In many reenacting circles, there is a force that drives participants to historical accuracy. Have the right tent structures, keep plastic out of sight, wear clothing only your period character would wear, etc. This is fabulous thought and great effort should be given to be as good of a representative of the past as we can.
Sometimes, however, this verges on the insane like only eating types of food they would have access to and no machine stitched clothes before the late 1850s. (It gets bad when this viewpoint gets forced on others – for shame!)
So why can’t you be 100% historically accurate?
The Simple Answer: You weren’t there.
You are living in the 21st Century with 21st C. goings-on. You have internet access. You know what a credit card is.
And what about your knowledge of history that’s happened since the time period you are re-creating?
Let’s take the “simple” act of allowing women to vote. That itself, my friends, changes your whole mindset about how you sew your costumes, and more significantly, how you wear them. Think about it.
Did you see that amazing 17th Century jacket reproduction from 2009? Incredible work! The Plimoth Plantation museum curators in charge of bringing it to life made every possible effort to get as period correct as possible. They even had custom fabric woven specially for it! Crazy!
So in this example, yes, with oodles of time and money you can make a garment REALLY close to accurate. Just like the original. (Unfortunately, this is beyond the reach of those of us who modestly like making period clothing and dressing up in it.)
But what happens when an experienced reenactor puts that jacket on? How does she feel? Trained in etiquette of the period, she moves and acts as if she were someone who is visiting us from 300 years ago.
Yet… it’s still not 100% accurate. No.
You see, HER experiences and knowledge of today cannot be entirely pushed aside even for the brief time she’ll wear that jacket. Her movement will have the ever-so-slight flavoring of her 21st Century life. She will never truly hide it.
And what about us viewing this Lady of the Past? How do we see her? We also cannot forget our modern lives completely when participating in living history right alongside this wonderful character.
Strive as you may with specially-woven linen from Ireland and Spitalfields silk and handmade lace…. Add a wood-burning fireplace and the hauling of water from the well.
It cannot ever be a complete, period accurate picture.
(Although I will note, those in immersion museums & houses like Colonial Williamsburg, where some live day-in and day-out occupied in the past, they come pretty darn close.)
But why can’t it ever be 100% accurate? Because of you. Because of us.
Our minds, both reenactor and observer alike, are filled with images of cell phones, light switches and cars with air conditioning. Socially we are a part of a generation that has experienced the immense tragedy of 9/11. We know the history of the Holocaust. We know about Civil Rights and our dependence on oil.
And we cannot abandon these concepts at the door of the event. They are with us. They shape us into who we are as people living today, in the 21st Century.
We struggle to get as close as we can to sewing costumes and wearing them as clothing from the past. We can study history books and diaries and photos to bring that essence of the period to our character. But we can never leave ourselves out of the picture.
We study costuming and live through our unique 21st Century senses. Embrace that joy. That wonderment of what it was like to really live back then.
Remember to show YOU through your period wardrobe. Teach what it was like, but show them that the world can change….