What is a surcoat? It’s your medieval focus layer, the one over top of your under clothes, but underneath of weather wear like capes and cloaks. For a knight, it drapes over the armour and shows a family’s crest or colours. For a tavern wench, it could be sleeveless dress worn over the shift. The length of a surcoat tells people about your status. Wealthy, high-status people may enjoy floor-length surcoats, whereas working folk and knights want a surcoat to stop mid-calf to keep above the mud. Surcoats can fasten at the front or the sides.
A surcoat is a great addition to any larp character. A surcoat gives you a light extra to add and remove as you need during temperature shifts, when you’re not quite ready for a cloak. If you generally have more than one character on the books, surcoats are also a cheap and easy way of making the same costume essentials look different. You can wear two different surcoats with the same shirt and bottom for a dramatically different look… thrifty and storage friendly!
To make my peasant surcoat, I went dress shopping at my favourite local thrift store. I looked for something of roughly my size in a woven, natural fabric and a natural dye colour, because I will also want to wear it at ren faires. If you are playing a high fantasy or wealthy character, weave and colour may be more open to preference. Since it will be laced up, the fit only needs to be roughly correct. Here is what I ended up with: a size medium linen dress in a light green. Good enough for me! I especially like that this dress has a natural seam down the front. If the surcoat your are making is going to open at the front and the dress you choose does not have a centre seam, that’s okay too, but shortening it will add a small step for you. I made mine while my youngest ate her lunch. It took me five minutes, distractions included!
So here is one of the easiest costume pieces you will ever make.
Step 1: Buy a sleeveless dress.
Step 2: Rip the centre seam from top to bottom. Use a stitch ripper or a utility knife. Now the dress opens at the front.
Step 3: Add a few holes for lacing it up. You could do this with metal eyelets, or if you have a sewing machine and prefer, you could use a buttonhole stitch and a matching thread.
Step 4: Lace it up over your costume and revel in your fancy new wardrobe!
If you choose a dress that is too long or doesn’t have a centre seam, that will set you back 10 minutes. Fold the dress and cut it open along the centre. Then, press in a quarter inch or so on each side for a hem. If you have a sewing machine and a couple of minutes, you can run a seam over each half and proceed to the eyelets step in roughly a minute. If you don’t have a machine and your event starts in a few hours, grab a pack of no-iron hem tape from your local Walmart. Either scenario should only set you back by 10 minutes or less, and you’ll be back to revelling in your new fashion statement.