Why Do Witches Dress Like They're Going to Ren-Faire?

Author: Quill ofQuillsOccultSupply / Labels:

Cloaks, bell-sleeves, ruffles, lace, ribbons, and crushed velvet.  Gem tone colors billow in the incense-heavy breeze at a Pagan festival...or fairie festival...or Renaissance Faire.  Who can tell?

The popular dress code for witches and other magical practitioners has become "garb," meaning
modern clothes in the style of the moderately wealthy of the 1500's, i.e. Ren-Faire clothes.  These are the "going out" clothes most often seen when practitioners gather for sabbats, inter-coven meetings, and festivals.  When you see it, you know that everyone involved has put in their best effort to prepare for an important event.

Halloween is another time to view this trend.  It is a common statement that witches enjoy this night most of all because they can dress in their ritual clothes and be seen as "normal." Those clothes, of course, are not rent and worn pauper's dress like the Pagans of eras past, nor are they theatrical witch costumes; they're garb.

But why is this style so popular?  What does it mean to us and why do we connect with it? Especially as it has become an easy target for ridicule, one would naturally assume that either we are immune to the jabs or there must be extremely important reasons to continue. Actually the answer seems to be neither.

Magical folk are largely well aware of the number of eye-rolls that these clothes now garner.  Traditionalists seem the most disapproving, mainly because fancy dress was not a part of what our ancestors would have done.  But, then again, there is a lot that we do differently from the older generations.  That's just part of working within a living tradition.

And, conversely, witches know of very few reasons for the modern practice to continue. Most of us are not practicing magic in a way that deeply resonates with that era and the fabric, cut, and colors of our current clothes have very little to do with what would have been available at the time.  But that is not to say that there is no sense in wearing garb to your next magical celebration.  Here are the real reasons that this trend has lasted so long and why it will go on:

It's fun

Though it may seem obvious, this aspect is easily overlooked.  Fun seems to be the number one reason for Ren-Faire clothes in every Circle.  The look is dressy and festive, showing that one has put effort into getting ready for the event as well as letting others know that they value the event and its participants enough to bring out the special clothes. And with the generous cut, flattering shape, and floaty layers, it's easy to be proud of your reflection no matter your figure.

It's a brand

Of course, this may be an unpopular attitude, but it's a valuable part of the equation.  As a subculture we have the need to build a "look" that is our own.  Clothing is a common identifier for any group and this has become a signature for our people.  When you see a group of folks in this dress, you can reasonably approach them as possible practitioners. Then with a few well-placed words you will know if these are witches or no.  That's more than can be said for a gathering of plain-clothes individuals.

This can be a major factor in the areas where it would be imprudent to wear the shiny pentacle around your neck or one of the tee-shirts with statements like "Yeah, I'm a witch.  Get over it".   The use of garb allows other practitioners to have a contact point without it being too obvious.  This means safety from unwelcome attention and confrontation as well as comfort and approachability for interested newcomers.

In fact, the unifying aspect of this trend can actually make it something more than fashion. When everyone is in similar attire within the Circle, no one is above the other.  Everyone there is joined together, one in appearance and purpose, the same yet unique.  Could this be the timid witch's "skyclad"?

Also of note is the point made at the opening of this post--we share festival circuits with other groups that have nothing to do with magic.  Though you would expect this to make things more difficult it is actually to our benefit.  Events intended strictly for practitioners are usually put on by individual groups or covens and are localized in cities that stand to bring in the largest crowd.  Because of the great expense, time, work, and coordination needed, they are generally held once a year or less.  On top of this is the cost of advertising which means that much of the information is passed by word of mouth and social media--both systems which can unintentionally miss huge numbers of otherwise interested people.  This means that your chances of living within driving distance of such a festival, hearing about it in time, and being available for that one specific period of time are not very good.

But Ren Faire and other historical, fantasy, and bohemian events have corporate sponsors, organized and paid groups of workers, and advertising teams.  So we piggy-back on this and work our own festival inside the larger one.  The newcomer to witchcraft (or those who are interested in becoming one) are especially heartened by this innocent way to dip ones toes into a larger magical ocean.

It's a history we miss

No, I don't think anyone misses the Inquisition, spectral evidence, or Bubonic Plague, but we certainly miss the days when everyone knew witchcraft existed.  With the overwhelming amount of people favoring either a materialistic philosophy or a religious--but no more mystical--view of the world's belts and gears, one is not likely to find the common man believing in, let alone working with, magic.  Some would say this is the work of the rational minds that have taken us from superstition to science, but at what cost?  Have we forsaken the beauty and the fables of antiquity when we said all spells were but wishes, prayers, vain fancy?  Some even call it now by scientific theories of a plastic universe, a receiving and reflecting force in nature that feeds us back our own thoughts.  And that is how a wish is granted, that is how a prayer is fulfilled, a spell works, and even idle dreams become our good or bad reality.  But isn't this all just a gentrified way to say "magic"?

When we gear up in our garb, we can forget for a time that there are swarms of people in every corner waiting to tell you what cannot be done.  It is as though there is something personally at stake for them; they must make you aware that you're living a lie, even if it is one that troubles no one but them.  When we tighten our corsets, we armor ourselves against the useless insistence of common thought.  We lace boots to walk where they fear to tread.  We shrug under wool cloaks to be braced against the storm of a thousand cries of "no," "never," and "impossible."  And sometimes, these storms come from within.  They are the most restless and the most damaging.

We stand in a Circle, we sit by a fire, we walk into the night or do our work at a candlelit table indoors.  We are clothed and prepared.  We have taken preparation seriously and have all our wits available to create something far beyond the physical items before us.  We are great beings and yet no different than thousands, millions of others; we will work our will and it will reorder the world like a doll's house at the hands of a child.  There is nothing silly here and nothing serious.

While not everyone indulges in the wearing of garb, those that choose to do so with good reason and deeply persuasive results. If this describes you, I say proudly don your velvet and lace.

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My name is Quill and I've been practicing witchcraft for the past 17 years. 10 of those years I've been reading tarot and teaching.  I own a shop on Etsy called Quill's Occult Supply (check it out at QuillsOccultSupply.Etsy.com) full of handmade ritual and decorative items, spell components, and wild picked herbs.

I love to work with my hands.  Magic is a tool to shape our lives, and I'm using magic to shape tools to shape magic.  Cosmic! 

I use a lot of my favorite things in my shop: herbs, candles, wood, fabric, paint, clay.  And I get to carve, burn, grind, mold, think, dream ... I'm in the perfect business!

I've written 3 manuscripts for publication (2 non-fiction and 1 fiction) and am an avid NaNo-er!  I and my husband run a local coven called Orbis Prosapia, and our children are growing up surrounded by magic, mythology, fairy tales, Earth worship, art, open discussion, music, and humor. 

In addition to working on Ex Penna about my experiences as a professional witch, I also write for Scenes from the Circle about being a coven leader. 

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