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…



Real History – For Yourself

I used to belong to a number of clubs that dealt with living history. I took it seriously and played as hard as I could…dressed up in medieval clothing, renaissance clothing, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century clothing. I had a very good time doing so and would recommend it to all.

But I never had a better time than last Saturday in any of those clothes.

Last Saturday was exceedingly cold and wet here in Perth. People in Siberia and Alaska might laugh at our discomfort here in Western Australia at temperatures that seem normal to them, but be that as it may, we were cold and wet and sad. I was until I remembered the Siwash sweater in my closet.

It had been made by my mother for my father some 40 or 50 years ago. In Canada, of course, and carefully preserved when we moved to Australia. Of little use when the temperature is 38º+…

But when Saturday started to be horrible, it proved to be the best thing I own. And it is a tie to my own history and the history of my family – not some imaginary costume bought from a sutler or sewn from an Osprey illustration. A real garment in a real situation.

I am going to dive back down into the family heirlooms and see what other real history is there that might be resurrected to help with life now. If I still use it, it is not dead.

I Plan To Be Revolting

Photo People Rep C

I plan to be revolting after October of next year and I suspect there are a lot of other people who will too.

You must not get me wrong – I don’t really want to have soviet control of our suburb and the thought of a collective farm tractor is much less desirable than my little Suzuki Swift. But the chance to organise the gullible and subject them to polemics and poleaxes is nigh-on irresistible. I plan to trotsky out a whole raft of ludicrous pronouncements and watch the masses swallow and follow them.

Now I know people will say I am a hundred years out of date, but they said that about Lincoln in 1964 and look how well he has done since then. In fact, a great many soviet vehicles at the end of the twentieth century looked like 1864 Lincolns. I hope to bring the fun and glamour of revolution, starvation, murder, and pillage to our modern society and then move on to repression and slavery. The sailor’s uniforms look cool, too, and you should see what we can do with cinema posters…

There will be some spoil-sports amongst my readers – there always are, witness the uproar that arose over the human sacrifices. All I can say is – didn’t we have a fine crop of maize last year? I’m not an overly religious man, but a couple of thousand live hearts torn out of the chests of prisoners seems to be a small price to pay for really good corn on the cob.

I doubt it will come to that with red revolution. We may lose a few landlords and merchant bankers, and the water supply may only be available on Wednesday, but think of all the wonderful revolutionary street theatre plays that we will have instead of tramcars. And the psychological youth training scheme – the Jung Pioneers – will lead to a positive revival in the red scarf trade. Marx my words, the proletariat will be falling head over heels to rally round us with pitchforks and clubs…and as soon as I can see them coming, you are in charge.

I have been asked whether there will be show-trials, and if I can going to send out a casting call. Basically, yes, and no-one need feel left out. Don’t be anxious about calling us – when we want you, we will come and get you. I should sleep with warm clothes if I were you.

I have also heard questions about what has been referred to as an inevitable backlash from the right. This is no problem, as the Backstabbers Guild Of Australia has invested a good deal in the establishment of freikorps, Iron Defence Leagues, and New Guards. With a bit of good management it should be possible to enjoy unrest and bloodshed until well into 2023.


When Far Left Is Not Far Left Enough

Photo People Rep

With the 100-year anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia just some 13 months away, it is time for The Backstabbers Guild Of Australia to consider formation of a historical re-enactment unit to give public displays and participate in commemorative ceremonies.

Currently this activity is the province of Great War societies all over the world who dress up in military uniforms of the 1914/1918 period. Here in Western Australia there is a very active society that has gone to great lengths to outfit themselves with uniforms, arms, and accessories of the period – they have marched on national commemorative days and even travelled overseas to participate in similar events. They look splendid and are quite professional in the displays they do.

They have drawn most of their members from ex-service personnel and arms enthusiasts, but from a candid assessment of many of them, I do not think that they are revolutionaries. They may not all be as right-wing as the New Guard – yet – but there would be few of them with collections of Leon Trotsky’s writings on their bookshelves.

There are, on the other hand, just such people in other areas of Western Australia. Fremantle comes to mind, as does Nedlands and Subiaco and any number of other depressed areas that might harbour the disaffected. There are several talking shops that refer to themselves as universities that are a hot bed. A hot, unmade bed, I daresay…How wonderful to be able to give them a chance to participate in living history.

There is no need to create leaders that are constantly changing and strident political manifestos that are never read – the students have anticipated us there. All that is needed is to equip them with overcoats, rifles, and red armbands. They can be set to storming the Dean’s office, or the local Post Office Agency ( in between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00 , or the Aldi. I am sure that Transport WA would come to the party and set up barricades as they do so at every conceivable opportunity on the intersections as it is.

Of course no real shooting, looting, or show trials would go on – any more than the current lot of re-enactors would conduct trench warfare – but impassioned speeches and drunken behaviour at the Trades Hall in Beaufort Street near the Court Hotel on a nice spring afternoon would be quite pleasant. If I were the licensee of the Court I should sell drinks in bottles stoppered with a red rag and call them Molotov Cocktails. He’d make a killing.

Next week: re-inventing the Freikorps or post-1918 re-enacting to use up those expensive tunics.*

  • Certain People need not apply…