Getting Started Reenacting/Living History

  1. big mary profile image60
    big maryposted 3 years ago

    You have an avid interest in a particular aspect of history. You feel you could bring it alive. You want to become a part of Living History, a reenactor. Don't know where to start? You've already begun by your interest and acquired knowledge! Byt there is more.

    The first step is deciding exactly who you want to reenact. For beginners, it is best to begin with someone general and avoid specifics. For example, a woman with an interest in Civil War reenacting may want to just portray a woman or wife of the time, north or south. A  man interested in WWII may want to portray a Soldier in Italy. You are less likely to make glaring errors this way. You may also want to stay in the background or in a group - this will both encourage and support you in your efforts, while not exposing you to those who would criticize any errors.

    But you still must be accurate! The world of living history/reenacting is all too full of those eager to point out your errors! It is easier to portray a woman living in Virginia at the time of the Civil War than it is to portray Mrs. Robert E. Lee. It is easier to portray an Army private in Italy than it is to portray a General such as Patton or Eisenhower.

    Being an avid fan of a certain era, you have probably read much about it, attended lectures and events. You have a general feel for what you want to do. Now you have to really study. Not only do you have to look the part, you must also act, speak and carry yourself properly.

    Many people think that by dressing up and attending events that they are portraying history. And they are - to a certain and limited extent. And this is a very good way to begin reenacting. But there is so much more to learn and portray!

    I will break this down into specific categories. 1). Dress/Proper accoutrements. 2). Speech. 3). Carriage/actions.

    Dress/Proper Accoutrements

    With dress or wardrobe, you must be a correct as you possibly can. While in theater you can use any cloth that works for what you are trying to represent, reenacting/living history is an up close and personal portrayal. You must not commit the error of using polyester cloth on anything before the 1960's! 

    Research when particular fabrics were invented, utilized and who they were utilized by. There is also a tendency to lump styles of an era. A woman portraying someone in the late 50's would not want to wear white go-go boots. As time slips away, it is easier to make these fashion faux paxs. An era becomes jumbled, something of the "40's" may not be appropriate for different years of the 40's.

    And family members, friends may not be the best choice for advice on wardrobe (or truly, anything) of an era they lived in. Memories fade and scramble. Memories of a certain wardrobe may become fuzzy as to time period. Turn instead to experts, books, documented facts.

    Class or employment, religion and ethnicity also play a role. An Italian woman who emigrated to America in the early part of the twentieth century would not dress as would a Polish woman. A laborer's wife would not be clad in the same style as the wife of a business owner, or captain of industry. A farmer's wife may come to town with a woven basket, but the store owner's wife would certainly have a handbag. A lady could carry a parasol while the immigrant woman would wear a babushka.

    All this takes research.


    Ethnicity and area play a large role in speech and speech patterns. There is always local dialect to consider. Words may be particular to a certain ethnic group or even family! Just because you grew up listening and using it does not mean that everyone else understands! This can be incorporated into your character.

    We always had a switchplate that read, "Outen the Lights", and having Pennsylvania Dutch in my family it was as normal as anything. One day, some missionaries from Utah were visiting and asked me what it meant. I replied, "To outen the lights when you go out." They asked me what it MEANT. And I said, "To OUTEN the lights." Finally they asked me what "outen" meant and, in shock, I explained it meant to put the lights out, turn them off. Previously I had had no idea that everyone didn't know the meaning of "outen"!

    And, of course, the time period of the early twentieth century would not allow for words and phrases such as, "call me", "see you later alligator", "that's o.k.", or "wow!".


    Carriage and actions are also specific to a character/person. You would expect a Catholic character to bless themselves in times of prayer, fear or stress, but not one of another belief. A high class person would not stoop to retrieve a dropped handkerchief. Women of certain eras and backgrounds would not speak out publicly as their men would. Certain classes or ethnicities would not speak to other classes or ethnicities.

    And of course the time frame also indicates how a character would carry themselves, how they might act. While smoking is currently banned in public places, it was not always so. Also, while in the 40's and 50's it was considered glamorous, women before that time did NOT smoke in public!  Women did not always have the freedom to go about unchaperoned, nor was it thought acceptable to speak to a strange man, for any reason.

    Each era and place had it's own constraints as to a persons carriage and actions, as did background, ethnicity, societal and religious restraints.

    All these must be taken into consideration when you are developing your character. Research what you can. Interact with other reenactors - they will certainly let you know! Ask for constructive criticism. Read literature of the era, personal correspondences and newspapers. Look at historical documents and pictures.

    Join a group. It may be an independent group or based at a museum or historical site. You can connect with other groups and learn of future events or educational meetings. You can absorb a wealth of information and you will receive encouragement and help along the way to becoming the character you want to be!

    As time goes on and you acquire more information, you may come across a certain person you will want to reenact. A specific person. Perhaps someone who inspires you, someone who made a definite mark on local history, maybe even someone who was not so nice,  but you can see their impact on history. A more detailed study is in order. You will need to be more practiced in this character.

    A future hub will deal with getting into specific characters. But once you have "gotten your feet wet" reenacting, you will want to learn more, develop your character and get out there into the living history world. General characters are the start to any reenacting adventure!

  2. LeanMan profile image81
    LeanManposted 3 years ago

    Hi Mary, this is a forum for discussing things not for posting your hubs into..

    If you are having difficulties creating a hub try clicking help or visiting the learning centre..

    Look forward to seeing your hub as was once a very keen re-enactor