5 Free Authenticity Upgrades

Not everything in reenacting has to cost a fortune! So in the effort to help penny pinching reenactors out there, I've complied 5 completely & totally free ways that you can improve your authenticity.

Bring less stuff.

Ok, lets face it, Reenactors love to over pack. Maybe it’s the constantly changing weather & being outside for days straight. Maybe it’s trying to fit into all the various scenarios that we do at events. Maybe we are afraid of forgetting something vital (not that I’ve been there!). Maybe we just took that Boy Scout pledge to “be prepared” a little too seriously all those years ago.

Whatever the reason, we always end up with more than we actually need. This isn’t just more work but it’s terrible for our authenticity too. All the excess stuff that we bring doesn’t accurately reflect the way people lived historically. How many WW2 soldiers would have had 3 changes of clothing, a dress uniform for Saturday night & 2 more “modern” outfits to wear while traveling to & from the war & a bathing suit just in case? Heck, they were frequently lucky to just have fresh socks.

Now I’m not saying skip something that you know you are going to need, like that spare blanket when the weather is below freezing. But even just cutting down on a few extras can help increase the authenticity of your experience & impression. Try bringing 1 dress to wear the entire event rather than 1 for each day. Try leaving the first-aid kit at home if you know the unit cook has a professional EMT bag with them at all times. If you are attending a yearly event, think about what you brought last year & what you actually used. Limiting the things that you bring and paring down to just the essentials will bring you closer to appreciating what people lived without historically & get you that much closer to an authentic experience.

Start a bibliography.

How is this an authenticity upgrade? Reenacting is a hobby that requires a lot of knowledge. That knowledge comes largely from big fat history books.

If you’ve been in the hobby for a few years, you’ve probably amassed quite the reading list; books, magazine articles, diary entries, etc. You may have also noticed that after a while it gets difficult to remember the title & author of everything you’ve read.

So how do you manage to keep that constant research straight? By creating a bibliography. This doesn’t have to be the annotated, 8 page monstrosity I submitted with my thesis. Any sort of list will work, as long as it helps you remember what you’ve read & helps you share those books with your fellow reenactors. I prefer websites like bibme.org, which creates a properly formatted bibliography. But even if all you do is jot down the title & authors in an old notebook, or simply add the books to an Amazon list of “books I’ve read”, keeping any list is a good idea.

Leave the cell phone behind.

What, you thought I could go for an entire post on authenticity without bringing my favorite crusade; Phone Free Reenacting?

Seriously though, we are not yet reenacting the 2000s. Cell phones simply aren’t historically accurate This isn't something you can “hide” or assume the public won’t notice.

I think modern people, even those in my generation who grew up without cell phones, have forgotten what life was like without them. We used to wear wristwatches or ask each other the time. We used to have wholehearted debates about what kind of wood was used in the masts of 18th century sailing ships without running to the internet for an answer right away. We used to check the weather by stepping outside & putting on a sweater if it was cold. Even if you can’t suffer through an entire 48 hour without your phone, try turning it off & leaving it in your bed during public hours. Tell your mother you will call her back in the evening. Ask if anyone knows how to spell that random French word & then enjoy the laugh when you realize no one else knows either! Challenge yourself to see what life was like without the instant gratification of a cell phone even for a little while. Afterall, they didn’t need them so why do we?

Get Dirty.

Have you ever met someone who, despite being in camp for 3 days, 90* weather, campfire and no showers, still smells like soap & doesn’t have dirt under their nails? I have never understood how they do it. How do you stay clean in the camp environments we are in? Are you teflon coated?

Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out & roll in a mud puddle just to look dirty. Artificial dirt & aging of clothing can look just as fake & bad as being overly clean & wafting perfume around us. Leave the fake dirt to Hollywood, where the lighting and distance help with the illusion.

But even if we aren’t using Fullers Earth to make ourselves look grungy, we also shouldn’t be afraid to get dirty either. Sit on that log, kneel on the ground to tie your shoes, let you kids play in a mud puddle, wipe that spoon dry on your sleeve.

When you get home, don’t be so frantic about getting every last stain out. Stop using bleach all the time and try hand washing and sunning your clothing instead. Brush the dried mud off wool clothing rather than sending it to the dry cleaners. Try patching a rip, or letting out a hem rather than making a completely new outfit for every event. The truth is that we don’t wear our clothing nearly as much as they did historically, and it shows. If we combine this with tip #1, our reenacting clothing will take on a natural, worn in age just like it would have historically, no fake aging techniques required.

Help a New Reenactor.

I harp on how reenacting is a shared experience a lot. One of the biggest things that we can do to build a better reenacting community is to help those who are just starting out. It costs us nothing to share that bibliography from tip #2 with a newcomer who is just beginning to read about the era. It costs us nothing to loan out a backup pair of shoes or to give away our kids outgrown reenacting clothing.

When we do these things for other reenactors we get something incredible back, a stronger community. We are helping to build up our hobby and improving it from the foundation. We are only as good as our weakest link after all. I’m sometimes shocked, often times disappointed, that new reenactors are still having to go through the same mistakes that I made over a decade ago. We’ve learned so much and advanced in so many ways. Why are our newest members still starting at the same square one as if we haven’t learned anything since the 1970s?

Yes, there could be a risk in offering someone help. They could reject it. They could call you all kinds of nasty names & decide that reenacting isn’t for them. But what is better, taking that risk & making improvements to the hobby, genuinely helping someone get off on the right foot & avoid the mistakes you’ve made, or sitting back & complaining about all the farbs? Be the source of improvement you want to see in the hobby. Who knows, you might just make a new friend or two along the way.

I hope these totally free tips have given everyone some ideas on ways that they can improve their authenticity, without having to dig in the couch cushions for loose change. Keep following Slightly Obsessed for more articles like this, tutorials & other fun history related stuff.

See you in the past!