Velvet for SCA Garb: what kind?

Years ago when I first got interested in the Society for Creative anachronism, I was given a lot of “advice” about what was acceptable or not for making garb, and one of the things I heard a lot was ‘Don’t EVER use cotton fabric of any kind, they didn’t have cotton back then.’ That meant that velveteen, which is cotton, was “Not Allowed” for garb. I always thought it was weird that the same people who said NEVER use cotton thought polyester or acetate was better for Medieval or Renaissance clothes…

(I KNOW it’s totally against SCA etiquette to acknowledge that the “Garb Police” exist – officially, no one has EVER been told their garb is ugly because they Did It Wrong or because they aren’t wearing clothes from the period preferred by the local “pointy hats” or because they’re a newbie and yet somehow already knew how to sew a basic tunic WITHOUT special help from the Most High Garb Expert in the group… but these people exist anyway. I can at least say so on my own blog, because no one reads it. 🙂 I hate Garb Police but I do think it would be nice if anyone WANTING suggestions for how to improve their garb could get those suggestions without being told THEY are acting like Garb Police: ‘Does anyone know a good substitute for wool for those of us who can’t wear wool because we’re allergic?’ Noooo! Stop trying to be Garb Police! You are ruining everyone’s fun! People can wear whatever they want, they don’t have to use fabrics that look like period fabrics! ‘I just want this for MY OWN garb, I’m not telling anyone what to do.’ Nooooo! You are acting like you are the expert on sewing Medieval clothes! You are new so just shut up and let the Important People tell you what you need to know – if they don’t tell you, you don’t need to know it!’)

One of the things I was told was that, because “Cotton IS NOT PERIOD,” velvet for garb has to be “silk velvet” that is actually mostly rayon. This doesn’t make sense to me – if rayon isn’t period, why is rayon basically lined in silk period? At least cotton existed back in the Middle Ages, rayon wasn’t invented until sometime in the nineteenth century!

And… Cotton velvet/velveteen LOOKS MORE “PERIOD”/MORE LIKE 100% SILK VELVET than modern rayon/silk blend velvet.

Now I have pics to prove it.

See how the cotton velvet is a lot closer to the 100% silk velvet in sheen and stiffness than the rayon/silk kind is? Most people can’t afford pure silk velvet (we’re talking HUNDREDS of dollars a yard!) but cotton velvet or velveteen is much more affordable AND it looks more like the stuff nobles were wearing in the Middle Ages and Renaissance than the more expensive rayon-blend fabric. (Rayon/silk velvet is sooooo pretty… for mundane clothes. It has a very soft drape that makes it not work for garb unless you give it a stiff interlining, and why bother when you can use something else that works better anyway.)


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