…But not for long!
Starting out as a reenactor is a nearly Herculean task. Whether you reenact male or female, the amount of clothes or kit required is downright daunting. And EXPENSIVE.
That’s the thing about reenacting — it requires much out of your own wallet, not only at the outset but continually via upkeep and maintenance — and pays little to nothing in return. Now that I mostly direct and produce theatre, I don’t actually perform much anymore. But back when I did so, people asked me constantly if I was getting paid to sing and dance. I do community theatre: volunteer, nonprofessional, rehearsing nights and weekends around work schedules, losing sleep during tech week because theatre is our hobby and our passion but not our job. When I’d reply that no, I wasn’t getting paid, the asker would exclaim, “Well, then why on Earth would you do that?!?” When I answered, “Because I love it,” it took them some time to process and understand that.
Reenacting is much the same. We do it because we love it. Because we love history. We love passing on our knowledge. And we absolutely love running around in 90+ degree heat in three layers of wool.
In our regiment, the rule is that new members have a year to get their kit together, and until then they may make use of the loaner items that the rest of us possess. When I was a young reenactor working with my old dance troupe, a dress was made for me. I was only 14 or 15 and didn’t know the bobbin from the tension on a sewing machine. So after my hiatus, when I took up the hobby again, I had nothing. My friends were so kind to lend dresses and petticoats and caps to me for much longer than they had to so that I could go to events even though I didn’t have anything of my own to wear. Now that I have two full women’s outfits of my own (and I just recently bought fabric for another shortgown…naughty me!), I have this compulsion to try to give back or pay it forward. English is a funny language like that, isn’t it?
And that’s just women’s clothing! When I started soldiering, it was as an “extra body” when we were short a few men on the field at events. I learned the drill, I borrowed the lender kit and clothes, and did my best to have fun and fight while keeping in mind that nothing I wore was my own and it was my responsibility to give it back in the same condition in which I borrowed it.
And then a funny thing happened: I realized how much fun I had being a soldier. Slowly, I began to make the upgrade from mercenary to taker of the King’s shilling. First order of business was to get my own smallclothes (breeches, waistcoat, etc.) because one thing I hated the most was borrowing clothing. What if I got a hole in them? Or a stain that wouldn’t come out? Because I was working as a substitute teacher, I didn’t have the money to buy much else at the time. One of my mates joked recently that I’d most likely be less enthusiastic to get my own clothes dirty than someone else’s, but I’d rather run around knowing that all I have to take care of is myself and not borrowed property.
Then, two years ago, I moved into a full-time position at the school where I was employed, and suddenly I had a salary with which to work. I’m a frugal person, and last summer I finally had the money to buy my own kit and musket. At last, I could march out onto the field in my own kit, with my own bayonet on my own boomstick (and have my own problems when she got cranky and decided not to fire, like she’s been doing lately…ahem).
Except for one more little issue. A regimental coat. The trouble with being a Brit is it’s damn expensive for us. On the Rebel side, reenactor militiamen have a very broad dress code to follow, and the Continental Army impressions have some leeway here and there. But the British were a professional army, and it was their job to look good. And so it’s our job to look good, as well. It wasn’t until this summer that I had the means to finally go about obtaining my own proper regimental. I just heard from the seamstress today that my coat is next on her list and she’ll be cutting out the wool presently. I’m so excited. So very excited, in fact, that I was inspired to blog about it RIGHT NOW. I have a feeling many happy dances will be danced once it’s in my possession. Though if the kids at school ask why I have an extra bounce in my step, I doubt they’ll understand why I’m so excited to have a heavy wool and linen garment that I have to sew miles of lace and dozens of buttons onto.
It’s taken me so long to get to this point — longer than most, and it’s largely because of my own setbacks. My group — both the soldiers and the ladies — has been far too kind to continually loan things to me far past the deadline when I should have been self-sufficient. It’s because, up until about a year and half ago, I only considered myself a part-time fill-in mercenary and not an honest-to-goodness soldier, but at the same time it’s my duty to get myself in order and I won’t be happy until I’ve done so.
So it seems my days of lender kit are nearly over. It feels like such a big step to me. At long last, I’ll be able to march out on the field with everything that I own and feel like I really, truly belong. I’ll have to find some way to pay forward the kindness my mates have shown me these past years.
And now, like the musket and the bayonet and the white leather, I’ve got to maintain it. Got to make it last. Blimey. All those buttons….