So I went to the New York Renaissance Faire this weekend. I’m not going to dress it up any more than that. I went because I thought it would be interesting and I could take some silly photos. I also learned a bunch about an oft-maligned subculture as I walked among them in the dust. Huzzah!
1. Renaissance Faires are really popular.
Wow. People love their Ren Faires! We initially showed up at 2:00 and were turned away by an angry cop, who barked that there wasn’t any more room and we’d have to come back later. We drove around for a while and then went to an outlet mall, so that was pretty terrible.
We returned a few hours later and had to park about a mile from this sign.
2. Renaissance Faires are fucking expensive.
Holy shit. $22? So I can go to a county fair that doesn’t have rides? I learned from this particular Ren Faire’s Wiki that it’s a pretty big deal and a lot of the structures are permanent. It’s also a big deal for the cast members, who spend two months preparing for their roles, learning how to pronounce “Huzzah” mainly, and I guess breaking the ingrained habit of putting “ye olde” in front of everything. Anyway, this isn’t some JV Ren Faire and I guess that means overhead.
3. You never really get used to it.
Every time I saw people in full costume next to people who weren’t, I had a really hard time keeping it together. Not because wearing costumes is worthy of ridicule or anything; in fact, I think if everyone took it very seriously and wore the outfits and spoke in their nebulous Medieval dialect, I’d have an easier time of it. But seeing people in really meticulously-designed Elizabethan garb standing beside, say, security guards is really funny. But the fact of the matter is…
4. People have a pretty freeform approach to this.
Yup. Feudal Japanese warrior. And…
Of course Furries. I was there maybe ten minutes before I saw my first Furry.
5. Few people really commit.
I was most surprised by the fact that even the people in elaborate costume seemed to have a pronounced self-awareness, or more self-awareness than you’d expect from someone in a cape. Most people in costumes kind of just walked around smirking; the only people 100% committed to the vocab and vague accents were cast members.
There are also people who, you get the sense, used to really embrace it some time ago, but now they’re just phoning Ren Faire in:
Except this guy. He completely means it:
He looked happier than I have ever been in my entire life.
6. Ren Faire is really for adults.
I was amazed by how many kids wore their disdain for Ren Faire openly (obviously not this adorable little girl and her righteous Dad, though). I had always assumed Ren Faire was for kids–because it’s loosely educational, insofar as you learn that a long time ago people said “Huzzah!” when you tipped them–but most people at Ren Faire are over eighteen.
7. People say “Huzzah!” when you tip them.
I was so unprepared for this! If you tip them, they say “Huzzah!” to you and then they shout to their food booth compatriots, “Huzzah to the tipper!” Other than that, though…
8. Ren Faire employees are uniformly well-mannered and polite.
It makes sense if you think about it; you’re probably not going to apply for a job at Ren Faire unless you really want to work at Ren Faire.
9. Ren Faire really is just a county faire without rides:
Artisanal goods, milliners, handmade soaps, etc. The closest thing they have to rides are archery and a maypole.
10. …Only they give things “ye olde” misspellings:
I guess the Y is more authentic?
11. Most things you eat come on a stick.
So that cliche is definitely true: everything is on a stick. Like frozen cheesecake, which I understand was a favorite delicacy of King Arthur’s. And…
What a monster.
After the turkey legs come…
12. Frozen bananas are a great comedic device.
This joke can really go places.
13. They taste pretty good, too.
I’d never had one! It was all right! I don’t know what that weird thing hanging off it is, though, and I hope I didn’t eat it.
14. Funnel cake is one of the few foods not on a stick.
Maybe they could try harder.
15. Ren Faire is actually more like a county faire with crafts and artisanal goods instead of rides.
Back to my earlier point about how Ren Faire is for adults; people really do go around Ren Faire like it’s a open air market from another time that sells rings and leather work and, unsurprisingly, a shitload of soaps and scented candles. When my friends originally invited me to Ren Faire, I told them I would go on the condition that one of them bought me a tri-point hat. They all had a good laugh at me because tri-point hats aren’t really an Elizabethan style, but within five minutes of getting there, I saw 1) a hat dealer selling tri-point hats and 2) dozens of dudes in tri-point hats. So, who’s laughing now, “friends?”
16. Tri-Point hats are not even close to the most ridiculous thing you can buy at Ren Faire.
Smoothies, for one. You can also buy wooden crossbows that launch marshmallows and lizards (er, “orphan dragons,” per the dragon dealer, Saint George).
17. There are fashion trends at Ren Faire.
The most popular street style craze at Ren Faire was horns. Sure, lots of ladies were getting braids, or Henna tattoos, and corsets were well-represented throughout, but the line out of the horn dealer’s stall seemed like it was dozens deep all day. Maybe it was the unisex appeal? A few people even had elf ears and horns, which is really having your cake and eating it, too.
18. You can’t be “over it” at Ren Faire.
People will see right through that.
19. There is a social hierarchy, though.
At the top is probably “people on horseback.” At the bottom is “people who have to follow the people on horseback with wheelbarrows and shovels.” :(
20. There are absolutely “cool kids” at Ren Faire.
I thought this kid was so awesome. He was smoking Marlboro Reds and looking like he was up to absolutely no good, while at the same time dressed as he was. Very, very impressive Marlboro Reds Will Scarlet.
21. Some people view Ren Faire as a chance to be silly.
It’s really the only time you can wear that.
22. Some people view Ren Faire as a chance to be themselves.
Okay, real talk. I realized pretty quickly that a lot of people seem to feel more at home at Ren Faire than they probably do anywhere else and–setting aside the astronomical admission costs, abysmal toilet situation, overpriced food and general hallucinatory dread I inevitably feel in large crowds–it makes Ren Faire pretty all right. I guess I’d say the overall “vibe” is one of people who feel like they belong together as a community and they’re all grateful for it. More to the point…
23. Ren Faire attracts many disparate subcultures.
The goths love Ren Faire–probably more than anyone else–but there were also a lot of hippies, a lot of pan-nerds, a lot of stoner kids (after the funnel cake and fryed mac’n cheese, no doubt)… but look at this sweet punk rock kid! He knows there won’t be any jocks harassing him at Ren Faire; he can just hang out and love Stiff Little Fingers and do whatever.
24. The privie situation is outrageous.
I don’t even want to talk about it. Where is my money going?!
Speaking of “privies,” I think homeboy was sleepy.
He was just standing beside the privies, dosing off where he stood, like a heroin addict. A heroin addict in a tri-point hat. And I think I know what would have helped him…
25. You can get cappuccinos at Ren Faire.
Why the hell not? You can already get smoothies, cheesecake and…
26. You can get panties at Ren Faire.
Also makes complete sense if you think about it. The kind of people who dress up in full period garb so they can walk around a dusty clearing as they buy scented candles and piss in abject portable toilets… aren’t going to suffer some random poly-cotton undergarment they bought at Marshall’s. They’re going to want panties. From M’Lady’s:
Speaking of commitment…
27. There was a horse-man at Ren Faire.
Look at this.
I’m sorry my pictures are shitty but he was shockingly fast for a nine foot man with horse hooves instead of feet. I couldn’t really tell if he was some sort of Elizabethan centaur squire or if he was just your garden variety otherkin.
28. All furries are otherkin, not all otherkin are furries.
Like how all Catholics are Christian but not all Christians are Catholic.
29. Wings are also a very popular fashion statement at Ren Faire.
They probably come in second after corsets (and horns!) with waistcoats and capes bringing up the rear.
30. Your $22 probably goes to this:
Look on my works, ye Mighty!
Though for $22, you’d think you’d get a real castle and not just a castle facade. Anyway, this is the main setpiece of Ren Faire, where the joust takes place. Which brings me to my next point…
31. Jousts are boring.
The actual joust is over in five minutes. You’d think that men on horseback running at each other with violent purpose would be really interesting–especially with powerhouse personalities like Robin Hood in play–but they’re not, really. Moreover, the 20 agonizing minutes leading up to the joust are just people dancing loosely in sync and twirling banners and kind of singing but mostly just urgently trying to remember their choreography.
Seriously. This went on forever.
This girl was really into it, though (she was one of the cast):
Don’t forget #18.
32. Many Ren Faires have themes.
Well, most Ren Faires “take place” during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This Ren Faire, however, had an actual theme for the weekend: love. That’s why a lot of people were walking around with glass roses.
33. Ren Faires have a devil-may-care attitude about historical accuracy.
As we were leaving, my friend Matt noticed the Maryland state flag draped over a sandwich board and we deduced that the flag was being used because it looks Medieval. We all had a good laugh and then I came back and learned about the Maryland state flag on Wikipedia and I guess it’s fine because it’s based on English heraldry? So I guess I learned 34 things.