Tips on getting started

So you have decided that you want to begin in the living history hobby! Great news!

But wait…now you’re stuck on how to begin. Do you find an event? Do you start making clothes? Do you pick a character to portray? Well, we hope that this blog post will give you a good starting point.



The first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out what your “impression” is. That is, what is the character/person you’re going to portray? Usually, you have an idea of a time period that you like (Civil War, Revolutionary War, WW2, etc) or maybe you’ve seen or been to a reenactment or living history event which turned you on to this hobby in the first place.


Some people don’t have a specific event in mind to dress up for, so they just choose a time period that they like and create a persona – or decide to portray an actual historical figure – and build the clothing around that. Lots of times, though, new living historians want to get involved in local historical events or reenactments which have their own specific time periods you have to adhere to. You can’t portray someone from the early 1900s, for example, at a Texan military fort that existed the 1830s.

The next thing you’ll want to do is determine if you’re going to portray a real historical figure or a fictional person from a certain era? Many living historians portray someone entirely fictional, or someone based on a real person – for example, someone in their own family.


After you know who you’re going to portray, then you need to determine whether you’re going to present that character in “first person” (meaning you act as if you really are that person – probably the most common presentation) or in “third person” (meaning you talk about that person, for example to an audience).


Regardless of whether you’re going to present in first or third person, actual historical person or fictionalized, you will need information. Here are some tips to round out your impression:


  1. READ! READ! READ! If your person is an actual person from history, read as many biographies/autobiographies on that person that you can find. Use the internet! But be cautious of the internet. Ensure that your source is legitimate. For example, Wikipedia can be a good starting point in the sense that you can find information on historical people. However, their information is not always vetted and can be incorrect. Use newspaper archives from their location to not only glean information about them but about what was occurring in their locale.

  2. Become very familiar with your persona – especially doing first person impressions. When an audience member asks you a question, you will want to answer as that person, no matter what the question is. For example: When did you die? Your answer could be “I haven’t yet.” But then you could step out of first person and talk about that person’s impact on history.

  3. When doing your presentations, try to keep the 21st Century out of it. Don’t wear modern-day accessories with your ensemble. For instance, take your Apple watch off your wrist.

Does it seem like a lot? Don’t be discouraged! Determining your impression can be one of the more exciting parts of getting started, and what you end up learning about your character and his/her life, time period, profession, and attire will inform everything you do in the next phase – building the look of your impression!


Coming soon we will have a blog series on historical clothing in the movies. Darla Salter will be identifying clothing from different historical movies and educating the reader about what is and is not correct to each time period portrayed.

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