A mere two hours after the Maryland Renaissance Festival opened yesterday, the entire collection of children's rental costumes was gone, snapped up by would-be maidens and make-believe squires. The overskirts and underdresses worn by "Ladies of the Realm" were pretty well depleted, too, as were the men's jerkins and doublets.

If you were late, you pretty much had to settle for a scratchy wool monk's outfit.

More than 100 visitors to the Crownsville festival rented outfits from Royal Rentals yesterday, paying $10 to $40 to slip on a lush velvet gown or a pair of puffy, pumpkin-colored pants and step back in time.

Others wore costumes that they'd designed and brought themselves. Others, under the mild heat, opted for a more modern look: sandals, shorts and a T-shirt.

The costumed visitors lent a 16th-century air to the festival, which featured a backdrop of Tudor-style buildings, jousting matches, actors performing skits and such foods as roasted turkey legs and ale. The six-week festival, now in its 23d year, will run each weekend through Oct. 24.

It was the Walt Disney film "The Sword in the Stone" that first attracted John Hornak, of Reston, to the days of knights in shining armor.

"I was, like, 'Aw, man, that was soooo cool,' " Hornak, 26, said of the movie. He proudly showed off the crinkly linen shirt and cotton trousers he'd just rented for $35. Hornak said he had shunned the dressier choices and was clad in simple clothing, largely because he'd rather be a "peasant warrior" than a foppish nobleman.

Why dress up? "After 50 hours a week at the computer," he said, "it's good to get away. You get to be somebody else."

If renting wasn't enough, visitors to the festival could also purchase Renaissance-style clothing. At Noblesse Oblige, there were rows of clothes--velvet, mostly--inspired by the delicate hand-woven fabrics that Europeans imported centuries ago from Egypt and China.

Owner Leslie Harris has been offering her wares for nine years at the fair and said she's found a robust market for Renaissance-period pieces that could easily be worn today. Take, for example, a blue velvet opera coat, topped with hand-embroidered flowers. It had a $400 price tag, but Harris said there are plenty of patrons who come to the park just to buy one of her unique pieces.

Festival-goer Sarah Wittman, 14, said she'd been looking for a Halloween costume for weeks. The sight of all the Renaissance-period costumes inspired her.

"She didn't realize people were going to be dressed up," her friend Marcia Snyder said.

"I was just trying to get a different look," said Sarah, of Harford County, who yesterday decided she will dress in Renaissance-period garb for a Halloween party next month.

"It looked cool," Sarah said of the elegant gowns at Royal Rentals. "Like something the queen would wear."

CAPTION: Kedren Bradds, 2, of Perryville, Md., has his photo taken while his mother holds his head in the pillory at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

CAPTION: Gordon Boudreau, left, and Neil Johnson look the worse for wear after they finished a wild version of "Beowulf" at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.