Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

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Annie
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Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Annie » Sat Jul 10, 2010 10:14 am

Hello

I'm into social history and how "facts", values and opinions change from era to era.

I would like to start the discussion around the topic of "if, as a 21 century person, you wear the clothes of X century, would the contemporaries from that century accept you as normal?"

Of course, we are bigger, taller heavier that before, we still have teeth after the age of 40, etc etc. This question started with a costuming activity for the Victorian era and some 14 year old girls had problems managing long skirts, one claimed not to have worn a skirt in the last 2 years. Victorian girls had skirts everyday from being a baby, so long skirts were normal for them. Personally I think our posture, deportment has changed more than we realise.

So, do we accurately recreate the past?

Any ideas? Annie



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Grania » Sun Jul 11, 2010 8:07 pm

Interesting thought, and I get your point - our culture has changed so that we are very different. However I think it is probably just a matter of learning to 'fit in' and taking up the habits necessary - taking your example of clothes, spent most of my time in very long skirts (when NOT re-enacting) and have no problem, whereas yesterday I wore loose trousers to work and fell flat on my face going up the stairs because I fell over them :roll: I think once some of these girls who say they've rarely, or never, worn skirts gave it a try for a while, they'd soon pick up the knack.
Obviously all we can do for the social side of things is work with the best sources we can find, so we can't entirely re-create history as we'll never know PRECISELY what it was like, but we can give it our best stab.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Strickland » Sun Jul 11, 2010 9:37 pm

I agree, we can give it our best shot. After all, as an old friend said to me once, its all 'experimental archeology' really. I reckon if even the best of us from X period turned up there we'd be looked at like something from another planet! To be honest, and I know we all like to look and wear the best kit and do our utmost to portray whatever period, if it gets too Professor Drysabone then you may as well forget it (each to their own though and no malice meant there). I dont care what anyone says, it all about having fun, but being as top notch as you can at the same time :thumbup: .

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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby gregory23b » Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:41 pm

"So, do we accurately recreate the past?"

No, as we have nothing with which to compare, other than paintings, other imagery and some items of clothing. Paintings not being documentary, mean they are misleading.

We make guesses and interpret them.

A deep question for a first post, are you collecting research material perchance?


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby the real lord duvet » Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:50 pm

reminds me of back to the future 3........



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:46 pm

We attempt to accurately portray ideas of the past.
And I'm short losing weight and have got quite a few missing teeth at the age of 40.
And I don't believe that makes me more accurate because I don't think its a realistic image in any case.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Jim » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:58 am

I think our biggest inaccuracies are our haircuts anyway.


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Annie
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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Annie » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:13 pm

Hello

Thank you all for your helpful replies. In answer to Gergory23b, (what happened to Gregorys 1 22?) - well, yes, sort of....research. I've always wanted to write a book on the way costume reflects our values etc. and of course, values change over time. Whenever I've got to talk to publishers my life has changed and I've had no time to write. So ,yes I collect, file, lose etc information that perhaps one day.....

May I add a few of my own comments. I've noted that some people seem to be able to accept the clothes of a different age. Some people really "become" somebody in the time period, others remain present day people dressing up in funny clothes.

Corsets are a good example of values changing. In the 18 and 19 cents they were essential for a whole reange of reasons. Much more than simple beauty, there was also propriety, decency and the impact on posture. Today (apart from goths and lunatic fashions) we do no accept the restrictions of corset and reject them for a range of reasons, health, personal liberty, feminism etc. However, we accept tight jeans that perhaps are as tight and as restricting as the girdles of 50 years ago!

Outside costume I can give 2 other examples of changing. In the UK upto the 1960s Butlins Holiday camps ran big range of competitions - one of which was the "fat baby" competition. This value was a hangover from the 19 cent when fat babies implied rich parents. Another is the subject of bowels and constipation. Nearly every 19 and early 20 cent book on home health devotes many pages to the need for regularity and what to do if you failed in this socio / medical / compliance requirement. I caught the end of this around 1960 when my mother poured spoonfuls of Milk of Magnesia down my throat. Can you still buy that stuff?, it can be powerful.

....Annie



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Jenn » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:11 pm

well this is something that has been discussed many times before - and I think in general the answer is sometimes like anything else
The height/weight thing depends partially on social class - I am tall now for a woman and I would have been in the past too (but there were people of my height in the past if they had a decent diet- it wasn't common but to be honest it still isnt)
However I think this a red herring -the big inaccuracies are for example:-
we go for 21st cent aesthetic (or actually often a 20th cent one) rather than a period one - exposed hair for example/black shirts etc
we often don't wear enough clothes and then try and do things the person who would have worn the original clothes wouldn't have done



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Christabel » Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:39 pm

Has anyone noticed the changing fashions in eye brow shape? Sometimes it looks very weird if some-one has a really modern-looking style and yet wears a coif etc. I've decided too that for my next foray as a low status Tudor I really must trim my nails down, not least because it's horrible getting pastry stuck under them and drying like concrete.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Brian la Zouche » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:34 am

i think all you can do is your best you can with whats available, would we pass as one of the locals if sent back in time id guess not ( well depending on how far back you were sent of course ) but does that in anyway distract from the enjoyment of being a reenactor, or from the enjoyment public get watching large set battles or small shows at village fates.. i dont think it does, so im happy

as to how authentic .. dress wise i leave that to those in the society who have far greater knowledge of the subject than me, and follow their guide lines, if both those taking part and those watching enjoy it, its good for me.

im never going to be 100% authentic in battle reenactment , cus those im facing havent made me have brown pants cus they really are going to try and kill me !!!


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby EnglishArcher » Thu Jul 15, 2010 10:05 am

Do we do a good job recreating the past?

I think we do an astonishingly bad job of recreating the past. 'Living History' is just about the worst phrase you can use to describe what we do.

We apply our 21st filter to everything we recreate; and to be honest if we didn't the result would be abhorrent to the public.

Clothing is an obvious example. As others have eloquently stated, we wear too few clothes, of mismatched qualities - some far too high, some far to poor; we spend to little on them; we change or wash them too often, or not often enough. In general, we have far too many personal possessions

Personal grooming - modern haircuts, soaps, deodorants all impact the way we looks and smell today. Let's face it, most men today would look totally preened and pampered by even 1970's standards, let alone the 15th century.

More subtle are things like physical movement - the way we move, walk, run, stand and perform actions. The cut and fit of period garments reflects this to a great extent. This is why so many re-enactors look like sacks of **** tied in the middle - because they can't change their movements to match the clothing they should wear. Hence - lots of baggy hose, ill-fitting doublets, incorrect waistlines. It's because the re-enactor doesn't feel they can move 'properly' (that is, by the standards of 21st century clothing)

Our modern society is remarkably egalitarian compared to historic society. We have difficultly understanding and portraying social status or obligation correctly. Dukes, Knights, Yeoman and Villein all behave the same to each other.

The biggest difference is probably our moral outlook. It's difficult for us to even contemplate - let alone recreate - ancient morale values. Take as examples the attitudes towards women, religion, foreigners, violence, blood-sports, homosexuality, the poor, etc. etc. These attitudes have changed dramatically just in my lifetime. Very few of us would care to re-enact such attitudes; nor would such things be acceptable to the majority of the public we serve.

Some particular examples are where I think we've got it wrong (in no particular order; and just because they spring to mind):

A medieval battle re-enactment with an archer block consisting of women, children, the infirm and the elderly.
A (well-known) Tudor house with the kitchen entirely populated and run by women
A knight sat around after a battle in his underwear (oh, and a coif - so he's properly dressed! :D )


Modern re-enactment probably says far more about the people of the 21st Century than it does about the people of the Xth Century.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Thu Jul 15, 2010 12:35 pm

It would also be dull to take part in and dull to watch (I add that because not every re-enactor wants to attend shows for the pubelics)
Not many people would want to spend a day off labourously cutting wheat with a sickle and I can't imagine anyone wanting to pay to see it!
As an attempt of escapisim not many people would want to swop their menial day to day drudgery of life for a weekend of equal tedious but more back breaking drudgery, hence Joe Average becoming Sir Joseph or Capt. Joseph SAS rather than perhaps realistically portraying a servile peasent.
And the public on the whole want an illusion of the past not a reality most of us would want to flee in horror should we meet it for real in for instance the former Yugoslavia or in most of the developing world for that matter.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Jenn » Thu Jul 15, 2010 7:38 pm

All of our interpretation is going to be filtered through the mirror of the present.
However:-
Actually I think the public are quite interested in the mundane because it isn't to them. They love to hear about our food, what the children are playing with etc.
The not enough clothes thing is easily fixed and it does annoy me
Just wear more clothes not hard - and it looks better..
Male servants - depends how high status household you re going for - recent research indicates that in actually fact gentry households probably didn't have as many male servants as were previously thought (and it depends when in the period you are going for the in the early medieval = more men by the early modern period far more women) however if you are recreating say the one of the great Dukes or the Earls of the late medieval period/early Tudor and their travelling household there should perhaps be four/five women tops - see the Great household in late Medieval England



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby guthrie » Thu Jul 15, 2010 10:51 pm

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:And the public on the whole want an illusion of the past not a reality most of us would want to flee in horror should we meet it for real in for instance the former Yugoslavia or in most of the developing world for that matter.

Well no, what they want is a large part of the reality except they are safely the other side of the line and thus don't have to actually stick their hands in horse dung. We're visiting the past, for purposes of education, entertainment and interest, very few of us and the public would want to live there but it is nice to visit.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:16 am

I'm just going to have to disagree with you there omae.
Having walked through Kuwait City after the Iraqi forces had pulled out I really don't think anyone would even want to visit a real battle field for a jolly.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby guthrie » Fri Jul 16, 2010 1:16 pm

I'm talking more about LH, you're apparently talking more about battlefields. Of course I think LH needs more time, since it was what 99% of people spent 99% of time at, but there is the eternal lure of the clanky shiny stuff.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby the real lord duvet » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:14 pm

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:I'm just going to have to disagree with you there omae.
Having walked through Kuwait City after the Iraqi forces had pulled out I really don't think anyone would even want to visit a real battle field for a jolly.


There were more sightseers and tourist watching the battle of austerlitz than those taking part.

Perhaps modern battlefields are less sporting.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Jenn » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:37 pm

If we are talking about what most people did for the majority of the time in the past as now - it was not fight.
I agree Marcus the reality of a modern battlefield is not something that most of us would want to see really. Neither would I want to recreate the reality of the plague pits. However it possible to aim for something between the blood/guts/gore and the skipping around being tremendously pretty but not very real that is the space inbetween where most people lived their lives (and still do) and actually people find that fascinating.
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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby SarahA » Sat Jul 17, 2010 7:43 am

I, for one, would love to work in a field with a sickle for a day! That's what attracts me to LH, trying out how it was for the common people back then (I don't care that much for the posh and the clankies...). For me, that's the interesting thing, collecting experiences and knowledge, doing the "boring" everyday stuff. And from what I've seen, few things attract an interested audience so much as cooking, spinning, sewing, housebuilding, gardening, tending to children, etc. I'm sure some MOPs would even like to try cutting wheat, or daubing walls themselves...

Unfortunatley, we don't have all that much civilian, common people LH in Sweden, so I have to make do as a camp follower (I really dislike that label - sounds so... reenactorism-ish) in a company of poor, late 14th century gunners. At least the group portrays the common soldiers' lives while on campaign, not the knights... there's nothing even remotely posh about us :D


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Laffin Jon Terris » Sat Jul 17, 2010 9:42 am

The mentality of looking forward to the next battle, laughing and joking about how "we must be mad to do this on hot days" and how "its a great way to lose weight" as we don all the armour is possibly the most misleading bit- and the public don't even notice (most re-enactors don't either I guess) they just take it in.

Little Johnny goes back to school on Monday and says "the wars of the roses wasn't so bad- they all enjoyed the fighting!"

There are aspects of what we do at an ordinary event that while not exactly proper for period (demostrating our -long studied and guild controlled- crafts to non craftsmen, not to mention even working on a Sunday) are necessary if we are to educate but some things we don't do so well.

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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby gregory23b » Sun Jul 18, 2010 11:03 am

Concurs with EA and others.

We have a tendency to adjust the period to our personal tastes, I am not talking about obviously not actually killing each other, or catching the plague, but as he says (for example) looking at status, not simply as clothes but how things were done and by whom, a knight needs staff, end of story, if he is poor, he has fewer staff, if rich then more.

If people want to portray working on Sunday then at least explain why few people did, or needed dispensation for it.

There were women in kitchens, but who and when? not simply as a default activity for a reenactment battle camp.

Why use acrylic paint when the right methods are easy enough and the right materials cheap to acquire, etc.

There is enough exciting and amazing stuff out there to interpret without pandering to what the public think they need to be seeing, we should set the expectations not react to them.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby EnglishArcher » Sun Jul 18, 2010 7:07 pm

Let's face it: most re-enactors either don't care or are too cheap or lazy to put the effort in.

It's not really that difficult to look at a painting or picture from your chosen period and ask "do I look like those people?" Nobody's demanding perfection; that's just not possible. But most reenactors just go out and buy the cheapest or first clothing they come across, that meets the basic criteria of the group they've joined. If they upgrade their kit it's often to the same clothing, just made better (or posher)

Very people ever go back and validate their clothing against the imagery or records of the period.

So you're into the mid 14th Century (for example)? You go and look at the imagery of the period. Let's pick some obvious examples: The Luttrell Psalter and The Romance of Alexander. Both are readily available, and chock-full of images of people. Let's look for the men walking around in their shirts and breeches/braies, baggy, single-leg hose pointed at the sides, a nice belt with a BIG pouch on it, maybe a hood over the shirt and, oh, that mainstay of the entire Middle Ages, the coif. And maybe a nice pointy hat, too, to finish the ensemble.

Do we see such people? Well, not in any of the copies I've seen. Perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough...

Those individuals selling kit are not exempt from blame. For many re-enactors starting out, traders are the only source of information available. When traders are peddling fantasy garments as 'historically accurate', what chance does the poor reenactor have? Most of us absorb what we're told in our early days and never question it; in fact, they will often actively seek out evidence to support what they were told, rather than accept they may have got it wrong.

I would feel churlish if I were ranting about "people using processed madder instead of root to dye their clothing", but were talking big, loud, stupid errors here. The sort of things that really shouldn't happen given the amount of information and access to expertise we have at our fingertips today.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby gregory23b » Sun Jul 18, 2010 7:18 pm

"Let's face it: most re-enactors either don't care or are too cheap or lazy to put the effort in."

I don't agree with that sentiment though, I think that each group or individual sets themselves a bar and either walks over it or spends its time trying to jump over it. There are plenty of people with 'good' kit who can't string two words together and conversely very well read people who would do well in a panto, the two aspects IMHO are not mutually inclusive.

"But most reenactors just go out and buy the cheapest or first clothing they come across, that meets the basic criteria of the group they've joined."

That is not the reenactor's fault though is it, plus they may be perfectly happy with what they are doing and are acting on trust from their group/mate etc.

" that mainstay of the entire Middle Ages,"
But not the mid to late 15th, try finding day to day use of the coif, you wont.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby the real lord duvet » Sun Jul 18, 2010 8:03 pm

most reenactors are fools..... Go on thats what you meant. Of course with the exception of yourself with your movie star looks and enciclopedial knowledge of gusset stitching.

And your own personal friends, or anyone with a bigger brother who might get a bit angry?

Like most people that post on internet forums have no friends and rather suspect bathroom habits.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sun Jul 18, 2010 9:08 pm

Sara I love your commitment and I hope that you have every chance to do exactly what you want (cutting corn in a field with a sickle in period dress) that is.
it is important to try these things if that is what you want. I hope that you have the money to pay a willing farmer and try it one day. I cannot see it being something that would interest a viewing public.
There are things I do for myself and I do try to research stuff and get both my facts and appearence right, but I know that actually not many other people are interested in it.
I'm also starting to look at things from the perspective of an event organisor because I have started going into schools to demo stuff. The teachers want show me how's and building stuff the kids though come to life when they see stabby things and I tell them blood and gore (which actually bores me if i was honest.0
Now sometimes when they start making things, whatever many of them are totally absorbed by it but i have found that I need to do/say something that gets there attention and telling them they are going to find out how a Knight lived does the job better then today we build a wattle and daub fence.
It is my opinion that the same holds true for real event orgainisers.
They need to think what will draw someone away from the T.V. and shopping mall and Ye Olde Medieval Battale does that in a way that the LH stuff that Jenn talks about does not-just looking at adverts for events suggests that to me.
I can take or leave a re-enactment battle myself, but without the draw of one I recognise I would not be able to meet and talk to MOPs about the stuff that does interest me. Of course if meeting public is not your thing then none of that means anything, if you want to immerse yourself fully in the period of your subject then I take my hat off to you and wish you well.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby EnglishArcher » Sun Jul 18, 2010 10:02 pm

I want to apologise for previous, rather aggressive post.

As many of you will appreciate it's sometimes very frustrating to be so enthusiastic about a topic and yet see such ignore and lack of care being displayed.

In future I'll try and express myself in less emotive, more moderate language.

Sorry for any upset I may have caused.


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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby the real lord duvet » Sun Jul 18, 2010 10:52 pm

don't worry about it
If everyone expressed opinions in a way that didn't cause offence, then the world would be a very boring place.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby Dathi » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:32 pm

In answer to Englisharcher.

The problem does sometimes lie in using sources correctly or having the knowledge of those sources in the first place.........!

Not knowing Muddyevil very well and, to be honest, finding it prone to lots of armour that frankly rattles like a tinkers wagon in a breeze I don't know the sources for plebs very well.

My own interest area is littered with hundreds of painting from European sources of plebs but not very few English plebs in paintings. Oddles of woodcuts but it appears that many woodcuts were re used repeatedly over prolonged periods.....

I can source some interesting images in dutch paintings that may be acceptable for English pleb fashion. I can source lost of references to colours and fabrics used but these may be prone to excessive weighting due to inclusion in documents and exclusion of other material because it wasn't interesting enough to write down or the author couldn't be bothered. Too many Probate inventories just list a very crude value of lower classes clothing with no details. So that information is lost to us.



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Re: Do re-enactors REALLY look the part ?

Postby EnglishArcher » Mon Jul 19, 2010 2:58 pm

Dathi wrote:In answer to Englisharcher.

The problem does sometimes lie in using sources correctly or having the knowledge of those sources in the first place.........!


Absolutely!

I think the ability to seek out, be critical of, and apply the information within, source information (whether primary canonical or derived) is one of the most important skills a re-enactor can develop.


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