Dude's guide to the Renaissance Festival

We have done renaissance fairs for over 40 years and they have changed a great deal over that time. We thought it might be helpful to some of our readers to go over what a day at "the show" is like for a first time visit and things to know.

Pre buy your ticket

This helps to save a few bucks. It has gotten expensive to go to the ren faire and every bit helps. Also be aware some shows charge for parking these days. If you travel light a shuttle bus maybe the best options.

Arrive early both in the day and the season. Crowds are usually lighter at these times and there is shorter lines and waites.

Helping patrons at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair
A&A crew helping patrons at the MN Ren Fair

 Once in the gate a great thing to do is grab a program or map if they have them. This allows you to make sure you see what you would like to see i.e. the sword makers there :-). Also so kids can find the closest bathroom and you can find shops near the sword maker both for your significant other to spend some of your money so you can get something nice for yourself. 

Veteran tip-  check for new food vendors on the first weekend. Their crew is almost certainly over serving on portions and they usually have shorter lines than old favorites. 

Sword wall at MN Ren Fair
Sword wall at A&A MN booth
Be aware the fantasy of the Ren Faire is a commercial endeavour. It is run by the Managing Owner who is selling you an experience. The vendors pay to be there. The entertainment is under contract but much of their pay comes from your tips at the end of the show. In the case of non headline acts this can be literally their only income after costs and possibly not even that. So be aware and prepare, most everyone you interact with are striving to lighten you off your heavy burden of wealth :-)
Should you wear a costume
You certainly can, but on your first trip I would skip that and wear comfortable weather appropriate casual clothes. Also very important broke in comfortable walking shoes. No heels unless you are used to them for everyday wear (i mean like boots not heels like high heels that will kill your feet and ankles).
If you decide to wear a costume keep it simple. (remember you will need to use a privy with this costume) No props, you have to carry them all day and it gets heavy after a while. Have seen many folks abandon stuff mid day when they just decide its not worth it to have a staff or multiple prop pieces.
Do wear a hat that helps with shade. If its a show with lots of sun you will be happy you did. Keeping costumes weather appropriate can add a great deal to your comfort and enjoyment. A shirt less barbarian in 47 degrees and rain will not have a good day, as will a wizard in four layers of wool and polyester on a 98 degree day. Cloaks work great for rain and cold not so much when your trying to cool down from high humidity and heat. 
Each show has their specific environment and mid july in Bristol Renaissance Fair will be different than October 1st in MInnesota.
axe wall at the MN Booth for Arms & Armor Inc.
Axe wall at MN Booth

We strive to replicate great quality swords and weapons of the medieval and renaissance period and one would think the faire is a great way to use these items today as costume pieces. It is, but be aware of certain problematic issues that can arise. Most shows for one will have a safety tie policy were the piece is bound in its scabbard or cover with white plastic ties that they ask you not to remove. This is for public safety and insurance reasons. Both valid. So be prepared for this on entry.

Carrying a big sword or weapons-

The carrying of a piece all day can get cumbersome (see above on props) this is especially true for pole arms (if allowed some shows do not allow these) and large swords like a two hander. It can also make it impossible to hold your food and beer at the same time. Now this can be rectified by having children as servants near by at all times, but is not always convenient.

Also your significant other may not want to hold your crap for you as well. (just so you know).

Highland longsword by Arms & Armor
Scottish Longsword by Arms & Armor Inc.
Knives and belt weapons if peace tied (plastic zip tied in) are usually fine, look good and are much easier to manage. Just be aware if you are going for the complete adventurer look and trying to carrying as many blades as possible you are almost certainly on securities radar as well as carrying a lot of weight all day long. 
Medici Dagger by Arms & Armor Inc.
Medici Dagger 
We have a lot of knives available at our booth at every show we can, as many folks buy it as their first piece for a costume.
 Dagger display at the MN booth.
Dagger display at Arms & Armor Inc.

Wearing your Armor-

Mail or plate can be worn at the show. If you have not worn armor before I would recommend putting it on and doing some light yard work in the sun for an hour or two and then decide if you would like to wear it. Its impressive, lots of people will want to take your picture, you will want to prep. Wear it as much as you can before a full day. Hydrate! You do not want to be the instagram pic of the knight who had to take the ambulance to first aid cause of the heat.

As a general rule hydration is good for everyone at show, and especially if your costume or gear creates a need for additional effort on your part. Just sayin. 

Axe wall at the booth of Arms & Armor Inc.
Axe and Impact weapons

 Buying a sword or weapon at the show 

This we highly recommend :-). But be aware most vendors are required to wrap the piece up for you to take. They can not let you have an open weapon with a sharp edge exposed (i.e. insurance mentioned above.) Some shows are even more secure by holding purchases till the end of the day or when you leave. If you ask the vendor, most will do this for you as a helpful thing so you can enjoy the show without managing a halberd all day. You just pick up your purchase on your way out.

If your planning to get something at the show it's good to plan ahead as well. A spear is a cool impulse buy but make sure you can get it in the vehicle you came in. One of the saddest faces I ever saw at the ren faire was a fellow who had to return his spear as his fiancee would not allow it in her car. We even offered him a ride home but he had to return it. We sometimes wonder what happened to that fellow.

Most important thing to do

Is have fun. Don't think of the Ren Faire as a reenactment so much as a themed retail and entertainment experience with the theme being a modern view point of a festival market day in the past. You will see Vikings as well as Cavaliers, hundreds of years in between in history but still part of a Ren Faire! Fairies and Trolls, witches and wizards, rogues and Queens they are all their to be part of the fun, but if you take it to seriously you miss the point. It's about a bit of a change from going to the average mall or art show, more like a bit of an adventure in a wonderland. 

We hope to see you at the fair or you enjoy your visit if its a show we are not at. Its a great day if approached with some forethought, tactical planning and a good attitude.

divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985

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