A good impression is hardly just a complete kit. After all, a reenactor is not a mannequin. To make a really good impression for reenactment you have to do quite a lot of research on the topic and some manual work on your uniform and equipment.
The idea of this article is simple - to give some tips to newcomers to the reenactment hobby on how to improve their appearance. Given that a big chunk of reenactors never served in the military, and given that most of the reenacted armies have ceased to exist - this article might be very helpful.
Because I am specializing in Soviet Army and Soviet-Afghan War topic in particular, this article will cover just that. However, if you are coming from a different branch of reenactment - it might still be helpful, as the general principles remain unchanged throughout.
So, without further ado, let's dig in!
Tip #1 - Know your basics
It's pretty worthless to do anything in this life without knowing the basics of it. This definitely applies to reenactment just as well. Getting a full-on working tank is great, but if you can't dress correctly for the period things will be somewhat off.
The good thing is that the basics are usually very simple. Basically, as long as you follow the barracks dress regulations you will be okay for most episodes of any reenactment event. This can get more complicated for more obscure impressions, like Afghan Mujahadeans or any other irregular militias. However, there is always a positive side to reenacting irregular formations - there is no strict dress code even for the basic loadout, so you can get away with most of it.
Talking about the Soviet-Afghan impressions, the basics for any reenactor are well described in a newbie guide to reenactment. As long as you will follow it (or a similar guide for a different era or country) you will be alright.
Tip #2 - Reject modernity
One of the main reasons for people to do reenactment as a hobby is to deep dive into a different era. Well, at least that is the idea. However, in practice, it seems that not using modern devices and comfort items even for the duration of a regular 48 hours is something almost impossible for a modern reenactor. Things were much simpler back in the 2000s, but we have to deal with what we have now.
Not using modern items is hard - both physically and mentally. We are addicted to our phones and we are used to modern diets. But given the base idea of the reenactment as a whole, it is best to give it a chance.
Most of the necessary devices and items can be substituted with their older variations. What can't be changed immediately can usually be handmade - things like ration packs or cigarettes. Just think how much cooler it is to smoke replica "Kosmos" cigs and eat gallets with tinned meat than vaping and eating "Mars" bars. The same goes for similar common things - plastic bags, underwear, and glasses. And yeah, you might actually enjoy not using a mobile phone for a day or two - give it a chance!
Tip #3 - Do not overload
This tip should be taken carefully, as it is very dependent on your impression. Not overloading sounds great, but if you are reenacting a Royal Marine during Falklands War - you will probably look farb without your bergen. But, for most impressions, this rule works.
Talking about Soviet impressions of the Afghan War this tip is probably the most important in this list as this is one of the most common mistakes people do when dressing up for an event. It is easy to understand - everyone buys equipment to actually use it. But there is a limit to how much you should put on.
The general rule for Soviet impressions would be to have not more than one piece of ammo carrying pouch - so it should be either a 4-cell pouch or a chest rig, but not both.
Tip #4 - Devil is in the details
But to look like a real pro - you have to show that you know the subject in close-up details. These are some little things that will give it away - a period-correct watch, some iconic modification of the equipment, or a well-shaped headgear. The idea of this is to show a deep understanding of the subject. Just putting on a stock uniform will not work on its own - there is that extra step to take from good to great.
However, this has to be done carefully. Putting together some easter eggs will look very farb if the basics are not right. If you feel that this might be the case - check the first tip!
Tip #5 - Clean your room!
This advice is kind of outdated now, yet in the early 2010s, this was a common problem with the reenactors across different periods.
It is essential to keep your uniform clean and equipment tidy. In the real forces, your sergeant would be very likely to impose grooming standards on your ass despite the operational situation. This would happen even more in a low-intensity conflict when soldiers and officers were to have more time to look after their appearance.
Just remember - your uniform has to be washed and ironed before the event. If it is washed out - great, but it has to be fresh. The same goes for your equipment and weapon - they have to stay in good condition.
Summary for reenactment tips
Overall, to do a good job you have to stand out without standing out. As confusing as it sounds, the idea is that soldiers in most wars usually look all the same, especially to people who don't know the difference between different patterns, uniforms, and pieces of equipment.
So, to actually blend in, as a real soldier would, you have to do quite a bit of research and work on your impression. After all, that is a job for a movie costume designer - and aren't we all doing it in this hobby?