I want to talk to you for a minute about the event at Fort Ticonderoga and material culture. Fort Ticonderoga has set forth clothing guidelines for the Brown’s Raid event in September. These guidelines are strict but very reasonable (http://brownsraid2015.com/participants.html). No guidelines have been set forth for women yet (keep an eye out though) and the guidelines for our men (militia) can actually be found here at the moment: http://www.fortticonderoga.org/education/reenactors/brown/militia. The website states that adherence to these guidelines is not a requirement.
Thank goodness right? You can stop reading, have nothing to worry about? Not really.
I’ve seen many arguments over the years about the importance or lack thereof of material culture, ie. getting the details of clothing and items we bring right. In fact this topic has caused some divisions in the reenacting world. Northern groups tend to care more about material culture than southern groups. The progressives care more than the main stream groups. The 2nd Virginia cares more than the 1st Virginia which cares more than the 7th Virginia. Some groups care a lot about material culture but go home if it rains. Some have less than perfect material culture yet are sharp tactically. It even causes divisions within groups themselves. The people who care are snotty; the people who don’t care are lazy. Even the arrival of l’Hermione and associated guidelines made a huge stir up and down the east coast in groups of all persuations. There was a particular issue with the requirement that no women’s hats have silk flowers or feathers. The argument about the authenticity of such a thing ended with “It’s their event; they can require whatever they want. Now let’s discuss research about the 1780s.”
If adherence to these guidelines is not a requirement and material culture causes divisions then why have the guidelines at all? First, let me ask a question of you. If you are going to pump time, money, and effort into something, why is it not worth doing correctly? If we all were correct there would be no call for guidelines.
Here are some points I want you to think about:
- The First Virginia does not currently have strict guidelines regarding clothing. I can’t tell you that you can’t participate unless you are properly dressed. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be properly dressed. We still expect you to work towards that goal.
- You know that time traveling moment you get every once and a while with perfectly dressed (for their persona) reeneactors and no modern items in sight? That could be you. In fact, that could be the entire event/camp!
- The Progressive Reenactors aren’t necessarily about perfection right off the bat. They care mainly about research and the PURSUIT of perfection. That is, learning, growing, and refining what we do on a regular basis. That seems like a reasonable idea, doesn’t it?
- Not adhering to guidelines could preclude us from being invited from events down the road. The coolest events most often have guidelines. If other organizers see that the First Virginia isn’t making an effort to meet guidelines, they may just not invite us next time. Once you’re voted out of the cool club it’s harder to get back in.
- There are occasionally events where adherence IS a requirement for participation and you will be turned away. (Welbourne Immersion)
- Along the same lines, being properly dressed can open doors. If someone is needed to be part of a skit or other interesting aspect of an event, you’re more likely to be asked if you look good.
- We’re not a theater group or a high school program. We’re not pretending to be in the past. We’re reenactors and living historians. We’re making an effort to embody the past.
- Yes, the public can tell.
- Material culture doesn’t stop with clothing. It includes beards and bangs, how we carry our gear, our bowls and spoons. It includes how the men march and hold their muskets. It includes how the riflemen run and how the children play. It’s in the details.
So take the time to read over both your guidelines and your spouse’s. Don’t let the guidelines scare you into not coming but understand that they are desired, even expected. Don’t take them as an attempt to be oppressive, rather take them as a challenge to improve and learn. Decide what you can realistically accomplish between now and September 12th. Push yourself just a little further than you thought you could go. If you can’t get it all done for this event that’s ok but don’t stop. Try to fix, replace, or add an item each major event. Even changing a polyester ribbon to silk makes a difference.
I can guarantee that you’ll look great, you’ll feel proud, and you’ll have a better time.
And as always, if you have any questions ASK! In the meantime, I’ll be sewing.