So you wanna be a re-enactor?

Re-enactment has been ever increasingly grown in popularity over the past years.  Every period imaginable has its own re-enactment group and it draws a wide variety of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality and religion.  According to the Re-enactor’s Directory, there are currently 130 different groups (ranging from Iron Age to WW2) across the UK.  This list does not include every and there are a lot more re-enactment groups out there, (for example my own re-enactment group has not been listed) and the number varies from country to country.

Becoming a re-enactor can be a terrifying prospect, with so much choice out there.  This post hopes to help alleviate any fear by offering useful tips and pointers.


Often becoming a re-enactor is a spur of the moment decision.  I joined Normannis at my university’s fresher’s fair purely because I saw people in historical dress and thought ‘that looks fun!’  Sometimes, people have a friend or colleague who already re-enact and so are brought to the re-enactment world that way.  Some people never experience any of this.  Any case, it helps to be prepared by researching on the internet as much as you can.

What to research

  • Who are the local groups are and what periods they re-enact.
  • When and where the group meets.
  • Whether it’s battle re-enactment, living history or a bit of both.
  • Any videos of the group on YouTube to see the group in action.  (This will give you a sense of what the group looks like and how the re-enactment looks as a whole and what you would be potentially get involved with.)

Choosing a group

Finding the perfect group for you is important.  There’s no use joining a french revolution re-enactment group 20 miles from your home when you’d rather be a medieval seamstress for a more local group.  Re-enactment is only fun when it’s something you enjoy because, boy, shows can really take it out of you.  There’s no point doing something you do not enjoy at all.  Some things you should consider are:

  • What periods you would like to re-create.
  • The location of the group.
  • Whether you want to participate in battle re-enactment, living history or both.  (If you identify as female and you want to take part in the battle re-enactment ask the person in charge of the group.  Usually, groups will allow women to fight, however, they would have to have to dress up as a male for any fighting during shows since women for a majority of history were not allowed to fight.  Although banning women from fighting is extremely rare it is something worth checking.)
  • If battle re-enactment is your thing what weapons you would prefer fighting with.  Are guns and pistols your thing? Or would you rather fight with swords and shields? Is archery more your thing?

(Note: Try not to be too set about what you expect.  You might surprise yourself.  I would thoroughly recommend having an open mind and try new activities.  Admittedly when joining Normannis, I thought that the medieval craft was going to be my thing but I went to the first battle training and never looked back.  After 3 broken shields, and 5 badly cut pieces of clothing I can safely say that craft is not my forte.)

Your first training session

Congratulations! You have chosen a group and are attending your first training session! Whooo! (If you are more interested in making craft then there will be a section for you straight after this one, I promise!)  It can be a scary prospect but there are a few little things to remember

  • Wear sensible footwear and something you wouldn’t mind getting dirty or torn.
  • Bring a pair of gloves (preferably something with a bit of protection even if they are a pair of old leather gloves or a pair of gardening gloves)
  • Try out as many weapons as possible to find out what is best for you.
  • You will come home with some injury (usually small bruises).  It’s a dangerous hobby.
  • Accidents will happen.  Again, it’s a dangerous hobby.  If you accidentally hurt another, do not freak out.  Simply apologise.  Most people are incredibly understanding and will offer tips to avoid making the same mistake again.
  • Re-enactors love new people and will happily tell you everything about your weapon. It will be information overload so don’t worry about not being able to remember everything.
  • For a majority of cases, you will not be the best fighter first time.  The best fighters in the group took years to get where they are.  Listen to any hints they may give and don’t beat yourself up about not being good at your first session.
  • Re-enactors love questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask!
  • If there is something wrong, please do tell someone so the issue can be fixed.

Your first craft session

Craft is an important part of re-enactment (we have to get kit somehow). By making kit ourselves it gives chance to keep costs down and chat with your fellow re-enactors about anything! Some things to remember include:

  • Have a go at everything.  There are a plethora of different crafts.  At Normannis you can make clothes, embroider, make shields and weapons, make shoes, and make sheaths just to name a few.  By trying different crafts you find what you have some competency for.
  • Again, don’t expect to be fantastic first time.  Often you will start on scraps so that nothing will be ruined.  Again practice is key for success.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions.  People would rather help you than you mucking up.
  • Don’t sew your hand to whatever you’re making.
  • Talk nerd to your fellow re-enactors.  We are all massive nerds and often there willbe at least one person who will share passions for whatever nerdy thing you’re interested.

I hope this has been useful for you and wish you all the best with your new hobby!



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