The biggest selection of costumes in the world!

Hobbies That Teach: Historical Reenacting

By: Molly Schwichtenberg

In the 21st century, you can still find knights on horseback, southern belles in hoop skirts, and America's founding fathers in powdered wigs roaming the streets, fields, and battlegrounds they once occupied. They aren't ghosts, of course, but re-enactors in historical dress. Re-enacting is a unique and engrossing hobby, whether you want to step into a role yourself or simply watch the battle from the sidelines.

Many detractors claim that historical re-enactments are just lavish excuses for adults to play dress-up, but while wearing period-accurate costumes is fun, re-enactors offer much more than most people realize. Many volunteer on a regular basis, and the research and effort they put into their garb, props, and weapons helps museums, historians, and historical sites. Re-enactments provide a glimpse at times as recent as the 1980s and as far back as ancient Egypt and the age of the Vikings. Historical re-enactors bring history into the present, educating themselves while they prepare to spread their knowledge in an interesting and engaging way to audiences of all ages.

Re-enactors don't just play pretend a few days a year. Their hobby demands lots of time reading and crafting. Costumes also cost a pretty penny, especially if the re-enactor wants historical dress that will stand up under scrutiny. Everything from the pattern they use to the fabric they buy plays into their character, accuracy, and effectiveness. Many re-enactments feature museum-quality re-creations of historic clothing, which usually must be made by hand.

Re-enactments draw lots of makers. People who enjoy sewing get a chance to test and expand their skills, but prop-makers, traditional cobblers, firearms experts, swordplay enthusiasts, and many others can also use re-enacting to showcase their talents. Of course, history and research fans love the chance to step back in time, and there will always be people who simply enjoy the chance to dress up and "die" dramatically. There are as many reasons to become a re-enactor as there are eras, regions, and events to re-enact.

Re-enactments are more than just a passion project for people who love to dress up in historical costumes, though. Re-enacted battles involve intense planning, careful research, and serious organization. Whether visitors come to see knights in full armor charging in front of a castle or the Battle of Little Bighorn, detail is everything. Actually seeing these events play out in real life helps other researchers better understand the dynamics of armed conflict, medical aid, and strategy in the featured era.

Hands-on experiences may be wonderful for adults, but they teach children even more. Many historical re-enactors visit schools to provide concrete examples of the era classes are studying. It's easier to understand how exhausting hiking a mile in Elizabethan armor was when you put on a period-accurate helm than by just reading about how heavy the equipment was. School groups also visit large-scale re-enactments in order to understand the scale of the things they study. Watching men charge a hill at Gettysburg demonstrates Civil War tactics much better than even the best textbook illustration. It also creates a much stronger memory.

Re-enactors also support historic preservation. Historical sites draw bigger crowds and make important local legacies more interesting to tourists and visitors through living history programming. Living history is really just another term for re-enacting. Re-enactors will study the site's history and often represent a specific historical figure linked to that location while wearing historical dress. They can escort tour groups, interact directly with individual guests, and add a literal human element to the static history of the building, battlefield, fort, etc. The local preservation society or historic site earns more money, the community develops stronger ties with their historic sites, and the benefits continue.

Discover how to get involved with re-enactment through the links below: