Negotiating Authenticity: Historical Recreation and Interpretation in Reenactment Dress
Creating historically authentic clothing is impossible, yet reenactors wear garments they perceive to be similar to historic originals in terms of materials and construction to demonstrate dance styles, arts and crafts, warfare, and other aspects of life from a previous time period. Qualitative explorations of female reenactors' design processes in creating their reenactment gowns, combined with conclusions from creative scholarship projects, revealed that reenactors must negotiate their desire for authenticity with personal needs and limitations. Reenactors and dress historians recreate original historic garments that either exist, partially exist, or may (or may never) have physically existed but are evidenced in historic paintings and other visual or literary sources. Thus, their design processes are similar: the recreator must compromise or negotiate authenticity. Authenticity is often impacted by legitimate gaps in historical information regarding the construction of historic garments. Other limitations include the unavailability of authentic materials due to changes in the manufacturing processes of materials, financial limitations, and limitations in time. Because reenactors recreate historic-style garments to be worn, they must fulfill their personal needs, including fit, mobility, body-garment relationship, color preference, and personality and individualistic expression. Based on their attitude toward achieving authenticity, reenactors may prioritize these personal needs over authenticity, resulting in garments with varying degrees of authenticity.
Dina Smith-Glaviana is an assistant professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design in the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management, and the director of the Oris Glisson Historic Costume and Textile Collection at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include dress and popular culture, subcultural dress, and reenactment and historic dress. Her most recent scholarship focuses on female science fiction and fantasy fans' dress practices. Dr. Smith-Glaviana also pursues research relating to historic costume and textile exhibition and recreation/replication, and experiential learning pedagogy.
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