Hot! The Importance of Unit Standards

2014-04-04 22.55.07

It’s my personal opinion that one of the best things a unit can do to improve its overall quality, ease of participation, and professionalism is to establish some sort of unit standards.  I’ve seen unit standards range from lists of approved vendors, to uniform guides, to participation guidelines, to a complete set of all of the above, and they’re generally published somewhere (the unit’s website, for instance).  I’m a big fan of having unit standards, and here are a few reasons why I feel that they’re important:

Unit standards help newcomers.

It’s very easy for someone who is new to a unit, especially someone who is new to the hobby in general, to purchase items that are incorrect.  By having clearly defined unit standards and a list of “approved items” and “approved suppliers”, you eliminate the frustrating guesswork that new members often have to go through.  Even if there aren’t pre-defined standards as to what you should be wearing, having a list of “approved vendors” can be a huge boon to new members, and helps them avoid buying the wrong thing.  Having unit standards makes it easier for someone to become a part of your unit, and you don’t have to worry as much about what they’ll look like when they turn out with you for the first time!

13723080813_a58826ecde_bUnit standards help maintain a cohesive “look” within a unit.

Even for units that lack a uniform, such as militia units or resistance/partisan units, you still want to make sure that everyone is on the same page for what they should look like.  Take the Loyalist militia unit I belong to, for instance.  We’re all supposed to be from the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia or near to it, with something of a rural and/or maritime influence, and we tailor our clothing and equipment choices to match this.  If someone showed up dressed like they were from a northern urban area, they’d stick out.  In a uniformed unit, this is even more important, as although there were degrees of differentiation from man to man, they were generally very minor, and if you’re going for an impressive presence on the field, uniformity is the name of the game.  If research shows that the unit was originally quite a disparate bunch, make your your unit standards reflect this.  Having a set of unit standards helps keep everyone on the same page regarding material culture and other aspects of the impression.

Unit Standards help improve a unit’s professional image.

It’s always good to be a unit with a good reputation.  You get invited to more events, offered more opportunities to work with historical sites, and sometimes even get asked to help out with TV and movie shoots.  Unit standards are seen as something that more “professional” units tend to do, and look especially good to other folks within the hobby.  Having stated standards shows how serious the group is about their impression, and that they care enough to take the time to put guidelines in place.  Having unit standards helps your unit look more professional and can in turn help with your reputation.

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Unit standards help with authenticity.

Since authenticity is (ideally) the name of the game in this hobby, units should really do all they can to help their members be as authentic as possible.  One of the complaints I hear from those whose kit has been deemed inaccurate is that research is too time consuming, too difficult, or too foreign for many reenactors, especially those just getting their start in the hobby.  By having pre-established standards, you provide a way for those who are unable to do research of their own to still measure up to the rest of the unit.  Having unit standards means that everyone should have at least an a baseline level of authenticity that has been approved by the unit.

So let me ask you: what do you feel are the advantages of having some sort of published unit standards?  If your unit has them already, how have they worked out for you?

9 Comments

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  1. Standards are the only way to go. Unit or member loaner gear is an effective way to help ease new members into the often-expensive reenacting hobby, accompanied by a time limit for recruits to be outfitted to some minimum standard.

  2. I hear from some of the senior members of my unit that previously ‘correct’ accoutrements are still correct and new research from reliable sources indicates we are not where we ought to be.
    My waist belt has been modified to be a shoulder belt, with multiple holes, and bulging bayonet frog, but it’s (OK FOR NOW) I don’t have to buy a ‘correct’ belt because we don’t do that many presentations! Huh!
    Don’t get me wrong. I first joined a Crown Forces unit that had/has the highest standards and member loyalty in the hobby. My particular situation with the unit was compromised by a devastating visit to Colonial Williamsburg. I had spent $900 to participate with my wife and was ordered to be a sentry at a paymaster presentation. I sent a message to the Sgt. Major I was not well and requested to be dismissed. My request was not heeded and being observed by a Col. and a Capt., I was sent to the field hospital, under guard, and subsequently Williamsburg Community Hospital for heat exhaustion. End of visit. If a unit, any living history entity, wants to be effective, it must have standards and adhere to them. “no one plans to fail, but, too many fail to plan”

  3. For the soldiers in our unit, We have a quartermaster system. The new guys go through our unit to get kitted out from small clothes to uniform to basic accouterments. For the camp followers, we educate about sources, patterns, fabrics, etc and help them kit out.

  4. Standards allow an avenue for correction. If something is incorrect, having standards backs up the request to change it. Sometimes I’ve heard that “you can’t tell people what to do.” But with standards, yes you can.

  5. Great essay! The only thing I have reservations about is your recommendation for approved vendors, since even the best of vendors can have an item or two of questionable accuracy! I will certainly be putting a link to this on my next blog entry–“On Authenticity Regs” on http://angloscandinavianchronicle.com/. I mainly do a different era, but the way we achieve accuracy is common to all good living history!

  6. there is still bullying going on today with another group brisbane australia my group was going
    to living history this year but I was told that did not get excepted in to living history without giving me a reason why but next year my group battlefield re-enacting group will be there I have put to much time in getting the group going

  7. Standards are good. Vendors are better. Enforcement of standards with a vendor to supply materials is the best.