Faire knights, maidens cherish times of yore

Olissio Zoppe slices a cabbage in half on a volunteer's head while riding full speed on his horse to show off his knightly skill.
Olissio Zoppe slices a cabbage in half on a volunteer's head while riding full speed on his horse to show off his knightly skill. The Olympian

At the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire, you can dress like a saucy wench or a spirited nobleman, fight like a 17th-century soldier, talk like a pirate - or even fall in love.

That’s what Jane Swanson and Bob Zborowski did. Over the weekend the couple from Seattle were celebrating their recent engagement. They met at the fair in 2007.

This year’s Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire continues next weekend at Maris Farms in Buckley.

Like many fairgoers, Swanson and Zborowski share a fascination with the history and pageantry that comes alive each year at the fair. The event celebrates the Renaissance period in European history through music, dance, costume and more. There are demonstrations of fencing, jousting and other military arts, along with vendors hawking a range of items, such as Celtic-themed jewelry and ice-cold pickles.

“It’s like Halloween for grown-ups,” Zborowski said. “You can let out your inner geek in a safe place.”

“Everyone is here to have fun,” Swanson added. “You can walk up to anybody and tell them, ‘I love your costume.’”

Playing dress-up is a big part of the fair, both for the actors, musicians and other performers who entertain, and for the fairgoers themselves.

Strolling the grounds is an exercise in people-watching. There are men in colorful bandanas, leather-brimmed hats and military helmets, while women don floral headbands and golden or silver hair ornaments. Flowing white shirts and waistcoats over below-the-knee breeches – worn with either boots or long stockings – are practically required wear for men. Women favor roomy long skirts on the bottom and figure-hugging corsets and bodices on top. And there’s always a number of women and girls sporting delicate fairy wings and elf ears.

But don’t fret if you haven’t got a spare doublet hanging in your closet. You can rent a costume at the Isle of hEireann booth. Actually, it’s OK to visit the fair in 21st century clothes if you want. But fans say it’s more fun if you dress the part.

Tiffany Preston described her look – faded red long skirt, green and pink corset over billowing white chemise, with a scarf around the waist – as a mix of gypsy and fairy looks.

“I always loved costumes,” she said. Dressing up for the Renaissance Faire lets her “be someone else for the weekend.”

“You always feel like a princess,” said Preston, who as a teen loved creating costumes for her school plays at Woodinville High School.

She was at the fair with her husband, Neil, who’s on leave from the British army. They met while she was a tourist in London, which is now their home. To humor his wife of two years, Neil also dressed the part, wearing breeches, a beret and other period pieces of clothing.

“I married her,” he said, smiling. “I don’t have a choice.”

But the military man did find one aspect of the fair interesting, as he noticed swords and daggers hanging from many leather-belted waists in the crowd.

“That’s why all the blokes come here,” he said. “It’s all the weapons.”