Accessorise Accessorise Accessorise
What makes a "so-so" outfit, a fantastic outfit?
The answer to that is accessories.
Accessories finish the outfit more than fancy fabrics. Accessories don't have to be expensive or even that complicated. What they need to be, to make the outfit correct, is as authentic as possible.
To make the right choices over which accessories to use you must first analyse pictures of the outfit, gather a few pictures of examples of the outfit. These could be painting, sculptures etc. The first thing to start with is headwear, one of the biggest flaws with most SCA outfits is they stop at the neck. Headwear was very important to medieval life, it denoted rank, occupation, nationality, and sometimes status, as in marriage state. A medieval person would not be seen publically without either some form of head-covering or with their hair dressed. Headwear does not need to be complicated or expensive, sometimes it is just about taking time to style your hair, or even a square of linen or cotton wrapped in the right way. Look at your pictures, what are they wearing on their head? Are there variations for you to choose from? What is it made of? Does it match the outfit or it something a bit more generic?
Belts, Pouches and other items
The next place to examine is the outfit itself. Does the outfit have a belt? What is carried on that belt? Pocket were something invented after our time period, therefore people had to think of different way to carry times that they needed for everyday life, like money. Where on the outfit that you are looking at would the person carry small items? This one is not always obvious as in some cases pouches can be hidden - under skirts for example, so that thieves or cutpurses cannot steal them. Not all small items are carried on a pouch, for example Viking women carried items suspended off the brooches at the front of their dress. If you are looking at a pouch - How does the pouch attach to the belt? Is there a hook, a ribbon etc. When you are looking at things like belts and pouches, look at what they are made of – leather, fabric etc. Look also at the furnishings – buckles, decoration, hooks etc. that change it from something plain to how it matches the outfit.
This one is obvious, and one which most people (especially women) love to focus on. Jewellery is more than necklaces and bracelets, look also at ring and brooches, on hats as well as clothes, this is especially true for men, jewellery is not something limited to women. Jewellery can also form part of the outfit, holding the dress closed, in a similar way to buttons and zips, so it is important to also look to see if the jewellery is fulfilling a function as well as what it looks like. Jewellery does not have to be expensive either, today we have a lot more opportunity to substitute with fake or cheaper dress jewellery but it is important to know what to look for and how much and when to wear it.
Shoes, hose, socks
Another big challenge to the SCA outfit. While shoes can be an expensive option there are oftentimes cheaper alternatives and some shoes can be very easy to make even for people as leather challenged as I am. Examine the shoes on the outfit – what do they look like? Is there something similar available in modern shoes (like mary janes or happy shoes)? Is there a way to disguise your shoes so they are not as obvious? I remember one male member years ago had a set of short modern boots, when he needed long boots for the outfit he regularly wore, so he made a set of leather braces which went over his boots starting at the ankle. They looked so good that I was not aware until a while later that they were separate to the boots he was wearing. Socks or hose are another things to think of and often overlooked, while hose would look great not all of us have the time to make them right. Instead look at your socks, if you can't have hose then look at plain long socks or even tights or leggings. Trust me when I say nike or other brand socks really don't look good with a medieval outfit.
Don't forget if you want more information on any accessory there are often surviving pieces and it is worth a looks through some museum collections to see how big the variety of surviving accessories are available to you to draw from.