The sights and sounds of the Maryland Renaissance festival

The sights and sounds of the Maryland Renaissance festivalI felt underdressed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Peasant blouses, peasant skirts, spangly jangly belts, tights . . . . And that was just the men.

I contemplated getting a codpiece to strap over my Dockers shorts. The man selling them looked me up and down. “You, sir, would be a medium.”

In the end, I balked at the $80 price. I’m sure it’s worth it — it included tights, after all — but I just don’t have much call to wear tights and a codpiece these days.

I love the Renaissance Festival, through October in Crownsville, not just for the opportunity it affords to walk around with a turkey leg in one hand and cheesecake on a stick in the other. Or for the artisans you can see at work: the glassblower, the blacksmith, the face painter. But also for the people-watching. It’s a retro fashion parade: jerkins, doublets, brocade waist coats, tricorner hats, circlets of artificial flowers on girls’ heads . . . .

One teenage boy appeared to have a kilt made from black plastic garbage bags, until I realized he worked there emptying the trash and kept his supply close at hand.

There was the occasional disconnect: a flouncy velvet courtier’s cap atop the head of a man in a NASCAR T-shirt, for example. Some people seem to have gotten the wrong memo. There was a guy in a grass skirt and a lei and another guy wearing a kimono. (I suppose that’s what Japanese men were wearing during the 16th century. Maybe he was dressed as a samurai on his day off.) One man looked like he was trying to be a robot: a crudely painted box on his head, his arms in those flexible metal tubes that vent your dryer.

By and large, though, the people who dress up pretty much stick to the program: mildly medieval, retro-Renaissance, mixed with a sort of Halloween naughtiness. Lots of artificial tails and horns and more than a few Doc Marten boots, kilts and nose rings. (And there was My Lovely Wife. Flasks and pewter bottles hung off of her as if she were some medieval peddler or witch woman. Burn her!)

Many women had cinched their corsets so tightly that they created what I call “shelf bosom.” This is when their assets spill out the top, creating a flat surface that’s like the landing deck of an aircraft carrier. Sometimes there’s a rose stuck in there.

For sheer eye-catching over-the-topness, however, nothing beats the stuff at a shop called Valkyrie’s Armourer: metal bras in your choice of stainless steel, copper or brass, the cups connected with chain mail straps.

Aren Sharp is a satisfied customer. The 24-year-old government linguist from Odenton was sporting a shiny steel bra, the sunlight glinting off the cups as if they were polished hubcaps.

“I wore it for Halloween in Adams Morgan,” she said. “I got a lot of compliments.”

The bras are the handiwork of Kate Cox, a designer and armorer from Tennessee. (Her husband, Roy, heads the jousting crew at the festival. “He’s my real life knight in shining armor,” she said. )

The metal bikini tops start at $125 for an A cup and go up $10 per additional cup size.

But don’t they get hot?

No, said Kate. “It’s basic physics. Your body regulates the temperature. Because metal is so conductive it adjusts to your body temperature.”

Kate also makes metal codpieces. Aren’s boyfriend, Keegan Johnson, was getting one. It will be the latest development in the 28-year-old Reston contractor’s stylistic evolution.

“I’m making the jump from pants to no pants” — he looked down at the kilt he was wearing — “to tights with a codpiece.”

Kate’s creations are handcrafted in a way that your off-the-shelf Playtex or Fruit of the Loom isn’t. They become family heirlooms.

“They’ll probably get married and have kids some day,” Kate said of Aren and Keegan, “and it will be something to pass down to them.”

Or maybe the kids will want their own.

Source: The Washington Post

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