The Costumed Society – Everyday Re-enacting

If you’re bored and want to start a fruitless argument, ask a group of re-enactors to justify what they do. You’ll get a variety of responses – angry, scholarly, theatrical, comical, righteous, etc. The only other topic that will set them off quite as violently is a discussion about correct period shoes.

People who re-enact dress up and play up on a regular basis. They’ll have something to do on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or yearly basis, and the amount of effort put into it increases as the interval lengthens. An annual trek to a medieval fair or a famous battle recreation can take far more than a year to prepare for and recover from.

Most re-enactors have daily jobs, uncostumed lives, modern connections. Few can live in a historical location, dressed in authentic garb, doing period activities. None of them wish to be doing this when it comes to sanitation, hygiene, and health emergencies. It is analogous to choosing where you want your horse to throw a shoe – outside the blacksmith’s or 130 miles away. You decide…

But there are facets of re-enacting that can be incorporated into daily life, and at a very modest price. Unlike buying the authentic, hand-last, organic died, battle-axe that you lusted over in the Pakistani catalog, there are things you can do for free.

a. Read about your chosen period. Libraries. Internet. Other people’s collections. There is never any dearth of new history written about old history.

b. Read in your chosen period. This is different from (a.) above. This time you don’t read other people’s reports – you read the literature of the day that was… not today. If you can’t read it because you can’t read Greek, or Persian, or Aztec, well you have your work cut out for you. Off you go. Start from the basics. Your goal is to see what the people said when they said it.

c. Consider the manners of the chosen period. If it is a time when there were no manners, you will have to bear that in mind for the next section…

d. Reproduce the manners of your chosen target time – and your chosen persona. You see – if you think being a Viking berserker is the finest weekend activity you can engage in, you may not be able to stretch this forward to Tuesday when you actually have to go to work at the local Beaurepaire’s or meet a professional client. You might have boxed yourself into a circumstance where you cannot play all the time.

Think again. If you are old and grey and slow, perhaps choosing a different pattern to model yourself upon is a good idea. A gentleman or lady of whatever period should usually have enough manners to be acceptable in any company. Likewise a philosopher, a literate, a scientist. If you local law prevents you from swinging an axe and howling  in the Coles checkout on a regular basis, try for re-enacting of a different sort.

e. Live your life in the rhythm of the day – as it was lived back then. If your period of time saw people getting up at daybreak and subsiding after dark for want of light and warmth…do so yourself. Readjust your clock – you can still wash clothes in a washing machine and use a refrigerator and poop in a flushing toilet – no need to go primitive and dangerous – but do it in the daytime.

Carouse at night if you must, but even here make sure that you do it within the economics and time frame of your target. You’ll save money and make less of a goog of yourself.

f. Readjust your speech. Here is where your early researches pay off. Use old words and eschew new ones. Use period phrasing and punctuation in your written communications. Write letters and post them. When you write an email to someone put the equivalent amount of postage that you would have used had the letter been a physical one into a jar with a narrow opening. When the jar is full, break it and use the money to buy your next physical accessory or costume item. If you have not got the price of the postage on you, consider well whether your communication need be written at all.

See? You can start to live the life with no big outlay, and if you continue steadily, you may find that you are having the most authentic of experiences.

As for myself, I have stopped cursing people, as it is not genteel. Or terribly effective. I now tell them that they may go to another place and do another thing…an authentic Victorian bowdlerization of telling them to go to hell and be damned. I do offer the occasional handbasket…

 

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