Authenticity:My first kit

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You've decided to take up reenactment, seen lots of shiny exciting swords,and want to get going - great! But how do you turn into the battle-hardened warrior you have always wanted to be? Where do you start?

Where to start

It's generally best to start off simple, and get together some "generic" equipment that will let you attend attend as many events as possible. Beginning with lower status kit is strongly recommended. Many groups have a 'bank' of spare kit which can be loaned out while you are finding your feet. You will soon be able to start building up a more advanced set of kit, including working towards higher status finery and expensive wargear like swords.

Key advice: while you are getting started, it is always worth asking questions and checking things. All of us have been new, and we have all purchased or made something that looked “sort of right” and then found that actually it wasn’t suitable for re-enacting after all. There are lots of sources of help, support and advice, so please do take advantage of them! The Vikings Society is a friendly and supportive community, and you will invariably find people willing to assist.

Who to ask for help

Your group leader or group authenticity officer should be able to advise you on what to do, make and buy; the authenticity team are also always happy to answer questions or offer advice and guidance. This is particularly important if you are looking at spending your hard-earned money.

This Wiki is designed to provide information on a wide variety of topics, or to point you to relevant resources and documents (for example in the Authenticity section [1] of the Vikings Society DocStore.

What to aim for

Every new member of the Vikings Society joins with the rank of "Thrall". All members of the Society are required to have one set of kit which passes a basic kit check before they can be promoted from Thrall to Fri-hals. It's definitely worth keeping the basic kit requirements in mind - there is a helpful very basic guide available for download and also a Kit Making Guide with patterns, sewing tips and help with choosing fabric on the Wiki and also available for download.

First sets of kit should be low-to-mid ranking depending on the role the member wants to portray. Ideally a low-class kit is best for starting with, but many of our members want to play with swords from the word go – it is better to start with a lower status weapon (short spear/axe/langseax) initially and then move on to the sword when your kit is up to it. You will NOT be allowed on the field at shows with low-class kit, bare feet, and a sword – it takes time to build up the high-class costume and decoration befitting a sworded warrior.

New members in The Vikings Society initially hold the rank of “Thrall” upon joining. Their group should encourage them to make a first set of costume (“kit”) as soon as possible, firstly because making costume usually involves positive interaction with other members of the group (“fun”), and secondly because loaned-out kit tends to be rather old and sometimes obsolete in style. All members of the Society are required to have one set of kit which passes a basic kit check before they can be promoted from Thrall to Fri-hals.

This short guide is aimed to explain how to guide your new members to make a good first set of basic costume, and then how you as the group Authenticity Officer (or group leader if you have no designated group AO) can test and pass their basic kit at a group level, as one of the compulsory points to raise them from Thrall to Fri-Hal status. If you are unsure of anything, The Authenticity Team are always happy to help.


You don't need much to get started, and with only basic decoration, if any, the following will let you attend almost any event:

Men's clothes Women's clothes Everyone

Overtunic and/or Undertunic

Overdress and/or Underdress,

Hangeroc (pre-950AD only)


Shoes (optional for the poor, but a good idea to protect your soft, modern feet)

Male belt

Female belt

Cloak (optional, but good for keeping warm!)

Basic trousers

Wimple, Cap, Headscarf

Hat or hood (optional, but good for keeping warm - and sometimes avoiding sunburn!)

Some more information on basic kit, including some photographs and information on cultural specialisation, can be found in Viking male, basic; English male, basic; Brythonic male, basic; Norman male, basic; and Dark Age female.

To go on the battlefield, you'll need to be dressed as a man from the above, and also have suitable gloves. For your first helmet, it's best to get a plain conical helmet as it's least specialised. For weapons, it's recommended to begin with lower status weapons, i.e. spear, seax, axe. If you really want to begin with a sword then you'll need higher status clothing, which makes it that bit harder to get started.

A few basic rules

A basic costume is one which avoids all of the expensive (but understandably desirable) items such as expensive brooches, fancy helmets, swords or a ring shirt while allowing you to take a full part in our events.

Whichever costume you choose now or in the future, certain rules must be followed and certain items are not permitted. These include:

a) Roman, Post-Roman or later Medieval helms

b) Plate Armour of any sort.

c) Live-role-play type weapons.

d) Knitted 'String' mail.

e) Non-authentic footwear.

f) Tartan of any description.

g) Shields that are not round or kite shaped, or any made of Hardboard, Chipboard or MDF.

i) Furry jackets or waistcoats.

j) Body Armour made of Horn, Bone, Wood, Leather or any form of sheet metal.

k) Overtly modern hairstyles must be disguised.

k) All visible body piercings and make-up should be removed and all tattoos should be covered by costume or masking make-up.

Materials

All of the clothing worn by our early medieval ancestors was produced from natural products, and we strive to re-create this in our re-enactments. Therefore all costume should be made from wool, linen or leather.

Overdresses and overtunics are best made from woollen cloth, or sometimes heavy linen. Under dresses and under tunics are usually made from linen although cotton is permitted due to reasons of expense. Cotton may NOT be worn as an over garment. Likewise trousers can be made from either wool or heavy linen. Cloaks are always made from wool and often lined with another layer of wool. Winningas are usually made from wool, as these are less prone to slipping.

Edges and hems must always be finished off neatly. Lower-status characters should not look ragged – cloth was extremely valuable and clothes would be well looked after, patched and repaired. When making costume, it’s worth folding edges over twice before sewing along the hem to stop the ‘loose’ edge from fraying; this helps things survive being machine washed.

All leather should be veg-tanned and NOT chromed. Men’s (and women dressed as men) belts should be from 2cm to 3 cm wide and fitted with an authentic buckle, while women should wear belts of woven wool.

Shoes are also made from veg-tanned leather but it is probably best if you seek help before starting a pair of your own. However, the evidence for garments made of leather (apart from shoes) is fragmentary in the extreme, so please do not make any as part of your first costume.

Fur was much less common than Hollywood would have us believe. Fur should not be included as part of basic kit.

  • Fur may be used as an edging/trimming on cloaks was a mark of higher status.
  • Wearing entire animal skins or animal tails is not permitted – pelts are for floors or bedding, and you don’t walk around in a carpet.

Consistency

One of the primary considerations you should have is consistency. Consistency in Culture, time and class. You should try not to "mix and match" the items you like. Arguments such as "I found it" or "I bought it from a trader" or "it was passed down through my family" should be avoided. A good example is swords. Swords are a weapon that was limited to the wealthy warrior class. Certainly as the period we portray progresses they become more common, however if you carry a sword you must wear appropriate status soft kit. See also this page on Realistic characters.

Equipment for living history

As a re-enactor you will inevitably want to spend time on the LHE to one degree or another. Your group may provide food to eat at lunch, served from an authentic kitchen. You may need to rehydrate yourself after a good fight. These things and more will require authentic equipment.

For a starting point it would be worth considering a wooden bowl or other crockery, cutlery and a cup or drinking horn to drink from. These can be usefully transported in a cloth or leather satchel as can your car keys and mobile phone!

Be warned - charity shops frequently stock nice wooden bowls and plates quite cheaply… but they’re not necessarily suitable for our use. They are frequently made from tropical hardwood (usually looks very dark) which is not authentic and is quite easy to spot. Similarly, wooden bowls made in pieces and glued together should be avoided. By all means use them for banquets, but not in the LHE.

Buying on the internet

The internet can be a great place to acquire kit quickly. However, it can also be a great way to spend a lot of money on kit which turns out not to be right for the period. The best thing to do is to ask other members of your group for advice. This is especially true of a popular auction-based website - items tagged as 're-enactment' or 'viking' are not always suitable for either.

No, this is not what will happen to you!

No, we won't do this to you. But being hit in the wallet can hurt just as much.

Be wary as well at large re-enactment trading events. With multiple stalls covering multiple periods it is very easy to accidentally buy something inappropriate. Be sure to talk to the traders, they are often extremely knowledgeable about what they are selling, especially if they are a specialist trader. If you are not sure, seek the advice of your group AO.