In this series of articles, Jackie will delve into the world of cosplay, historical re-enactments, and live action role-play. Though she was a theater kid in her youth, Jackie does not actively participate in fandoms or organizations that involve costumes, and this experience is completely outside of her comfort zone.
The Society for Creative Anachronism
A Market Day at Birka XXVIII
Step one in attending a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event is your costume, but don’t let that you deter you if, like me, you don’t have any pre-17th century garb just hanging out in your closet. Just pop into The Golden Key room once you’re at the event, and they’ll hook you up with an outfit you can wear for the day. [1.Note: Birka offers a good amount of options, and event organizers do try to have period clothing available to borrow. However, it is run by volunteers and there can be multiple events in a day, which means it is possible to go to a SCA event and costumes may not be available or there won’t be as many options as at larger events like Birka.] I may be a newbie, but my friend Josh is a seasoned member and, between him and his husband Nate, they dressed me up as a samurai.
Other than my initial self-consciousness at being a grown ass woman playing dress up with a group of strangers and the overwhelming urge to apologize for my cultural appropriation to the first Asians I saw regardless of whether they were actually Japanese or not (oh yeah, my white guilt had me doubling down on the racism), I quickly became comfortable in the outfit. And that was a surprising observation of the Birka event: the fact that my costume did not match my ethnicity didn’t matter. So yeah, I was a white lady walking around as a Japanese military noble, and I passed an Asian woman dressed in the attire of medieval European nobility (and yet, we didn’t windmill high-five as we walked by each other??). That is an important distinction of SCA events. While there are some adherence to historical accuracy, it is also a fantasy world interpreting the Middle Ages not entirely as it was, but perhaps as how it could (or should) have been, and what seemed odd at first quickly became the new normal.
Just how comfortable did I get in my costume and with my surroundings? Let’s just say when I shared an elevator at Ye Olde Radisson Hotel with someone not in costume I immediately thought to myself, “Who the fuck is this weirdo?”
During the Viking Age, Birka was an important trading center in the Nordic world and was the inspiration for the SCA’s Market Day, which was held in the “glorious lands of Stonemarche” (aka Manchester, New Hampshire). It is one of the few indoor events that the SCA hosts, which pleased me since I’m a HUGE fan of modern conveniences like heating systems and plumbing.
There was a mix of goods to be found: there were common items that you could find online or in a New Age shop but also more unique wares that were handcrafted by the sellers. And, oh daddy! The artisanship! It reminded me of how foolish I was to never have learned a craft. There were woodworks, metal crafts, and fiber goods present (and yes, there were people in their booths who were literally spinning fleece into yarn using wool they’d shorn from the flock they tended.) If you are like me and have no sewing skills, there were booths where you could purchase ready made outfits, but if you are a skilled seamstress or tailor, there were a few merchants selling fabrics, thread, and embroidered trim. You could buy armor to wear, leather that you could finish into whatever your heart desired, and furs. It was enough to make PETA weep.
Here’s where I messed up. There were several workshops held throughout the day which included classes like “Middle Eastern Line Dancing” and “Drunken, Foolish & Witless Women” (tagline: Ladies of the 14th Century, learn how to dress properly, improperly, and positively “skanky”. I completely spaced on this aspect of Birka and missed out on ALL OF THE CLASSES. *Sigh* I cannot speak on the quality of the workshops because I’m a dum-dum, but you should know that the SCA does schedule these types of things at their events, so Birka is not simply an open market where you can shop ‘til you drop. There are also fun activities you can participate in, even several family friendly events too. Yes! SCA events are for the whole family so, if you’re tired of watching Frozen for the umphteenth time, an event like this could be a breath of fresh air. Not only do your kids get to dress up, but they can learn about board games from the period or Viking ships and shields or attend an audience participation story time.
Perhaps, shopping and pageantry aren’t really your thing. Maybe you’re someone who sits at a desk all day long with your headset on, troubleshooting some poor sap’s software problems, plastering a smile on your face, and giving an insincere thumbs up to your boss as they waddle by chanting the “One Team, One Dream” slogan that management is force feeding their employees to promote teamwork, and for the briefest moment, as you watch the khaki pants and rumpled button-down shirt walk away, you’re certain you feel something deep down inside of you die. Retail therapy isn’t what you need. No, you need something more—something that tests your strength and endurance—something that reminds you that you’re still alive. Well, the SCA may just have that little something that you’re looking for: the Armory.
These particular history nerds participate in medieval combat (both heavy and light), which requires them to wear armor over the vital parts of the body. Granted, real swords aren’t used—rattan replaces steel in the arena—so while you can’t slice and dice your opponents, you do get to bludgeon them. Seriously. I’m pretty sure one guy broke his hand while I watched on in fascinated horror. The whole thing was violent, brutal, and strangely erotic (like the tingly feels I get when watching Braveheart). It was the only other time since I’d first arrived at Birka that I became overly self-conscious and a little embarrassed that I was carrying around a sword since I had no idea how to effectively use it. However, at no point did anyone attempt to make me feel weird or out of place.
After Birka, Nate asked me if I would attend another SCA event, and the answer is: yes, yes I would because where else am I going to be able to dress up as a badass Viking and not have people give me a sideways look? But also because people were so kind, and it was amazing to see the artistry and talent of the people involved in the SCA. They are experts in their disciplines, who are eager to share their works and knowledge with you. If you have even an inkling of a desire to try out cosplay, then you should definitely look into the SCA. They make it easy for newbies to test the waters.