The 3rd of November 2017 marks my first anniversary as both a historical reenactor and a student of costume. For myself, that period is marked by many personal achievements and experiences that I could not have imagined possible just twelve months ago.
The long-story-made-short goes thus:
Halloween 2016 saw me making my first real costume garment, a coat of navy blue Melton wool lined in yellow Linen. Based on a typical Swedish uniform of the Great Northern War (1700-1721), the project was my first experience in researching the cut of a garment, tailoring to measurements, making pockets and lining, and discriminating historically accurate materials. It wasn’t perfect, but it was work I felt truly proud of, and it left me with an irresistible urge to go on and make more costumes.
My best friend had joined a local reenactment society the previous Winter, a Napoleonic-period rifle battalion. And while I was admittedly dubious of the pursuit; knowing nothing about Napoleonics in the slightest; I was drawn by his stories of the group’s camaraderie and the excitement of living like a soldier. I was eager to enlist, and did so as soon as I could commit the time and money the hobby demanded.
Through the Winter months of 2016, I joined the group on several training days at their ‘headquarters’, Middleton Hall in Warwickshire. The first investment, as all new recruits are advised, is a pair of ‘brogan’ or ‘blucher’ boots as historically accurate footwear is a must. Following that, the next uniform to acquire was a ‘regimental suit’ of green rifleman’s jacket and blue pantaloons. The former was supplied by the group’s founder and in-house tailor, Steve. The latter was at that time unobtainable, for no supplier for the unit’s unique blue pantaloons could be found.
At my friend’s suggestion, Steve kindly offered to teach me everything he knew of Georgian period-tailoring and set me to work making a trial pair of pantaloons for myself; I completed the first pair shortly after the New Year and presented them to Steve in Winchester, following a research trip to the Royal Greenjackets Museum, to handle a surviving Napoleonic Rifle Officer’s jacket. Witnessing such an important garment so close and tangible ignited my passion for recreating historical costume, and in being approved as my group’s supplier of regimental pantaloons, I was now granted an opportunity to enter into that profession.
No sooner had I finished my first work for the 5/60th, I was asked if I’d undertake a commission for three pairs of Rifle Volunteer’s regimental trowsers for performers at Alnwick Castle. As well as being agreeable income, the commission furnished me with a considerable surplus of Bottle Green broadcloth, so naturally, I desired my next project to be the construction of my own regimental jacket.
In actual fact, it took over six months between starting my own jacket and finally completing it – with a constant stream of commissions coming through, I quickly learned that personal projects will more often fall to the wayside to make time for the paying work. I mustn’t grumble, as I’m doing what I love – and whether it’s myself or a customer, I find few feelings so rewarding as seeing a well-made garment being worn and enjoyed by it’s wearer.