3 Cheap Authenticity Upgrades

I’ve already talked about a few completely free ways that you can upgrade your authenticity. Those are great and accessible to everyone, regardless of your financial status or how long you’ve been reenacting. If you haven't already, go read & implement those freebies now!

But what if you’ve got a little more time, and have just a little money, to invest in improving your overall impression? What can you do with the money saved by skipping that expensive coffee drink for a day or even a whole week? Here are 3 almost free, definitely cheap ways to improve your authenticity.

Period correct food

Hercules Aperitif Ad, Strand Magazine. Vol 74, Jul-Dec. 1927
We all have to eat anyway, right? So why not spend a little time planning your event menu to include historically correct foods? This doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Unprocessed, simple foods are cheap and easy to find. Sure you can go all out, with menu plans, period correct packaging, only choosing foods that are locally or seasonally appropriate etc. Thanks to Google books there is no limit to the historic recipes you can document. You are really only limited by your tastebuds, personal cooking skill & how much time you have at the event to cook. If you have a big enough group, consider setting up a “mess” or pooling resources (& time) to put together ration packages. Making period correct food preparation a group effort not only raises everyone’s authenticity, but it makes the work more enjoyable too.

In the end, even just leaving the Poptarts at home makes a vast improvement in your impression. Not to mention, you’ll have less modern packaging to hide in camp as well. This same tip goes for booze after hours too. Skip the Zima and try bringing all the ingredients for a Bacardi cocktail instead (ps, that’s just Rum, grenadine & lime juice), or any other period correct beverage. Not only will you be more historically accurate for the same cost, but everyone will be interested in what you are drinking! Talk about being the authentic life of the party!

Period correct hair cut & facial hair
Men of the Royal Scots queue up for haircuts, 18 April 1940.

Hairstyles and facial hair are a hot button issue with most reenactors. Truth is, hair is one of the first things that others see so it should be one of the first things we think about when creating a well rounded impression. Everyone knows the basics, like avoiding bright & bizzare colors or styles. But what do you do once you’ve got natural colored hair?

Some people, like me, wear historic haircuts year round & simply adjust our styling methods and products to produce historic looks. While I have gone through periods of letting my hair get longer, I always turn back to the classic 1940s middy haircut, especially during the busy fall season. I’ve been very fortunate to have a friend & fellow reenactor who is a trained hair stylist to help with my hair. But if you aren’t as lucky, knowing the terms to ask for and bringing period photographs can be a tremendous help. Luckily many historic styles, especially for men, never really went “out”. Once you’ve found a good hair stylist, stick with them. If worse comes to worse & you get a bad haircut (like I did last year) the good news is that hair grows back!

Guys, the same applies to your facial hair. I know beards are sexy right now, but if that’s not what was the style for the majority of people during your chosen era, shave the dang whiskers already. No one died from having a bare chin for a couple of days.

Period correct glasses or contacts

Right up there with hair, are glasses. Because they are on our face, the part that everyone looks at first, they are one of the most important improvements that we can make to our authenticity. Most reenactors choose to wear contact lenses, which are inexpensive and disposable, perfect for dirty camp environments. They give the illusion and benefits of good vision, without the worry of finding correct frames. Thanks to the proliferation of online discount contact companies these days, getting a couple of sample boxes only costs as much as a yearly eye exam & shipping. Depending on how many events you attend a year, those sample boxes may be all you need.

But if glasses are your prefered vision aid, there are multiple historic options that don’t cost a fortune either. The biggest problem is that what is labeled “vintage style” isn’t always the style which was actually worn historically. Never trust what the retailer says, always do your own research. I’m especially fond of using vintage Sears & Montgomery Ward catalogues as reference for things like glasses (not to mention socks, shoes, underwear…). It’s easy to pull up 2 tabs in your browser & compare side by side from the original reference to the modern retailer. Since these reenacting specific glasses won’t necessarily be worn daily, they don’t have to be the top of the line, anti glare fancy lenses either. So go for the cheapest your prescription allows. After all, did they even have anti-fog, ultrathin, photochromic lenses in 1938?

For the price of a cup of coffee, you can take your reenacting to the next level of authenticity. None of these upgrades are particularly difficult, or permanent. What they don’t cost in money, they cost in spending a little extra time doing the research & finding the right modern substitutions. But in the end, isn’t the research, the time invested in doing something for the betterment of our hobby, really the entire point of chasing authenticity in the first place? None of us will ever be perfectly historical, but that shouldn’t stop us from constantly improving. Even if that means saving our Starbucks money for something authentic.

Cover Image: Counter of the Swiss Bank Corporation's London Office at Lothbury 43, around 1900