The Importance of Unit Standards
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!
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.
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.