Authenticity 101

This article is in preparation for an SCA class on how to be more authentic in your dress, accoutrements, and persona.   It’s an article for beginners and for people who have been around for a long time but who would like to be more authentic.   Here are some suggestions on how to start.   Use them in good health.   And smile.   It’s fun!

To many people, being authentic is a Boolean operation:   either you are or you aren’t.   There are no in-betweens.   But most authenticists didn’t spring fully formed from the head of Zeus.   This is a path we’re on.   Some of us are just closer to the destination than others.

Don’t let perfection scare you.   Even the most perfectly-period living historian can tell stories about how he wore athletic socks inside his boots or a modern T-shirt instead of an under-tunic.   Authenticity is a perfection game but we’re not competing with anyone but ourselves.   We’ll never be perfect, but we like to have something to work toward.

The point is that you don’t have to throw out all your old garb and spend a lot of money and time on new stuff just to see if you like authenticity.   Perhaps you won’t.   Perhaps this perfection game isn’t one you want to play.

But just in case you want to test the waters, below are a few suggestions on how to change little things about your person into more period-accurate equivalents.   As with anything, you can do a little or a lot.   And if you want to do more, please join us on The Authenticity List.   It’s a very active list, but peopled with a wonderful bunch of friendly, authenticity-obsessed maniacs.

WARNING: “More Period Than Thou” is not a game to be encouraged.   Authenticity is a game you play with yourself, against your own ideas of what is acceptable and what could be improved in your kit.   NEVER attempt to impose your personal standards on others.

Besides, you’ll catch more flies with honey…

Five Things You Can Do Right Now!

 

Belt Favours

 

Problem:   Those “tea-towel” belt favours that are so popular aren’t substantiatable by any period source.

Solution:   Don’t wear them.   Convert your favours into something more period-appropriate, like a glove or sleeve tucked into your belt or a ribbon pinned to your sleeve.

 

Spiral Lace, don’t Cross Lace

 

Problem: Your bodice looks Ren-Fairey. How do you change it?

Solution: Spiral Lace! The simplest authentic change you can make to your outfit right now, as we sit here, is to lace your bodice or gown with a single lace in a spiral, not cross-laced like a sneaker. This is the thing that movies and even museums get wrong most of the time, but when we see cross lacing in period art, it’s usually only decorative. Spiral lacing is the way to go!

To spiral lace, tie the end of your lace to either one of the top or bottom rings or eyelets. String the lace across to the parallel eyelet on the opposite side and thread it through, front to back. Now string it across your abdomen to the next eyelet down on the side where you started and lace it through, back to front. Continue this pattern, spiraling down until you come to the last eyelet (which should be the opposite of the first eyelet: i.e. if you started at top left, you should end at bottom right). Tie your lace securely in the last eyelet. A knot known as a double half-hitch works well here.

Award Medallions and Regalia

Problem: You’ve got so many danglies that you sound like a cabaret bellydancer doing the twist.

Solution: Like belt favours, the obvious solution is not to wear them. In most places, rank insignia were only worn for ceremonial occasions (like Coronation), but I find nothing wrong with putting on your regalia only for Court. However this brings the inevitable accusations that you are protesting the Order or being a “Stealth Peer”. A better solution is to look at tons and tons of pictures from your period and see how people from your time and place wore insignia. In most cases, medallions can be incorporated into hat badges, pins, necklaces, etc.

Cover Your Head

Problem: You look like a portrait from the neck down, but from the neck up, you’re thoroughly modern.

Solution: Wear a cap, hat or headdress of some sort. Look at period art for the right cap for your outfit.

Take Off Your Glasses

Problem: You’re dressed from the skin out in 15th century finery, but wearing big plastic modern glasses.

Solution: Take ‘em off! This is hard because we all want to be able to see. But in many periods of history, glasses were only worn for reading. Try contact lenses or just experience a couple of hours with blurry vision if you can. Or get period frames.

The point is that it’s not important to change overnight.   No one does.   Being authentic is a process, a journey.   It’s a lovely journey and along the way you’ll learn many wonderful things.   But there’s really no rush.   “Pick your Poison”  find the one thing you really want to go hog wild researching and do it.   Or just start wearing shoes that look more period-like.   It’s all up to you…


© 2003, 2006 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.