If your household is like ours, you must organize your living history activities around a very real—and finite—modern budget. Keep a few things in mind to maximize your time and money.
Plan First, Spend Last
It’s exciting to get involved in the hobby! Without a plan, you could make some costly purchases that don’t serve you well. Research and plan first, so you can purchase or make the most useful items for your typical impressions the first time around. You’ll save money and time in the long run. If you only attend events with working class scenarios, an upper class wardrobe will be a waste of money, but an investment in clothing and books related to working class people will be well spent.
Not every willing resource is a good resource! It’s important to question the “status quo” and find out for yourself about the people and practices of the mid-nineteenth century. Consult multiple sources; see where they agree and where they disagree. Practice good research and documentation habits. Get in the habit of asking merchants and vendors for background information on their items, to ensure that the products really do meet your unique persona needs.
Do It Yourself
If you’re willing to gain a few basic skills, you can provide many things at a low cost, from home. For instance, learn a basic running stitch by hand and a straight stitch by machine, and you can construct the majority of a family’s undergarments at home, for the cost of inexpensive white cotton fabric and a few spools of thread. By making male shirts and drawers, and female chemises, drawers, and petticoats, you can focus your dollars on professional help with outer clothing—or, use the undergarments as practice for your trousers, vests, coats, and dresses. Sewing, knitting, woodworking, and other “do it yourself” skills, used with good historic patterns, can save you a tremendous amount of money.
Utilize Local Resources
No budget could purchase every book that would be helpful for learning about the nineteenth century. Get familiar with your local library; ask the librarians to help you search the collection for helpful volumes. As you come across book titles not in the local collection, ask for help with inter-library loan. It’s a no- to low-cost way to borrow books from other libraries on a lending network, to preview nearly any book, in or out of print, before deciding if it’s one you need to buy.
Maximize Your Wardrobe
How many sets of outer clothing do you own? How many sets of undergarments? In period wardrobe lists, undergarments outnumber dresses and suits; recreate that ratio, and you’ll recreate a functional historic wardrobe that works just as perfectly today. Invest the time and funds to make three to four sets of undergarments and accessory items (aprons, collars, cuffs, neckerchiefs), and you’ll be able to attend a three to four day event with only one set of outer clothing.
Keep it Simple
Don’t try to do everything right away. It’s just not possible! Set reasonable goals for acquiring material goods, upgrading your research, and incorporating new information into your impression. Make continual steps forward as your plan allows. If you start with the basics of what you need for your most common scenarios and situations, you’ll create a solid base, and expand from there. It’s effective for every budget!