Wednesday, 6 November 2013

On Sideways Tabards

So, you may have come across the quaint and curious practice of some heralds wearing their tabards sideways. Do not adjust your set, you are seeing correctly. No, ma'am, they aren't drunk*. Please, sir, do not try to correct them. Especially not physically**.

In short, wearing tabards sideways - or athwart, colly-westonwards, or several other silly names - is a mark of a herald holding a certain rank. In the Lochac College of Heralds, there are three ranks: Macer, Pursuivant, and Herald (with a capital H). A tabard athwart is, as in period, the mark of a Pursuivant. Lochac Heraldic Policy says simply this:
5.3. A Pursuivant wearing a sleeved tabard should have the sleeves front and back (i.e. rotated 90 degrees).
 Note that it says "should", rather than "may".

In period, Pursuivants were something along the lines of journeyman heralds, who hadn't quite finished their training, and so wore their tabards sideways as a mark of "not quite there yet". In the Lochac College of Heralds, Pursuivant is the middle rank, and the first which is earned by actions (more than the action of deciding to be a herald in the first place). Macers wear their tabards "properly" because they're just beginning, and shouldn't have things complicated for them any more than is necessary, and Heralds wear their tabards straight because they're fancy and in charge.

The practice varied in period as fashions changed, ranging all the way from being entirely absent, to being enforced with punishments. And so too in the SCA has it varied, though not to the point of punishments. Wearing a tabard athwart is something of a herald's fancy, and as such usually requires explaining to the general public when they get confused by what they see as things being done weirdly or wrong. I've even had people quite condescendingly try to explain to me that that's not how you wear a tabard. But, we should see that as a place where we can see a wonderful educational opportunity, rather than as a reason not to try.

And finally, one practical note about wearing a tabard athwart: Some tabards, of particularly fine construction, with layers of brocade, velvet, and satin, while beautiful, are not appropriate for wearing on a particularly hot day. With the extra ventilation of wearing athwart, however, it's much more comfortable (experience from a Fighter Auction Tourney at Rowany Festival, where all four of the Rowan-made words of tabardy art were worn at once).

For more information on the wearing of tabards etc, see What Did Heralds Wear? by Eir├Čkr Mjoksiglandi Sigurdharson.

* Probably. I suppose there's a chance, but they shouldn't be drunk on duty.
** Yes, that did happen to me. They meant well, but grabbed at me without warning when I stopped for water.

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