Introduction to Living History

What is Re-enacting?
Re-enacting is portraying someone or an occasion from the past. There is a range of different types of re-enacting, and the one you might do, largely depends on were you go. At Fort Scott we usually dress in period clothing, but interact with visitors as ourselves. Other places you might pretend to be a person 'from the past' (example: you wouldn't know what a computer is). And closely related to that one, is acting out an event, real or fiction, with no interaction with "modern people". And then some people pretend to be a particular person, such as Abraham Lincoln. I've never done that myself, but have watched others, and it looks like lots of fun. Though I expect it takes plenty of studying and research.

What I think of Living History
Re-enacting is an exciting way to learn history. Either doing it or watching others can be more fun then reading about it.

To me I think the goal that all Re-enactor should aim for is to impersonate the era as close to the real thing as possible. Doing that takes lots of research. There is so much information available and a way to preserve that is to find it! and show the world.

Getting Involved
My first experience with re-enacting was when we visited the Living History Farms near Des Moines Iowa. I've always loved playing dress up, so this was fascinating. A few years later I finally got involved! Re-enacting at the near by Fort Scott.

The National Historical Sites are a great place to start, you can talk to the staff, or the re-enactors when at events. If you find someone already involved in your area, they'll probably be able to answer many of your questions, and there is lots of information online.
After Rebecca and I talked to a park ranger, We were asked to take the Volunteer Training. Which turned out to be rather fun, especially the fire safety part.

The first day we re-enacted the clothing my sister and I borrowed looked so goofy :P. Being unusually tall (for the fort) all the skirts were to short! but I had a blast and fell head over heels in love with re-enacting and American-Victorian history.

An Outfit That's Not Expensive and Still Looks Nice
The re-enacting dresses I've seen for sale have been very expensive! I couldn't afford this hobby if that was my only route. Fortunately I'm blessed with a Mother and Sister (Rebecca) who sew and am learning myself.

Making your own clothing is great because it can be much cheaper and sometimes more reliable. If you do sew, make the underclothing first! because the dress needs to be fitted to that. You'll look more correct too.

About Fabric, I've gotten fabric for two dollars a yard and My sister has fabric she bought for one dollar a yard! The place to look are the sales bins. Make sure the fabric is good quality and preferably a natural fiber! (It's less likely to engulf into flames if you get to near a fire).

The First Outfit (for re-enacting the early Victorian era)
it's important to make the undergarments first, at least the corset.

-Drawers (I use my PJ's)
-Petticoat (a corded one is really nice)
-Dress (I suggest a simple day gown)
-Shoes (sometimes you can find boots at thrift stores or black ballet slippers)
-Day Cap
-Reticule or Basket.

My Chemise and Corset are made from a Simplicity pattern. I like how they turned out, though they were difficult to make. www.jamescountry.com has a great pattern selection. They also sell corset bones, hoops, gloves, stockings, etc. I haven't bought anything from them but know people who have.


Be prepared bring a hobby; knitting, embroidery, painting, drawing, sewing, quilting. There are many options.

Find out what questions you might be asked and research the era re-enacted.

Don't be camera shy! I've had many people take my picture! If they ask to take your picture don't worry about smiling or not! just smile! if they don't ask go on with what you were doing.

I guess the most important thing is to have fun! Thank you for reading this article, If you have any questions feel free to comment.

Susan Lyn


Maddie said...

Thanks for posting this, Susan! It was very interesting to read! :D

Susan said...

Thanks for reading! :D

Miss Amy said...

That was a really interesting post Susan! :-) I REALLY want to do some reenacting! :-) I wrote a place that's only about an hour and a half from us today! I HOPE that they'll let me! Although I don't really know if they will or not!

Susan said...

That would be so neat Amy! I hope they let you join! and if you do start re-enacting tell me all about it! There are a lot of cool historic sites in the eastern states.