Most reenactors are civilians who have never served in the military. For that reason, there are some fundamental things, common to almost all militaries, to which they have never been introduced. Indeed, one of the largest tasks faced in "basic training" is to take civilian habits out of the potential soldier. (As society becomes more "free", this becomes even harder because the norms of the military and what is usual in society tend to become even farther apart.) One of those things constantly reinforced in basic military training is the proper wear of the uniform and personal appearance. Good units care how they look and exercise considerable effort to ensure that their personnel meet established standards. They take especial pride in ensuring the "little things" are also looked after. One of the measures of a good unit is how its soldiers look, especially whey they are not under close supervision. What follows are some practical tips, adopted from my own military experience and combined with (actual WW II) uniform practices, which will help (re-enactors) better project the image of a solid, well-trained, and motivated unit.
(Webmasters note - while exceptions to all of these can be seen (as illustrated by the accompanying wartime period photos), remember that re-enactors seek to portray the rule - not the exceptions.)
- Headgear is always worn outdoors.
One of the hardest things to teach a recruit is remembering to put on his cap when going
outdoors. When you leave the billets or your tent at a reenactment, be sure you
have the proper headgear, that it is properly worn, and that it is removed indoors (except
when "under arms" -- soldiers on official business who are armed do not uncover
upon entering a building.)
- Items are worn, never carried.
If worn, they are worn properly.
- Complete uniforms are always
worn. This is the corollary to the above, not the same thing.
Everything can be worn correctly, and the uniform still not be complete. While most
re-enactors get the field uniform correct, few get the German soldiers' other forms of
dress right. Off duty, low shoes and the Schirmmütze were often worn, but only in
relatively secure areas -- otherwise, the duty uniform was worn -- but this would be
entirely appropriate for wear in the cantonment area during non-battle times at
- Soldiers generally shave once a day.
Good soldiers do not appear unshaven. Units ensure that soldiers maintain
cleanliness at all times as a matter of preserving health; part of that routine is a daily
shave. While no one would have expected the soldier to shave while bullets were
flying, part of the "after operations" cleanup would have been a return to
normal standards. Again, while some folks would find the gruff, unshaven look
"manly," a good unit would find it unacceptable.
- There is no excuse for sloppiness.
In conclusion, there is no real soldier in the world who hasn't been dirty, unshaven, and looked like hell at some point -- this is not, however, the natural state. Units who allow their soldiers to go on that way don't exist for long. Good appearance and maintenance of equipment are habits which branch into other things -- generally, they are indicators of discipline. Soldiers who are cavalier about correctly wearing the uniform usually exhibit the same sort of cavalier attitude regarding the really important aspects of soldiering -- weapons maintenance, field skills, etc. Good units are built on the sort of discipline that results when soldiers can be trusted to do what they are supposed to without direct supervision. Real or reenactment, you can tell a lot about a unit when you see one of its soldiers walking down the street alone; does he look as good as when in formation, or is he out of control? While not always true, the old adage "if it looks good, it probably is" is at least a start point for a better-than-average unit.
Remember, you are wearing your name on your sleeve.