Improving Your Impression: Not About MoneyI'm firmly convinced that a lot of folks in the hobby of Civil War Reenacting have taken the issue of the expense to upgrade and blown it incredibly out of proportion in order to validate their lack of improvement. I saw an example of this recently while visiting the showroom of a well-known mainstream sutler. I had stopped in order to pick up a copy of Casey's Infantry Tactics and was waited on by a wonderfully cordial woman we shall call herein Tammy.
by Paul Calloway
First published, Summer 2000.
Tammy had worked for this well-known sutler for some six years and managed several departments. She described to me how reenactors would often call in and ask her advice on their impressions. This struck me as frightening because in the next sentence or two she explained that she had yet to even go to a reenactment. What she knew about reenacting and about authenticity was apparently what she had heard by her boss, her co-workers and customers who frequented the establishment, whether in the show-room or on the phone.
She said that her sutlery provided quite a service to reenactors as they provided top quality merchandise at a fair price. In truth, the merchandise is as mainstream as mainstream gets so I suppose it all depends on how you define quality. She also espoused her opinion that most reenactors couldn't afford to spend $3,000 to be a "stitch-counter" and that her sutlery offered top quality at a third the price. I thought to myself, who in the heck ever said it cost $3,000 to be a "stitch-counter" and did she even know what the term meant?
It occurred to me that this Tammy didn't have enough experience in the hobby to have really formed an opinion like that on her own. I believe, Tammy has heard that espoused by mainstream reenactors she converses with via phone or in her showroom and is really just relating what they have told her. Well, here I am in my sixth year of reenacting and I've been steadily working on my impression for about the last three years... upgrading it to now what some would consider "hardcore." I have never spent anything close to $3,000 for my kit though and "Tammy's" musings got me to thinking about how a false rumor like this could be circulating.
I believe it may work like this: Reenactor Boy hears Hardcore Buddy has spent $90 on a blanket. Reenactor Boy thinks that is a ridiculous sum to spend on a blanket and tells all his mainstream buddies. In order to really juice up his point, he tells his mainstream buddies that Hardcore Buddy actually spent $120. Mainstream Buddies are convinced by Reenactor Boy's story and likewise tell their mainstream counterparts that a Hardcore Buddy of Reenactor Boy just spent <$x+y> on a blanket. This goes on and on in such a manner.
Likewise New Recruit joins the ranks of Mainstream Buddies' unit. New Recruit asks Mainstream Buddy where to get his stuff. New Recruit has plastic burning in his pocket and would be perfectly willing at this point to spend an extra $20-$30 here and there if Mainstream Buddy told him it would improve his impression. The last thing Mainstream Buddy wants is for New Recruit to look better than him so he proceeds to fill New Recruits mind with such things as:
If New Recruit doesn't buy this, Mainstream Buddy proceeds to get all his Mainstream Pards to come over and verify every bit of garbage he just told New Recruit.
- If New Recruit has $3,000 to spend he could get a real hardcore outfit. Mainstream Buddy made this figure up out of the blue just to scare New Recruit into staying mainstream.
- Hardcore Buddy and his Hardcore Pards are really just clothes hounds who don't know how to drill.
- Hardcore Buddy and his Hardcore Pards never do living history to benefit the public. They just go hide away in the woods every weekend.
- If New Recruit has three years to wait he could get a hardcore outfit. This is Mainstream Buddy's ACE-IN-THE-HOLE.
Well, the fact is that Mainstream Buddy has just cost his New Recruit friend a great deal of money. Yes, that's right. You see to buy a kit in the mainstream would normally cost you about $1,200. To buy a "hardcore kit" would cost you approximately $1,500. This $3,000 figure is complete hogwash and is made up to be a scare tactic.
If New Recruit really does want to be more progressive at some point he now will have shelled out the first figure ($1,200) plus a figure in the neighborhood of $600-$800 in improvements to reach a grand total of maybe $2,000. In this example, Mainstream Buddy just cost his new pard about $500 by having him buy junk he'll eventually have to replace because of it's poor quality. But still no way near the ridiculous number of $3,000.
Please take special note that it wasn't the hardcore community that cost New Recruit the extra $500. It was Mainstream Buddy whose self-justifying untruths and half-truths have purposely painted an illusion for his pard.
It's not just New Recruit that gets hurt in this example. The hardcore/progressive just lost indefinitely a new champion for authenticity. The mainstream community just lost a new guiding light and perhaps a little bit of honor for misleading a new pard - whether out of ignorance or out of maliciousness.
Finally, someone completely ignorant to the hobby (Tammy of Mainstream Sutler) has bought this line of garbage hook-line-and-sinker and is now espousing it to every reenactor who will take time to listen. Tammy is a nice lady - no reason not to believe her... after all she works at Mainstream Sutler who has a great reputation on service, quality on price. Not only is New Recruit hearing it from his Mainstream Buddies but he is also hearing it from Mainstream Sutler ... this must make it true!
I get the feeling that this happens more than we could possibly imagine. New Recruit is nearly defenseless in this example and he has been set up by his buddies for a very expensive fall. His only chance out of this is if he runs into a hardcore/progressive who is willing to shepherd him through the trials and travails of being a New Recruit.
If you or somebody you know has found himself in the shoes of New Recruit come on over to The Authentic Campaigner where we'll take the time to show you how to get your kit without having to mortgage your house or sell your child into the black-market child-labor market.. Have a great day.