Costuming in the time of Covid

(Roughly equivalent to Love in the time of Cholera but with less death, steamboats, and letter-writing)

(Yes I have not read that book in years, and yes, those are apparently the details my brain has retained)

Hi everyone.  It’s been a while.  There is a lot going on in the world.  I’ve had a rough last couple months and an even rougher last couple of days.  The world is kind of a mess right now, and my efforts to help feel really, really futile.

If you can, please consider joining a protest or donating money to an organization working to end police brutality.  That’s all we’re gonna do here– I’m honestly too drained and upset to go on much further, but I didn’t think I could just…not mention it.

OK, back to the point.  While we are not having events at the moment (and goodness only knows when we will be able to start again) I have been thinking about and looking forward to being able to congregate in groups again!  Something that a lot of people have mentioned is that it may be commonplace to wear face masks in public for quite a while. Well, there are times and places in history where we know people (particularly women, but not always) did cover their lower face.  If we are going to wear masks, how can we naturally incorporate them into our historic costumes?

I remembered there were depictions of Middle Eastern women wearing veils in Vecelio, so I went and poked around a bit.  Hint, if you cannot afford the actual book, all the pages are available here, with the plate names in English!

vecelio cairo

This woman from Cairo is wearing a lower face veil as well as a long mantle/veil like the Spanish manto and what seems to be a loose-fitting robe.  So this is definitely an option, but it’s a little out of my wheelhouse.  Plus I try not to do non-European impressions as a very-white-girl.  It can just feel a little bit disrespectful?  So I wanted to find some other options.

I ended up looking at 12th and 13th C Spain, as the Almohad dynasty was relatively conservative and more likely to enforce veiling in women and conversion from Christianity and Judaism.  Unfortunately there is not much imagery available for the 12th Century and quite a lot from the 13th C, so I ended up focusing my attention there.

Note: A super helpful resource has been Mariana de Salamanca’s GIANT hand-out book thing from her class at KWCAFAS last year.  I don’t know what I would have done without it as I have had difficulty finding writing about this.  Jessamyn’s closet discusses Christian clothing in Spain from that period, but that wasn’t what I was after.

The late 13th C brings us two fabulous resources: Alphonso X’s Libro de los juegos and Las Cantiga’s de Santa Maria.  The Book of Games is particularly helpful as it actually labels people as “Muslim men,” “Muslim women,” “Christian women,” etc.

muslim women book of games

Two Muslim women in the Book of Games.  Note lower face veils and what appear to be turbans.  Other than that it looks like they are wearing simple loose robes and sheer scarves (rather like the modern Indian dupatta).

book of games 18

No lower face veils here, but these are also mentioned as Muslim women.  Again they are wearing loose robes and all have some variety of veiling/head covering.  The woman with the green cap is wearing at least two layers, one of which is short sleeved and opaque, while the other is long sleeved and very sheer.  It looks like she might be wearing some kind of pants/trousers underneath but it is hard to tell.  They all appear to have hennaed hands, and are wearing a horizontal band or circlet over veils (if they are wearing them).

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 4.43.32 PM

This image is very helpful because it directly contrasts a Muslim woman (left) with a Christian one (right).  Here it is obvious that the Muslim woman is indeed wearing pants, in addition to what look a little bit like winnigas (Norse leg wraps).  Similar loose tunic with large sleeves, and a horizontal band tied around the head.

On the other hand the Christian woman appears to be wearing a saya encordada (dress with side-lacing) as well as a pellote (sideless surcote).  Her clothing looks much more like what you would expect from a late 13th C European woman to be wearing, and it is very similar to the extant burial garments of Leonora de Castille.

My last source image is from the Cantigas de Santa Maria


I found this one interesting for a couple reasons.  One, although her face is not veiled, it looks a bit like she has a veil scrunched up around her neck.  The second is that this is the first depiction I had seen of tiraz, the decorative bands on the upper sleeves that Mariana had mentioned in her hand-out.

The third is that I knew at some point in the mid 13th C Jews switched from being required to wear yellow as a distinguishing mark….to deep blue/black.  Exactly the color she appears to be wearing.

I have been interested in Jews in Spain since the beginning– my SCA name, Axera, is actually a Catalonian Jewish name from the 14th C– and being of Jewish extraction myself that seemed like something cool to honor, even if most people won’t know that it means anything.

I did decide to go with yellow, not blue/black, since I am aiming for early 13th C (the Almohad Dynasty ended in 1258 I believe).  Also I like yellow better as a color, particularly since this is likely to be hot-weather wear.  After looking at extant fabric samples from that era and seeing that many of them were decorated with geometric patterns, I decided a good course of action was to make this outfit from vintage sarees.  You can buy them online for pretty cheap, and the contrasting end used to drape over the shoulder could be turned into a complimentary veil or made into tiraz.

Sadly the sarees I bought are actually coming from India, and so it’s not entirely sure exactly when they will get here.  I can’t complain about $41 for ten meters of fabric though, and I’m really excited to actually play with some patterns for once!

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