Why “do ” re enactments

The reason many people do re enactments is simply its fun,


while for many museums its a great way to show how life was lived in the past plus of course its attracts more visitors than a lecture or exhibition would.

,However there is a serious and academic side to re-enactment which is often neglected in the media .archaeological re-enactment by professionals is an important academic tool,while re enacting any era or any event can provide answers to questions that have puzzled historians or help cast new light on decisions made or on literature,,,,.Its not hard to understand why Victorian heroines are always getting caught when they try to sneak away from places or eves drop,,full-skirted Victorian gowns make a HUGE noise when you move in them,,for some BBC filming I had to stay frozen in mid movement while the presenter interviewed someone then recommence moving as though I had been doing it all the time once the camera panned around

Re enactors working in academic re-enactment are rigorous about authenticity ,Women and occasionally men keep their hair long rather than use the easier but less authentic and academically useless option of wearing wigs.For anyone giving talks about the past wearing the clothing is invaluable its gives you a feel for the way people lived and the restrictions clothing placed on their lives and also explains some of the etiquette  for example gentlemen didn’t pick ladies things up merely out of good manners ,,ladies couldn’t actually bend down to pick their own things up ,,corsets just are not that flexible(you have to put stockings and shoes on before underwear when getting into period costume as its usually impossible to fashion your shoes once you’re in costume ) ,,,,,.It’s also interesting to go through the whole ritual of “powdering” hair  for 18thc styles as the result is far from the brilliant white seen in most wigs.


,(,my brown hair just looks like I am going badly grey).


Likewise wearing three foot high hair and having to lie sideways on the back seat made me feel that perhaps the cartoons of ladies squatting on the floors of carriages in ball gowns was accurate rather than merely comedic ,,,,


,there really is no way to sit upright in a car or carriage with even moderately high hair .Walking through doors is a feat that is complex enough to want to avoid and I have frequently  bashed chandeliers ,,again making me feel the cartoons of ladies being set on fire was probably fair comment on the dangers of the style as it may not always be as easy as the movie the duchess suggests to removed hair that was on fire,,most hair dos were  at least partly the owners own hair interwoven with false pieces,,,my own high hair is mostly my own pulled tight over a tall padded  “cushion” over which was wrapped faux hair,,on to this undercushion my own hair was pinned and then ringlets and rolls of faux hair  ,then ornaments jewels and strands of pearls were added before ,,finally remaining strands of my own hair were woven around any joins ,,it took three hours to put up and the best part of half an hour to take down and as it was an outside event I had “cheated and used modern hairspray I suspect without quick-setting hairspray the wait between adding ornaments and different layers would have lengthened the time taken to around 4 or more hours .In addition  the mixture of fine powders and oily  type substances for the whitening must have made the hair a serious fire risk,,I am almost as afraid of fire in my high 18thc hairdo as in my 1840s and 50s Victorian gowns.

The correct use of historical accurate undergarments is essential as otherwise re enactors can’t move correctly or look historically accurate ,The dress above is shown worn with layers and layers of cotton petticoats rather than the easier but inaccurate crinoline  and while the difference when stood still visually is minimal the moment you move the dress moves completly differently

,also the weight of so many petticoats makes you walk differently ,,the white cotton summer outfit weighs around one and a half stones,,in full 1840s winter  ensemble,,petticoats boots gown cloak bonnet I weigh two stones more than normal

,it was extremely tiring just to walk any distance and when worn in the wet the clothes slowly weigh you down so that movement becomes progressively harder ,while strong winds make it almost impossible to walk ,,by contrast the same dress worn over an 1850s hoop  with a short cloak adds only around half a stone to my weight and you can take long strides Hoop petticoats are quite comfortable and cool much easier to sit in than  6 cotton petticoats as hoops can be tilted and maneuvered whereas the bulk of so many petticoats makes sitting in some chairs impossible ,, ,though hoops are somewhat drafty in winter ,,I can see why ladies were quite happy to wear ankle length drawers !

It is also essential to wear the correct under layers to ensure you move accurately ,,,you can always tell the actress in a costume drama not in correct period undergarments by the way they sit or walk or stand.In addition the correct underwear explains the perennial mystery of how ladies in such complicated clothing went to the loo,,(victorian bloomers were split at the top so didnt need pulling down and for most other eras ladies wore only petticoats and stockings  not knickers or drawers)Doing a day long re enactment in a pair of modern undies is not an option (I have once managed the feat but only by drinking nothing for 8 hours ,,the result was not pleasant ,I felt thirsty most of the day and quite grotty and got a  REALLY REALLY  bad headache as I got quite badly dehydrated .)Never be tempted to solve the loo problem by limiting fluid intake as Period costumes are not as easy to wear as modern clothing , they use up more energy ,,if you’re wearing a corset even loosely laced  you will be slightly restricted in breathing if you have to do anything strenuous ,walk up a long set of stairs ,steep hill etc  you will be slightly out of breath and all the layers mean you wont lose heat easily ,,,If you’re wearing hats or headdresses or hairpiece this means you don’t lose heat via your head so its harder to keep cool ,all this plus carrying the extra weight means you sweat more ,,even though you may not feel hot or sweaty so it’s very easy to become dehydrated.





About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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