I read this really interesting post (on a recommendable blog, by the way) about costume and re-enactment. The debate is simple “ This issue relates to whether visitors in costume should be allowed entry to museums that currently ban them”- but it is much more that that- it is about the whole idea of ” Authentic costumes”..what is real, what is ”Farb” what is definitely not okay?
well, my oh my, is this a dangerous topic. This digs right into the hearth of all heated debates every re-enactor had ever had ever. But why? Why is the ”costume so important? Well first of all, today re-enactment in synonymous with” dressing the part”- that is what sets it apart from experimental archaeology, that is usually done in your everyday workwear- so the costume becomes vital for the feeling of authenticity- it becomes what defines whether or not this is a costume party or a historical event. For the re-enactors themselves there is a strong emotional feeling of authenticity if they have the assumption that their costume is close to a prehistoric reality – or so you should believe. Because it is not always the fact-what feels real, becomes real. And a lot of the time the idea of what is “Viking age” does not always corresponds with how Viking age (or any other period) clothing looked or feel like- you could wear a detailed reconstruction and still not feel very authentic, it the costume is very far away from the way modern mass media have taught you that Viking age should look like. For a lot of re-enactors, it is also a question of aesthetics- you wish to look “good”, but the idea of what is “good” in the prehistoric time could be very far away from your own idea.
For instance- a lot of Viking reenactors likes green clothing, since we have an idea of green being a colour that is somehow “natural” and more “real” than pink, purple or blue- even though it is much easier to make these colours ( a lot of plant gives a light pink on untreated wool) and pure green is really hard to make. So a light babypink shirt wouldn´t feel very “Viking” while a deep bottlegreen wold.
So- it is easy to understand why the costume becomes a battleground- there is a big difference between what feels authentic and what is authentic. And here is where the hammer hits the nail: re-enactment is often about a feeling of presence of the prehistoric past – that the past becomes real to you- “ like being there”- and if the costume fails to give you that feeling, then it is unauthentic no matter how many archaeological sources it is based upon.
So what we should debate is not the grade of “authenticity” in our outfits, but how our modern perception of beauty, our ideas about the past and even our personal aesthetics prevent us from making outfits that are closer to the archaeological finds, simply because they are to alien to our idea of how a Viking costume should look
Or as the answer Frank Underwood in “ House of cards” season 2 gets when he confronts a civil war re-enactor about who he “really is” – “ Does this not feel real to you”?