WOMEN SOLDIERS ???
There is no such thing as a woman soldier! There are women portraying soldiers but no women soldiers in the 9th Virginia Cavalry. It would be ridiculous to portray a documented female soldier as this would mean the solder was found out and returned to civilian life!
If you do notice a woman portraying a soldier then she is not doing a good enough job in her impression. It does take time for any new recruit to do a good impression, women included. Members don't initially join up with the knowledge it takes to do a good job from the start. They need honest diplomatic feedback from their comrades in the ranks. A woman portraying a soldier has a MUCH harder job to do than a soldier impression done by men and it requires much more dedication. Below are some tips to help you perfect your impression if you are a woman wanting to portray a soldier in this unit. At this time there are two women reenacting as soldiers in the 9th out of 58 military members.
In the reenacting community women doing soldier impressions have left a bad example to many men (and women) who care about historical accuracy and correct interpretation. You can see women who use little or no energy to hide their gender at every event. This is wrong and although our unit accepts women as soldiers they MUST set the example for others!
Evaluate why you want to do this impression:
If you want to do it because there are a bunch of handsome men in the company, then you better portray a refugee. Your interest may evolve from this initial reason but the impression is so hard to do correctly that your dedication has to go beyond the norm. You will have to work much harder than the men to be accepted as a peer in this unit.
First - Be a good observer:
Watch the interaction of men with men and how they do things. Practice what you have observed, don't be self-conscious. Look in a mirror first and work on it and then ask your comrades if you have it right or how you can improve. You want to BLEND IN not stand out in a crowd so make sure you look and act like everyone else.
Here are some general observations and tips which will help you out.
Grasping: Men grab with their fingers slightly bent and with some purpose in the motion. Women grasp with their finger pads and gently.
Walking: Men walk like they are going somewhere and with a longer stride, planting the foot down heel first and with the toes outward. Their knees are farther apart than women and their elbows are carried away from the body. Women walk with smaller steps, with less purpose and with the foot planted down toes straight or inward and have that well-known sway of the hips. They walk with their elbows close to the waist and look down much more than men.
Sitting: Men sit with knees apart, arms resting on thighs and hands hanging down relaxed. If men cross their legs they usually do so with the ankle on the knee or at the ankles with knees spread. On the ground men usually sprawl with more abandon and relaxation. Women sit with legs crossed or knees close together. If they cross their legs at the ankles their knees are close together. On the ground women seem to be more flexible than men yet still sit with more constraint and control.
Talking: Men talk with more eye contact and women with less eye contact. Voice is something women can not do much about, so some just don't talk or pretend they have a throat wound. Still, if a woman's impression is really good, the voice will be ignored unless its one of those high-pitched ones. Hand gestures go along with talking in both genders but make sure your hands are not feminine- looking.
Smiling: Try to keep smiling to a minimum while in public view. Laughing is also like voice, women just sound like, well.... women!
Uniform: Make sure your uniform is not TIGHT or form fitting. You might think of padding your waist to look thick in the middle to disguise your hips and bust or try putting in shoulder pads to widen your shoulders. Make and wear a binder! Sports bras will not work.
Trousers: Get the dog-ear trousers, they won't separate at the hips with "accents" in the form of pocket lining showing. Make sure the trousers are up at your natural waist and held up with braces (suspenders). The waistband can be larger than what you would normally wear in regular clothes.
Shirt: Wear a homespun patterned shirt rather than white or a material you can see through. Your binder may show otherwise. Get a shirt big enough to go over your hips easily but you will notice that the collar is too big so you might have to take it in to have it look good.
Jacket: For our 9th Virginia impression you will need a Richmond II jacket with 9 buttons but make sure its a size bigger than you would normally wear. If you make your own or have a someone make it the arms will probably be a better fit.
Vest: Always wear a vest or a jacket unless you are too hot and your health is in danger.
Shoes: Brogans should be worn. Yes, the cavalry was issued brogans and if broken in right they are comfortable. Socks should be cotton without modern stripes and colors.
Hat: A forage cap is preferred over a slouch hat. Due to their face-framing characteristics slouch hats accent a feminine face.
Once you have the uniform, gestures and body posture figured out you need to do a few more things. The "masculine" touches to make you look authentic.
Hair: Cut it! Yes, men have long hair sometimes but that's no excuse for drawing attention to yourself! Cut your hair, of all men surveyed the majority of them state that The number one thing a woman can do to make herself more believable in her impression is to cut her hair!
Hands: Trim those nails! Get rid of any fake nails, fingernail polish (even clear) and any other item that makes your hands stand out. Do you have a modern wedding ring set? I advise leaving it at home where it won't get lost and if you don't want to take it off, then cover it up. If your hands are small and feminine, don't draw attention to them, keep them in your pockets, behind your back or somewhere out of sight.
Face: No makeup. This includes mascara, any theatrical makeup to give you a man's darker skin, eyebrow pencil or any false concealing color. You can use "Visine", contact lenses, hair dye if you do so already but remove any ear decorations. If you want darker skin there are lots of "no sun" tanning ointments you can use before event weekends that work great.
Facial Hair: Most facial hair on men is on those beyond the boyhood stage. If you can pass as a boy then no need for facial hair. If you are approaching that age where you will never be passing as a boy then facial hair might be for you. Facial hair comes in all forms, the really BAD Halloween mustache (they look really stupid!) and the really GOOD but expensive blended hair mustache beard or sideburns. The best facial hair we can recommend is Kryolan Corporation 1-800-579-6526. They have hair in every color and what you want to do is NOT match up the color of your hair but get one a bit lighter than your hair color. To apply the mustache use Spirit Gum P or Medical Adhesive which is specially formulated for facial hair that comes into contact with perspiration, this is also available at Kryolan. You do not need the remover, just use a baby wipe and scrub the skin good. A mustache will cost you about $18 and will last half a season and a full beard is about $60.
Binder: You HAVE to wear one and you will be glad you did. A binder can be made in several ways.
You can buy one of those 18 hour bras a size smaller than you are around and a D cup. Cut the cups out and sew in a straight piece of cotton of several strong layers across in its place.
You can make a binder by using cotton in several thicknesses and closed with hooks, perhaps ribbed also and with shoulder straps for security.
Some people use ace bandages but these have a tendency to fall or stretch.
The Portajohn..... Use it, don't use the women's restrooms at an event, keep your gender a secret from the public and other reenactors while the event takes place.
Event Do's and Don'ts:
Do pull your weight when it comes to camp duties. Water hauling, wood stacking and chopping, picketline cleanup, mess cleanup, horse watering and guard or provost duty - all are jobs we are responsible for.
Don't worry about keeping your gender secret from the company when you arrive to set up at a garrison event. We know who you are and appreciate your interest in doing a good impression but none of us set up garrison camps in our uniforms. Campaign events of course you want to arrive as you will look for the event.
Do use the portajohns and not the restrooms.
Don't be shocked at rough talk or actions. If you don't like it move away from the talkers.
Do learn the drill and attempt to be the best soldier in the formation.
You will get respect by going the extra mile in your impression.
How to know you are doing it right?
Your friends may tell you what you want to hear or if you ask them they may be embarrassed to say what they really think. The public is the best gauge of your impression. If you can stay in role while the public tours the camps and they have no idea you are a woman, this is what you are striving for.