Sunday, March 15, 2020

Your First Reenacting Investments

A recent conversation on social media regarding how to help teenage reenactors get started on the right foot. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I started reenacting at age 15! I found a group of people locally who also enjoyed history and exploring the past. I joined up on my own, with no family involvement, and with the help of my friends got started in reenacting.

Getting started as a teenager, especially a solo teenager, is not easy. Reenacting can be an expensive hobby, and there are so many pieces of your impression to acquire. It can be daunting! So I thought I would share one of the lessons I learned: what purchases or investments to prioritize when you are building an impression from scratch, with very little income.

Here we go!

1. A Good Pair of Shoes or Boots

My feet on the right!
This is one of the first things I invested in as a reenactor. It may be the last thing a newbie thinks of, but it definitely shouldn't be. Good footwear is always worth an investment, to keep your feet and legs and back happy and healthy. But as a reenactor, a good pair of shoes or boots is truly an investment. Kept well, they will last forever. I'm not kidding, I still have the leather bootees I bought 15 years ago. Good workmanship lasts.

Compare that to a pair of okayish faux leather shoes from your favorite department store that will maybe last a couple seasons. You'll have to replace them in short order, and spend more money, which means you won't be saving much over buying one pair of high-quality leather shoes or boots. Even if they last a while, you'll want to replace them as you continue progressing in your living history impression. Spend a little now, save a little later.

For a high quality choice that's budget conscious, I recommend Fugawee - the folks who made those 15 year old boots. Their Victorias are a great choice. I also love my walking shoes from Amazon Dry Goods. If you want to splurge, there's no one better than Missouri Boot and Shoe for quality and accuracy.

2. Skirt Supports Of Your Choice

Again, this is one of the biggest investments you can make. There are many, many options to chose from, from the patterns put out by Truly Victorian and Past Patterns, to a kit or fully-made cage crinoline from Needle and Thread in Gettysburg. You can choose a pattern for a covered cage, or an uncovered cage style - both are good options.

The reason why you should invest in this right way is because you will always need it. The mid-19th century silhouette depends on the wide, domed skirt. Without it, you just don't look like the real deal. You can definitely choose the accurate option of wearing several petticoats under your dress, but that's going to limit your impressions as supported skirts were accessible to all socioeconomic classes in the 1860s.

For Christmas the year I started reenacting, when I was sixteen years old, my parents bought me a cotton-covered hoop skirt. It adjusted it to give it the right size and shape and wore it for twelve years. Twelve years! I finally threw it away in 2015, when moving apartments, because the bones had rusted and broken. Twelve years is a pretty good investment, and if you take good care of it, your hoop or cage can last just as long, maybe longer.

3. A Corset Made To Fit You

Last, but absolutely not least! A good corset will last for years and years. And like those skirt supports, you cannot look like The Original Cast without it - end of story. Moreover, you should get a corset that is made for you. A well-fitted corset is very comfortable and will last longer than a poorly-fitted corset. And by well-fitted, I mean it was cut, fitted and made on your body. (Long line bras do not count. Neither do sports bras. Just. No.)

You also need a corset to fit all the wonderful clothes you'll be making and acquiring. So before you start sewing those dresses, get a good corset.

You can hire someone to make you a corset, and it will cost you quite a bit. But if you're willing, sewing your own corset is pretty easy and inexpensive. It took me fifteen years and a lot of frustration to work up the courage to try sewing a corset and learn this lesson.

There are great patterns out there - Past Patterns, Truly Victorian, and Laughing Moon all have really great options. I made mine with the Laughing Moon patterns and you can't beat having the DVD for guidance. I have heard really really good things about the new Redthreaded corset options, both in buying a custom corset and using the patterns.

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has even put together a list of what supplies you need and where to get them! She's taken a ton of guess work out of the process for you. Get bold - give it a whack!

One Final Bonus Tip...

As a teenage reenactor, you may not have the kind of disposable income that your more age-accomplished sister reenactors have. If you have a small income, you can start saving up your money for some of these bigger purchases. However, saving $150 for a pair of shoes can be daunting when you're working a very part-time job. I know, because it was for me.

One of my greatest tips for teenage reenactors: supportive relatives and friends will love to help you acquire things! If you are receiving birthday or holiday gifts, ask for some of the things you need! My parents made it clear they weren't going to be part of my reenacting adventures, but they were (and still are) proud of me for chasing my crazy, nerdy dreams and wanted to support me. Each year I sent them an updated list of a couple things I wanted and needed, including where they could find them. They bought me bonnet kits from Timely Tresses, lengths of fabric, even gift certificates for my favorite antique stores. My mom once snuck into a sutler booth at a reenactment when she came to pick me up to secretly buy a brooch I loved, and gave it to me for my birthday. I still have that brooch and wear it, and it always reminds me of my parents and the ways they supported me.

I hope you have decades of fun and learning, just like I have, and that these tips make your entry into reenacting just a bit easier.

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