WORK IN PROGRESS!

 

Vocabulary and Acronyms:


Period: The war or era that a reenactor is portraying. This can be as specific as “early WWII” or as vague as “the frontier exploration era”.

Impression: The type of person or role the reenactor is portraying. For instance, among my impressions are “WWII Soviet medic” and “F&I French Habitant campfollower”. Sometimes these are more general categories (“Hey! When’d you start doing German?!”), and sometimes are more specific (“Well, this isn’t German – this is Yugoslavian volunteers in the German army.”) but in general, it is used to refer to whatever the reenactor is portraying.

Kit: This word is related to “impression”, but whereas “impression” is vague and more about the character, “kit” is about the physical gear. A person’s “kit” is all the items related to a particular impression – the uniform, the equipment, the firearm, and any other necessary accoutrements.

F&I: French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War over in Europe.

AWI: American War of Independence, the less political name of the American Revolution. It is coming into common usage in the hobby. Though, some of us still refer to the period as “Rev War”.

Campfollower: Women who followed the armies around in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often officer’s wives, but also local women who needed a job, or (very rarely) the wives of enlisted soldiers. They were given rations in exchange for doing laundry, cooking, etc.

Farb: An un-authentic reenactor. Generally someone who does not research their kit, at least, not thoroughly. Farbs are more of a spectrum than anything more specific. Someone wearing an 18th century skirt that has too fine a weave may constitute a farb to one person, and yet to another person, only something like someone wearing Vietnam-era boots with a WWII-era impression would be a farb. A related term is “farbism” – a commonly held inaccurate belief. Example: “Man, the idea that women in the 18th century would go outside in just stays (a corset) is such a farbism…”. Farb can also be turned into an adjective: “Farby”, meaning inaccurate. Example: “Man, that hat is soooo farby.” Farby can also be used to describe a behavior that is inaccurate or belies a modern origin.

 

 

Questions:

 

What is reenacting?

Reenacting, to me, is defined simply as recreating a specific historical period, whether or the public or in private, reenactor-only events. Some people within the hobby (myself included) differentiate public events from private by using the term “living history” for public events and “tactical” for private events. I also differentiate reenacting from other groups like the SCA by stating that reenacting is generally about a specific portrayal, and high levels of authenticity are generally striven for.

My informal definition is that it’s a bunch of history geeks getting together and dressing in funny clothes, usually shooting at each other.

 

What periods do you portray?

French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War, WWII, and Korean War.

Within those, I have (or will have) the following impressions:

F&I French Habitant campfollower (in progress – redoing an old impression)
AWI American loyalist campfollower (in progress)
AWI British campfollower (in progress)
WWII Soviet infantry medic
WWII Soviet infantry machinegunner
WWII US civilian war correspondent (in progress)
WWII German Cossack volunteer infantry (in progress – will be done within two months)
Korean War UN war correspondent

 

How do you feel about controversial impressions such as WWII Germans or Civil War Confederates?

Personally, I have no issue with them, so long as the groups are aware of the implications behind the groups they are portraying. Most German reenactors are not neo-nazis, though there are a few. There are also Confederate reenactors who call the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression”, though they are in the minority. Both groups are easy to avoid if you are not in those crowds yourself. I know many German reenactors who are Jews, and as a Soviet reenactor, I am portraying the very people who kicked my father’s side of the family out of Russia. While most reenactors do get into character a lot, it is not at all difficult to remember that it’s just that – a character. It *is* still surreal to see American soldiers chatting idly with SS officers, though.

 

What are the basics of reenacting – props, clothing, etc – and what items are best to begin a personal collection?

Really, the best thing to start with is a basic set of clothes. Now, that means different things for different periods and impressions, but as a general rule, clothes are the most important. Properly fitting clothes can make the difference between a great event and an awful one, and while borrowing clothes is an option, it’s best to minimize that. Equipment is usually far more easy to borrow. Shoes are also important, and can almost never be borrowed, as we don’t tend to have extras (they’re expensive). Invest in a good pair – they will be getting a lot of hard wear. Other than those things, you can usually borrow everything else you will need for a first event. If after an event or two you decide you enjoy the hobby, then you will need to start acquiring your own gear. At the events, you should get a good idea of what is important to you and what is not, and therefore what you should focus on first. You also should not buy a thing until you have found a group, as different units have different standards.

 

What inspired you to start reenacting?

I started reenacting, principally, due to an interest in history. I was a total nerd as a kid, and I used to alter modern clothes to make them more similar to 18th century ones. Once I discovered reenacting, it was like a light was turned on in my life. I also enjoy it for the escapism aspect, as I have never really enjoyed our current era all that much.

 

What is the difference between reenactment and living history?

Semantics. To me, living history is a *kind* of reenactment. As I said in my answer to the first question in the FAQ, I consider anything which is recreating a historical period to be reenacting.

 

Is it expensive?

In general, yes. However, some impressions are more expensive than others. For instance, Marc’s WWII German Fallschirmjaeger (paratrooper) impression currently stands (including firearms) at around $4k, and it’s not *quite* complete (though he has gone to many events with his current equipment – it’s just not the “ideal”). But, by comparison, my WWII Soviet medic impression cost me around $500, including my revolver, which is a very cheap kit in the world of reenacting. It could use a few improvements, though I doubt they will bump me up above $750. For 18th century impressions, the primary cost is in the form of fabric, as most of us make our own clothes, or at least some of them. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it is a cheap period though – good wool is $35ish a yard, and when a skirt takes 4+ yards of fabric and you have to wear 2-3 of them, or a coat that takes 3-4 yards of fabric, it gets expensive very fast. For an 18th century impression you can expect to spend around $1k to get a good impression – more than basic, but not quite “filled out”.

The one universal rule is that it will always cost more to do something right than to half-ass it, though really, it ends up being worth the extra cost, due to the added respect from other reenactors when they see the effort you expended in creating your kit and your own improved experience due to the more authentic experience you will have. It is not a cheap hobby, but it doesn’t have to break your wallet either. That said, I know someone with a $24k gun (a full-auto MG42), and some reenactors own *tanks*, so…yeah.

 

Do you pretend to be historical people?

I don’t personally, nor does anyone I know, though some reenactors do specialize in portraying a particular person like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. This is only done at public events though. It could be argued that all reenactors pretend to be historical people in that we all have our impressions and most, if not all, of us create backstories, etc to go with each impression. Some reenactor groups at times hold “first person” events, in which we behave and speak as our “characters” as much as possible. These groups, though, are the exception rather than the rule. Most groups though, have rules at events about times when reenactors should do their best to be “first person”, such as during battle or at public events.

 

What do you think draws people to reenacting?

Almost universally it is a love of history. Reenactors come from all sorts of backgrounds, though educators and former/current military personnel are probably the two most common. Some are there more for the history aspect, and some just plain want to “play Saving Private Ryan”, though the latter are generally looked down upon. I think that most of us are not exactly in love with the current era either, and so for many, myself included, there is a little bit of an escapist aspect as well. I like going away for a weekend to experience something so utterly different that I forget about the rest of the world for a few days. Unfortunately, this often leads to what Marc and I refer to as “reenactor blues” upon “re-entry” into “real life”. I also, frankly, enjoy the clothes (that was one of my reasons originally for choosing F&I to start in reenacting), and I enjoy educating people about history. I feel that history education in the US is in quite a sad state, and it makes me feel really good when I can get a kid interested in history by talking to them at an event.

 

Are the clothes comfortable?

That depends on the impression and the reenactor. My Soviet uniform is very comfortable (except maybe the leg wraps, which have a tendency to come undone at inconvenient times) and my US one for WWII/Korea is as well. 18th century stays (corset) on the other hand, are not hugely comfortable, nor are the straight-last (no right or left) shoes that I wear for that period. But, another person might have the opposite opinion. Some are deceptively comfortable. For instance, for his French Milice/Habitant impression, Marc wears a breechclout. I had assumed that it must be very uncomfortable, like wearing a towel between your legs. But, he says they are in fact more comfortable to him than breeches. The comfort level of reenacting clothes is very much a “to each his own” sort of situation.

 

How can I get started?

Talk to me! I am more than willing to research groups in your area and help you find a good, quality group, or at least one that will match your personality and your motivations for reenacting. The first thing you need to decide is what period you want to do. Generally, this corresponds with what period(s) of history you are interested in, but it doesn’t always (I got interested in WWII *after* I started to get interested in WWII reenacting, for instance). Some periods are easier than others to start in, and different periods tend to attract different crowds of people, and have different “feels”. If you’re interested in a period, let me know and I can give you an idea of what you will likely encounter, both good and bad.

I recommend saving up money for a little while beforehand, as not only will your initial investment probably be a couple hundred dollars at least, but you will discover many additional things at your first event that you need to keep yourself comfortable and to improve your own experience. This varies from person to person, and while one person may decide they need extra blankets because they get cold easily, another may decide that having some nice, period personal items will go a long way in improving their experience (that is the case with me – it’s always a nice touch to pull matches out of a period matchbox, or to brush your hair with a real horn comb), but you won’t discover those things until after you have been to an event or two.

Once you decide on a period, the next thing you need to do is READ READ READ. First-hand accounts are the most important, but secondary sources are perfectly fine when primary sources are unavailable (most Russian soldiers couldn’t write -at least not well enough to write a book-, so there aren’t that many memoirs from the Soviet side, for instance). Also read about the period and/or the war in general. Nothing is more embarrassing at an event than to have to ask someone where a battle being discussed took place, or other similar details. Most reenactors have substantial history book collections, and some may be willing to loan books to you, but you should also look at your local library – it’s surprising the amount of stuff they usually have.

A final word of advice to prospective reenactors: Try to be in reasonable shape. Reenacting is a very physical hobby, and you will be running, climbing, and carrying heavy loads (your average reenacting load while in the field is around 25lbs, with some carrying upwards of 50lbs or more). General endurance is the most important, but having strong legs is also important. You don’t need to be buff to be a reenactor (most aren’t, and many are overweight), but you will have a greatly improved experience if you’re in decent shape. It sucks to be the person at the back, sucking wind as you try to keep up with the rest of your unit as you’re jogging down a road, believe me (I’ve been that person). You don’t have to join a gym, but do try and get out for a walk every few days, at least, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

 

If you have your own question to ask, do so here, and I will add it to the list.

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