This would distinguish the peasants from the merchant and wealthy classes at renfaire, who did have one piece ensembles of nicer materials. Yes, that was a lot of deliberate misinformation spread around by the theatrical decisions of their costuming mavens, but they had their reasons. They also had their historical sources, which influenced their choices. But we have learned so much more since then.

A few years later, I went to a friend’s Irish group guild meeting in Los Angeles, where I chatted with their Irish costuming mavens. One had heard or read info on a so called “Bog Dress”, that supposedly had panels that went from the top of the bodice all the way down through the skirt. So she had made that outfit and was showing it off to her friends. She was supposed to send me her resources for that, but I don’t recall she did. So, I ended up having to hunt down the book she had found. I eventually found a title, but my local college did not have that book, and my libraries could not ILL it for me. So, I eventually had to travel several hours away to a college in San Jose State to find the book “Old Irish and Highland Dress” by McClintock (I’m thinking this was the book, but my memory can be swiss cheese). That book only had one b&w photo, of the front, along with a long, somewhat inaccurate, description. I had no back view to go on, but I could see that this outfit was very different than what the Irish friend had shown me.

My Shinrone Gown, as I made it from incomplete info. Photo taken by Robin Small. c.2010. My Shinrone Gown, as I made it around 1996, from incomplete info. Photo taken by Robin Small. ©2010.

I went on to make my version, based on what I knew then. Sometime after I made it, Kass McGann shared her initial research and information about the Shinrone Gown (my old “Bog Dress) on the old H-Costume mailing list, and she and I discussed various aspects of her info at length. Our old comments can still be found on the Internet somewhere. I never did make up her version, which I’m sure is the most accurate info on the Shinrone gown out there. After having sewn those 21 panels (the original has 23 panels), with 3 welts a panel, I didn’t want to repeat that work again. And I later started in on English costuming instead (lots more info to research). Better information on the Shinrone Gown also appears in the book “Dress in Ireland” by Dunlevy, including a back view.

Basically, it has been one big game of telephone, where the details will be wrong because we heard it from or read it from sources that had the incomplete info. How the SCA folks adopted it, well, I’m of the opinion that they got it from the same sources I did, because some of the renfaire folks were also SCA folks.

Amusingly to me, the typical Renfaire Irish Dress (with the split front skirt) is actually rather similar to what the English ladies wore, before they wore farthingales. Just add the proper turn-back trumpet sleeve, and the proper headwear and under layers including a kirtle for support, and it isn’t that far removed. The Shinrone gown does not look much like the Renfaire Irish Dress, but does look more like what the German ladies wore in the 16th century. And leine sleeves look like what late 15th century Spanish ladies wore. It is interesting to see the connections between the styles.

. . .


By the way, I was informed there is an Aislin Collins who is working on her master’s thesis on both the Moy Gown and the Shinrone gown. Doing a search for her name lead me to a Shinrone Facebook group. There I found a recent color photo of the Shinrone gown, as it is displayed. Go take a look!

1551 to 1600, memories, renfaire, sca
(Cross posted from A Gentlewoman's Blog: http://kimiko1.com/blog/2015/12/that-old-irish-dress/. Comments can be posted here or there.)