Our Dear Newbie is considering his wardrobe today. He was accustomed to think of his re-enacting wardrobe in a certain way. He has one impression... an infantry soldier... and he acquired "kit" to do that one impression in pre-war militia, mid-war uniform changes, and late-war uniform rags. Since he would like to explore a civilian role, he is considering what wardrobe components he needs.
When I started, I was much like him. I was certain I was going to do one impression, a dress-maker, and I made my wardrobe suitable for that one impression (lots of eye-catching silk, fine wool, lush trimmings... we are, after all a walking advertisement for our business). I've since learned that thinking of wardrobe in that way may not work for all re-enactors/living historians.
One of the first considerations is... What types of events will you be most likely to attend?
If the answer is, you'll be volunteering at a museum, interpretation site, or giving a set selection of first person lectures... your impression will be somewhat fixed, and you may consider how a particular impression would choose dress for the day. By considering the time of year, occasion, activities to be engaged in, choices are made on "What to wear today.." You are free to think about your wardrobe as a person of the era would consider theirs.
If the answer is, you'll be attending whatever events meet your personal standards of "worth attending," then you will want to consider your wardrobe a bit differently. To be the most welcome at many events, you'll need to be flexible about your impression's occupation, social strata, and activities to be engaged in... and your wardrobe will need to acommodate that. You'll need to think, "What would this impression choose to wear today? What do I have that comes close to being suitable? Can anything in my wardrobe be dressed-up or dressed-down to fill the needs?"
For both methods, the "old hats" will recommend a core basic wardrobe. Consider the basics first. Things like basic undergarments and basic shirts can often be suitable for a variety of impressions and most re-enactors/living historians will want to have plenty on hand to change out.
If your impression is flexible, you will want to consider patterns and trimmings that will span many impressions. If your impression is fixed, you may consider things like where your impression got their garments, (home-made, seamstress-made, ready-to-wear, custom-made), are particular patterns or trimmings culturally specific to your impression, do your choices "jive" with the age, position, personality of your impression?
For main garments, for a fixed impression, again you will be considering things like social position, ability and desire to follow fashion, season of the year, activities to be engaged in, age apropriateness, personality... and adding in the little subtle clues to your impression's world view.
For main garments, for a flexible impression, flexibility is key. Choosing key wardrobe components that will be suitable for a variety of impressions. I'll give examples.. a pair of wool trousers of a moderately fashionable cut and good tailoring will work for a working class clerk, a middle class shop keeper, and a wealthy class sportsman on an outing, dependent on what he wears with them.. ...a wool day dress of moderate cut and minimal trimmings can work for a working class woman's "town best", a middle class woman's ordinary day dress, and a wealthy woman's "getting dirty clothes"... again dependent on what is worn with the dress.
Accessories are key to fleshing out the wardrobe in both methods. This is where the fixed impressions give the best subtle clues to how their impressions want to be viewed. (examples include.. the buttonhole shears slung through the buttonhole of the finisher's coat.. the set of keys jingling merrily from the housekeeper's apron... the hair-work watch chain, photo fob, and black armband of the widower.) This is where the flexible impressions can indulge in a few "impression specific" items that help establish the impression. (an example would be a white apron to establish a service position, or a fancy white-work collar to bring an ordinary dress into the wealthy realms, the kerchief of the working class, the quizzing glass or watch chain of the business-man, the cockade or ribbon of the campaigner).
So for me, I've moved into a flexible impression method. I have several impressions I can offer... but most of my wardrobe is suitable to all of them in certain instances. My friends interpreting at museums are able to use the fixed impression method. Which will be best for our Dear Newbie?