by Hector of the Black Height
Sumptuary laws are laws, by-laws and customs
dictating dress. These say what colours or styles of clothing and what
accessories you can or cannot wear, usually based on the wearer's social
station. During the Middle Ages, sumptuary laws were passed in several countries
and at various times. On occasion these laws were enforced. These were a way of
stratifying society (for sumptuary laws often provided the ambitious or trendy
with lists of what they should really want to wear, even if the King says no.
Forbidden fruits often are the sweetest). These also were a way of generating
revenue for the Crown; violators were fined, but in my (albeit limited) research
the offending garments were seldom if ever confiscated. That way wearers could
continue to be trendy and daring and could be fined again!
Closer to home, there really are two types of
sumptuary laws within the Society. One type is the sumptuary law or laws
practiced in the time and place your persona hails from. So if you are from the
late Roman Empire, you'll probably avoid wearing purple unless you're the
emperor or our equivalent, the King or Prince. These laws are up to you to
research and, frankly, we're such a diverse group that you can break every one
of your persona culture's sumptuary laws and almost nobody else will notice.
The other type of sumptuary law is the
Society's own set of standards with regard to dress and accoutrement. First and
foremost among these is the requirement that all participants at an SCA event
wear some attempt at pre-17th century attire. This is one of the
SCA's by-laws. There is no such thing as a spectator at an SCA event; if you
attend, you are dressed up and will play with the rest of us. Most SCA chapters
have an officer called a Chatelaine or Chatelain (a male Chatelaine) who'll help
newcomers make suitable clothing. The group may also have an officer called the
Gold Key, who holds a small collection of clothing to be loaned to newcomers for
their first event or two.
If it meets the by-law requirement and looks
pre-17th century, people can wear just about any clothing they wish,
so long as it meets local (civic) requirements for decency. The SCA's big
sumptuary concerns are accoutrements. Several types of accoutrements mean
specific things within the Society, whether locally or as a whole.
Crowns, Coronets and Circlets
First of all, what you wear on your head may
be a sign of rank earned or granted within the Society. Crowns and coronets are
the marks of present or past royalty. The details of a crown's colour, shape and
size may differ from place to place. Here's what we wear in Ealdormere (the
province of Ontario).
A richly embellished gold or silver crown
probably means the person wearing it is a King or Queen or a Prince or Princess.
A -- relatively -- plain gold crown with an embattled upper edge (square cut
bumps, like the crenels or embattlements atop a castle) marks a Count or
Countess (someone who's been King or Queen once). The same gold coronet,
embellished additionally with strawberry leaves, marks a Duke or Duchess
(someone who's been King or Queen at least twice). The same style of coronet as
a Count's, only in silver, marks a Viscount or Viscountess (someone who's been
Territorial Prince or Princess over a Principality at least once). All these
people have provided special service to the Society as its rulers. These
coronets and crowns are badges of office or marks of honour.
There are also coronets in gold and silver
which display six pearls or spheroids. These mark Barons and Baronesses. If the
coronet is golden, it indicates the wearer is Baron or Baroness over a Barony,
and thus is providing leadership to a wide area of the Society, within the
Kingdom as a whole. Again, these coronets indicate an office or honourable
If you have received an Award of Arms from the
Crown of the Middle, you may wear a plain metal circlet with a single rise or
bump at the front. Until you receive that Award from the Crown or Coronet (in
lieu of the Crown), you may wear a plain metal circlet, less than one inch wide
and uniform in width all the way around.
Belts, Chains and Spurs
The next most significant sumptuary law
observed within the Society pertains to belts. Only a Knight -- someone Knighted
by the Crown and not just any heavy weapons fighter -- may wear a plain white
belt around his or her waist. If that same white belt is worn over the shoulder
and down to the opposite hip, it's called a baldric. A plain white baldric marks
a Master- or Mistress-at-Arms. Like a Knight, a Master-at-Arms is a master of
martial arts as practiced within the Society. A Master does not have to be in
fealty to the Crown; a Knight must be in fealty. That is the only difference
between the two.
As well as a white belt, a Knight wears a
plain gold chain around his or her neck, and may wear gilt spurs. A Master- or
Mistress-at-Arms may wear silver spurs. As the chain represents the weight of
fealty, a Mistress-at-Arms wears no chain.
That is the extent of sumptuary laws within
the Middle Kingdom and the Principality of Ealdormere. There are also some
customs that are observed here and elsewhere.
The dependant of a Knight or a
Mistress-at-Arms is a squire. Squires wear plain red belts, unadorned silver
chains around their necks and may wear silver spurs. This custom is honoured
throughout the Society. Spurs aren't that much of an issue; most spurs are
silver coloured (that includes stainless steel ones, which are low-maintenance
and so are commonly seen), so if your persona would wear spurs, wear what you
can find that looks appropriate to your period of interest. Unless you are a
Knight, avoid gold spurs, though! It's not illegal to wear a red belt, but
people may look at you and wonder which Knight has taken you under his or her
Assorted Bits and Pieces
Masters and Mistresses of the Laurel sometimes
wear chaplets of laurel leaves, either natural or I gold metal. Please don't
wear such a chaplet unless you're a Companion of the Laurel.
The dependant of a Master or Mistress of the
Laurel is an apprentice. Apprentices wear a plain green belt. This custom is
honoured throughout the Society, but it's not illegal or wrong to wear such a
belt if it matches your clothes nicely.
The dependant of a Master or Mistress of the
Pelican is a protégé or protégée. Protégés wear a plain yellow belt. This
custom is not honoured throughout the Society, but it is accepted (based on what
I have seen and have been told) from the eastern seaboard of the USA and the
Maritime provinces through to the prairies. Again, it's not illegal or wrong to
wear a yellow belt, but if you're wearing a yellow belt don't be surprised if
people walk up to you and ask who your Pelican is.
At events, many merchants offer medallions and
brooches for sale. Some of these are the insignia of an award made by the Crown
or the Coronet. Examples of such award insignia can be found at http://www.ealdormere.midrealm.org/awards.html.
These represent awards given for personal accomplishment within the Society. If
you haven't earned recognition, please don't wear insignia that represents that
Having said all this,
Newcomers should relax about the details of
what you wear. Don't wear a crown or circlet of any description at your first
event or two. Don't wear gold spurs, a plain gold or silver chain (by all means
wear a gold or silver chain; just hang something from it, like a cross or a
medallion or whatever suits you) or a plain white belt. Beyond that, wear as
much gold trim, purple cloth, as many pearls and as many silver buttons as you'd
like! Playing dress-up is part of the fun of participating in the SCA. If you're
not sure if you should wear something -- or if you wonder why someone is wearing
something in particular -- ask your local Chatelaine or Gold Key or somebody
else you know. We all were newcomers once; if you don't know the answer, it's
not a silly question!
Copyright 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.