I started this day by scrolling through a very long and sometimes heated debate on Facebook considering the symbolism of different garments and accessories within my chosen game, the SCA. In this case (and it is in no way a unique discussion) it started with someone asking whether a cape could be worn without risk of social stigma. This might sound like a strange question at first glance, but considering it had gotten 140 comments within a few hours the subject is a complex one. Because everything we choose to wear can and most probably will be interpreted as a message to the world. The SCA, with rules and regulations written about some attire and very strong sentiments and traditions concerning others is not an isolated phenomenon in this matter.
It is known from modern day society that the way you wear your jeans sends out signals. And the way you wear your hair. And take care using earrings if you are male, or putting a handkerchief in your back pocket. And ladies are told not to wear to short skirts (hey, what happened to modern society?)
From history it is known or at least assumed that by using/wearing a garment initially worn by the opposite sex is sending signals of frivolity. Like young women wearing men's hats in 15th century german society (see some of my thoughts on that here: http://www.renikasanachronisticadventures.blogspot.se/2012/08/is-that-tarantula-on-your-head-or-just.html)
Another historical example is the Elisabethan masks that initially was worn by high society ladies, protecting their complexion from the sun when traveling, then used as a fashionable detail and cover when visiting the theatre (not a good thing for a woman of rank) and finally turning into something completely different: "They soon, however, became the mark of loose women, and their use was discontinued by women of repute."
Just imagine the social stigma of being a lady of repute, trying her best to be fashionable when visiting the city and going to the theatre, just to find out that wearing a mask is now something completely different from when cousin Anne did it four years ago...
So, how to deal with all this symbolism and not risk being mistaken for something that you are not? Well, if I wasn´t sure it would tick some off, I would say "go butt naked". And since that easily is ruled out, I guess we all have to do our very best in avoiding something clearly symbolical, like circlets of Laurel wreaths or Pelicans, crowns and coronets, plain colored belts and such. And help each other to enjoy the game by not acting harsh and assuming that people make mistakes on purpose. Courtesy is always the best approach. And these discussions is probably not the best thing to show newbies trying to figure out how to make their very first garb.