Hot! Ask A Reenactor: What is the time commitment like?

I am curious and interested in historical reenactment, but I don’t see myself having time to get deeply involved.  Is it ok to go to events just to watch, or to attend without a full costume?  How much of a time commitment does it take to become part of a group? – Flarnie

Good question, and one that I imagine has been on many people’s minds. Since your question has a few different mini-questions, I’ll answer them all individually.

1.  Most reenactors will highly recommend attending at least one event as a “civilian” before you jump into the hobby, so if you think you might not have time, it’s a great way to check out the hobby and see if you really do have the time and money necessary.

2.  Public events such as living history events or timeline events are explicitly for the public, so of course you’re welcome to attend!  Visit an event, talk to the different groups, be sure to mention that you’re considering getting into the hobby.  Talk to them about what excites you about reenacting and what concerns you.  Not only will this answer some of your questions, but it will also give you a feel for certain units and time periods, which is invaluable.

However, private events, often called tacticals, are not okay for the public.  They are reenactor-only events that are meant to be immersive, so the public is not welcome.  If you really want to see what a tactical is like and have found a unit you’re interested in, see if they can lend you enough gear to attend one event with them.  It will give you a better idea of what you’d be getting into, without the financial investment.

3.  If you’re visiting a public reenactment, I would actually advise against going in any sort of costume.  Reenactors are, unsurprisingly, fairly judgmental, especially when it comes to historical clothing.  Unless you are 100% sure that what you are wearing is as accurate as possible, I would just go in your normal clothes in order to make a good first impression.

4.  The time commitment involved in the hobby varies from group to group, time period to time period, and reenactor to reenactor.  If you don’t have much time, I suggest finding a group that doesn’t have attendance requirements for membership, one that is more laid back as an organization.  Some impressions have a lot more opportunities to participate than others (WWI has very few, Civil War has tons).  Groups with an impression that doesn’t get a lot of use may look unkindly on you if you can’t attend the only two events per year they do, whereas a group that is large and attends events all the time won’t mind if they’re “down a man” if you can’t make it.  As far as time commitments at home, you can choose to save time but spend money by purchasing your gear, or you can use your time and save money by making gear.  It’s all up to you.  Basically, the time commitment is however much you want it to be.

That said, I would venture to say that you’re looking at at least four weekends per year at minimum, as far as events go, unless you find a unit that does something really obscure (in which case your time will likely be spent making stuff and researching).

The only reason that Marc and I are so busy is that we have fifteen or so different impressions, spread across eight or so units that we belong to.  We could, in theory, attend an event every weekend of the year at this point.  But, we use our heavy involvement in the hobby to instead pick and choose the events that we really want to go to, rather than feeling obligated to go to certain events because they’re our only opportunity.

Did that answer your question?  If you would like some clarification, please leave a comment with your further questions. Other reenactors, feel free to chime in!

8 Comments

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  1. One must ask themselves not only for the time commitment but also for the financial commitment too…it costs alot to be authentically dressed and have your camp time sensitive or period correct..
    I found myself having research the time period constantly…..because I am a person who strives to be authentic in my personal and camp accouterments… If fact after 16 years, we are finally getting to where we want to be….
    So choose your time, research before purchasing big items or exspensive clothing……have fun, and ask questions ……..

    • Ditto. Money is definitely the larger of the two commitments in this hobby, though both can be substantial in their own way.

  2. Thank you! This really addresses my question, especially the etiquitte about which events are open to “civilians”. Such a cool hobby! : )

    • I wouldn’t worry about which events are open to civilians for the simple fact that you won’t know about the ones that aren’t. They aren’t publicized and are generally invite-only, so they’re not something an average civilian would find out about.

  3. Flarnie: Also, be sure to shop around a bit. And don’t just commit to joining a group after the first couple of times you hang around it. Reenactor group dynamics vary from group to group, and the tone is set by whoever is in charge. Closely observe what they do, what they say, etc. If people are sitting around, bashing people who aren’t present, or making reference to former members as “a-holes, jerks, etc”, that is a big red flag. Groups like that tend to be very authoritarian in nature, and you will most likely at some point be on the receiving end of undesirable things. If they get irritated when you say you want to shop around some before making a commitment, this indicates a high degree of hubris, narcissism, and a general “we are the best and everyone else stinks”-type of attitude. Best steer clear. Also, find pictures of their past events. If the photos are only two years old, yet the group is completely different (with the exception of a couple of folks), this indicates a high turnover rate, for whatever reason. Look elsewhere. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and headache.

    • Ditto. There’s a difference between appreciating a high level of authenticity and being elitist. The first you want, not the second. Judgmental units almost invariably will turn their judgment toward you at some point, and you don’t want to set yourself up for that. Try to find a friendly, inclusive, helpful group. One key to look for is a group that looks to help someone get better at the hobby, rather than just standing there making fun of them.

  4. Hi, I was wondering about children and re-enacting. I’ve been to a fair amount of events where where are 5 to 8 year olds running around in (adorable) costumes, and obviously there seems to be an obvious differences in the kinds of costume that they and the adults wear. However, I do find myself wondering about teenagers, should a 14 year old girl put her hair up when re-enacting a tudor period? When did a girl become a woman?
    I was also unsure about wheather children or teenagers are welcome in most re-enacting groups or wheater they need a chaperone?
    Thanks!

    • As to what is appropriate dress for children in period, that can be pretty easily solved with some research. Look at period paintings, read about the material culture of the period, etc. Reenacting is at least 75% about the research, and that’s where most of your answers will be found.

      I’d say that 95% of units do not allow unaccompanied minors. Sometimes you can get a unit member who will agree to be your child’s chaperone, but even that is rare. Most units do not allow minors unless one of the parents is also a participant.