4 Ways to Help New Reenactors

Do you remember what it was like to be a new reenactor? Getting into any hobby can be difficult, but reenacting has a steeper learning curve and higher level of expectation than most. After all we aren’t just dressing up like it’s Halloween, but trying to accurately represent a sliver of history.

But what can an experienced reenactor do when meeting a new reenactor, either online or in person? How can more experienced reenactors help new members get off to the right start in an intense hobby like ours?

Share your bibliography.

You’ve started one of those right? Anyone who has been seriously in the hobby for a few years has probably amassed an extensive reading list and bookshelves. With the internet and amazon, it’s nearly impossible for a new reenactor to figure out what is a good, trustworthy, interesting but also informative, well referenced book. New reenactors need a combination of broad history and specific detail, plentiful first person references and something exciting enough to make them want to keep reading on the subject.

Now I know many reenactors are hesitant to share their sources, intellectual theft and one-ups-manship are rife in the hobby. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some basic books that every reenactor for your chosen era should read. So while I might not divulge every one of my primary sources or share the books I’ve spent months translating, I readily share those foundational books with every new reenactor who is interested. Heck, I even have a stock Amazon list I send to people!

British & German Refugee Children Working Side-By-Side, 1942,
Library of Congress.

Share Your Clothing and Gear.

Gear dumping, or the practice of selling farby and inaccurate clothing to unsuspecting newcomers is detestable. I would never suggest profiting off the ignorance of others in the hobby, but giving them something for free to help them get started, be it a modern shirt from goodwill that passes the 10 foot rule or your old 1984 dated mess kit to borrow for the weekend, is very different than selling them the same thing.

In the former you are helping them get started with no qualms about the accuracy, in the latter you are taking advantage to gain from them, maybe it's money, maybe it's ego because you know you will still be "better" than them. Loaning out items that meet authenticity expectations at an event helps improve the overall level of authenticity, and saves new reenactors the embarrassment and stress of not passing S&A. Loaning "good enough" items also shows the new reenactor that you can be focused on authenticity, without being a jerk about it. Plus, the more you loan out, the more closet room you have for new stuff of your own.

Be Honest With Them.

Look, I know everyone is super sensitive about everything these days but this is pretty important. If we aren’t honest with new reenactors, are we really helping them at all? If all we ever tell them is “yes honey, your mere existence is amazing,'' how are we encouraging them to improve their impressions, develop their interpretations and contribute to the hobby as a whole?

So be honest with new reenactors. Tell them the good and the bad, whether they ask for it or not. Expecting them ask about something they don't know they need to know about, doesn't help. Point out that their 1980s Doc Martins aren’t accurate boots for WW2 Germany and show them what is (maybe even loan them better shoes too), remind them to take off their modern glasses when you take a group photo, compliment them on trying a historic recipe rather than dragging out the Poptarts. But most of all, don’t be so afraid to point out the areas they can improve that all you end up doing is sugar coating those same inaccuracies.

Children in Leningrad, 1956, Lisa Larson,
International Center of Photography
Invite Them to Socialize After Hours.

I think too often we forget what it was like to be new at the hobby. We go to the same events, with the same people, year after year. We don’t have to introduce ourselves, because everyone knows who we are even if we can’t remember their names. And while that is great for us and the community, it can make reenacting seem like a very closed off and cliquish hobby to new people.

Some newcomers will be naturally more outgoing but the majority are bookish history nerds (it is reenacting after all). For introverts, one of the worst parts of the hobby is the socializing after hours. What can make or break that nerve-wracking experience is having an experienced reenactor simply say “Would you like to come with us to the dance tonight?” or even just “can I get you a beer?” Little things like that are what makes the hobby the close community that it is. If we want to really grow, we need to start helping those at the beginning of their reenacting careers, not just ourselves.

Yes, helping new reenactors can be a lot of hard work. They ask tons of questions, they don’t know things that we thought were common knowledge, they need guidelines and help meeting those guidelines, they need reassurance that they are on the right track and that we want them there. There is always the risk that all that hard work will be for nought and they will choose not to continue in the hobby. But in the end, by genuinely helping them, whether it’s by sharing references, gear, being honest about how they can improve or just including them in our social circle, those new reenactors that do continue will have a solid foundation to build their reenacting future on.

Who helped you the most when you were a new reenactor?

See you in the past!