PFC REID “SMILEY” PALMER | FEBRUARY 2021
- Determine why you want to become a reenactor. This will help you narrow down what you want to portray. There are many kinds of WWII reenactors, ranging from people who want to teach the public about World War II history to people who only want to recreate battles. To learn more about different types of reenacting, refer to the “What We Do” section of the Who We Are page.
- Find a group. Don’t buy anything until you find a ‘primary unit’ to fall in with. There’s a lot of groups out there, so if you see one that peaks your interest, reach out to them. If you don’t know where to start, go to a public event near you and talk to the units there. Make sure that the unit does the kind of reenacting you’re interested in and you feel comfortable around them. Check out Greaser’s Newbie FAQ and the Pick a Unit Checklist for more information about things to look for in reenacting groups. Once you are confident that you want to hit the field with a specific unit, reach out to them to see what you need to do to join and if they have any requirements for falling in with them for your first event. They will become your ‘source of truth’ for your impression. They will guide your purchases and help you figure out what events are in your area. If you don’t have the cash to buy all your uniforms, equipment, and weapons right away, your unit will typically have things to loan, but take good care of them!
- Research the unit you represent in the time period your unit typically portrays. Typically your unit will have a certain time frame that they portray, like D-Day, Operation Market, or the Battle of the Bulge. Talk to your authenticity officer, unit commander, or main unit researcher in your unit to find out what books, documentaries, and websites you should check out. The 401st GIR and the 90th ID have provided good lists of resources for where to start your research.
- Ask questions. Typically your unit commander, authenticity officer, or unit historian will either know the information or where to find what you’re looking for. It’s better to ask a basic question than spend $200 on something that you’ll never be allowed to use.
- In general, less is more. Once you get your basic uniform, web gear, and weapon, talk to your fellow unit members about what you should get next. However, remember that GIs tended to carry as little as possible, so you likely will not need a ‘complete’ impression for your first few events.
- If you’re uncomfortable, listen to that feeling and remove yourself from the situation. Blank-firing weapons and pyro are still dangerous and you can get hurt. Talk to your safety officer about how to handle weapons and pyro safely. For more safety tips, refer to How to be a Good Joe.
- Don’t base your impression on modern movies or video games. They are filled with inaccuracies. One of my biggest pet peeves is reenactors carrying their rifles at “low ready” instead of at port arms. Modern military mannerisms do not always apply to WWII. Work with your unit to learn how things were done in the 1940s.
- Not all reproductions are made alike. Some companies reproduce fantastic products, others make consistently bad products, some have a mix of good and bad products. Consult the list below for a good place to start, but remember that you should work with the people in your unit before buying anything. Note that there’s also a ton of great resources both for learning about WWII US GI uniforms and gear both online, on websites like olive-drab.com, and offline in books like Government Issue: U.S. Army European Theater of Operations Collector Guide by Henri-Paul Enjames.
- You’re not going to be perfect right out of the gate. Also, don’t feel bad about not having everything right off the bat. This is a journey and a learning experience; be patient, accept constructive criticism, do your research, and enjoy the ride.
- Remember that there’s always more research to be done. 90% of the hobby is research, only 10% is actually attending events. Even if your unit has been active for over a decade, continue to find new ways to research the people you portray. The results can be quite surprising and challenge the unit’s common knowledge. If photos are not easily available, try to find online archives (especially after action reports, lessons learned reports, morning reports, or unit journals), interviews, memoirs, or newspaper articles. Read whatever books you can get your hands on (note: drawings from Osprey books are not acceptable sources and often contain inaccuracies).
- We all have different ideas, impressions, and thoughts, but we all are united by history and wanting to keep that alive. The hobby is full of amazing people with a limitless amount of knowledge. Don’t forget that. If you hit a break wall, reach out to your unit or a help page. This hobby has thousands and thousands of members, if not millions. But we’re all in it together. Work to unite, not divide.
What Should I Buy Where?
When you fall in with a unit, they should help you prioritize your purchases. DO NOT BUY EVERYTHING ON THE LIST BELOW. This guide is meant to be a reference, not as a list of things you need to buy to get into the hobby.
Reenactors frequently debate whether you should use original items, reproductions, or a mix. Reproductions (aka repros aka repops) always stand out and are never perfect, but tend to be cheaper than original items. Some people also prefer not to risk damaging historical artifacts that are becoming scarcer. What you decide to collect is up to you, your/your unit’s standards for authenticity, and what you can afford. However, NEVER use original weather items or original boots. These will not hold up after 80 years.
Note: All prices are in American dollars, are estimates from February 2021, and reflect products available in February 2021. Not all reproduction runs are the same quality, and some are occasionally unacceptably poor quality, so these recommendations represent only those items on the market at the time of this publication. Ask your fellow unit members for the latest feedback on new production runs.
Shirt/Pants, Wool, EM OD “Mustard”, M-1937; Belt, Web, Waist, EM, M-1937
- Where to Buy: Originals (eBay or fellow reenactor), At the Front (pictured left), WWII Impressions, What Price Glory
- Est. Price: 100-150
- If possible, buy original wool uniforms. However, these are not always available or affordable depending on your size. The 2021 At the Front run of wool shirts are nearly indistinguishable from original wool shirts. At the Front and What Price Glory both sell high-quality wool pants. If you need help figuring out your size, What Price Glory has a good guide for figuring out your shirt size. Note that At the Front sizing matches your typical pants size. You should order 1-2 sizes larger for original and What Price Glory pants as pants size charts have changed since the 1940s.
- Where to buy: At the Front (pictured left), WWII Impressions
- Est. Price: 100-150
- Note that your unit might not have received HBTs. Talk to your unit before buying HBTs.
- There are multiple patterns available. Typically, you see First Pattern HBTs in North Africa, Sicily, and the Pacific, and Second Patterns begin to appear more commonly by 1944.
- Note that At the Front sizing matches your typical pants size. You should order 1-2 sizes larger for original and What Price Glory pants as pants size charts have changed since the 1940s.
Jacket/Trousers, Combat, M-1943
- Where to Buy: Originals (eBay or fellow reenactor), WWII Impressions (pictured left), At the Front, What Price Glory
- Est. Price: 100-150
- Note that not all units received the M1943 uniform during the war. The rigger-added pockets on the side of the M43 pants also varied based on the unit. Talk to your authenticity officer or unit commander before buying.
- You can typically still find original M43 Jackets if you keep your eyes open. These last the longest and are obviously the most accurate. WWII Impressions, What Price Glory, and At the Front sell acceptable reproductions.
Canvas Leggings, M-1938
- Where to Buy: Originals (eBay, Etsy, or fellow reenactor), At the Front
- Est. Price: 25-40
- Consult your unit before purchasing leggings. Leggings went though a variety of changes throughout the war, so you want to make sure you buy the right model.
- Like web gear, originals stand up best. While At the Front leggings are acceptable, don’t be surprised if they break after some use in the field.
- It is highly recommended to carry a spare pair of leggings laces.
- Where to buy: At the Front, SM Wholesale
- Est. Price: 150-300
- Consult your unit before buying boots. As you can see to the left, there were multiple types of boots issued to different units at various points throughout the war (L to R: SM Wholesale Double Buckles, At the Front Jump Boots, SM Wholesale Service Shoes, SM Wholesale Roughouts).
- Get reproduction boots, originals do not hold up well. At the Front and SM Wholesale have the best boots on the market as of 2021. They’re expensive, but it’s better to get a high-quality pair of boots that will last 10 years than buy a new pair of boots every year. Both At the Front and SM Wholesale have yearly sales, to save money, wait for one of those sales. One you get them, try them on and, if they fit, dub them with waterproofing.
- It is highly recommended to carry a spare pair of shoe laces.
Rain Coat, Rubberized, M-1938
- Where to buy: Original, QMI
- Est. Price: 150-300
- This is an essential piece of gear if you’re planning on doing anything other than public displays. Raincoats serve not only as protection from the elements, but also as ground cover, and an extra layer of insulation. Originals can be hard to find, but QMI produces a high-quality reproduction.
Web Gear (M1923 Haversack, M1923 10-Pocket Cartridge Belt, M1942 First Aid Pouch, M1924 Canteen Carrier)
- Where to Buy: Originals (eBay or fellow reenactor), At the Front (pictured left), WWII Impressions
- Est. Price: 100-200 for complete set (depending on condition, whether they’re reproduction or original)
- Focus on getting the cartridge belt, canteen cover, and first aid pouch first. This is the correct combat gear for most US GI WWII impressions. Though it depends on the unit, you should likely get the M1928 haversack and a shovel carrier next. Consult your unit for more information.
- Note that there is a difference between OD3 (Khaki) and OD7 (Dark Green) and that you should work with you unit to buy the correct color web gear for your impression. To learn more, click here.
- Original web gear is not only accurate, but tends to last longer than most reproduction web gear. However, it’s getting harder to find original web gear, so you may have to purchase reproduction gear.
Mess kit, Canteen, Canteen cup
- Where to Buy: Originals (eBay, Etsy, or fellow reenactor), QMI for stainless steel canteen and cup, What Price Glory for aluminum canteen and cup, At the Front for mess kit and cutlery
- Est. Price: 25-30 for canteen w/cup, 10-20 for mess kit, 10-20 for cutlery
- Reproduction canteens and canteen cups are more fragile and do not look great compared to originals (and the reproduction canteen cups will burn you if you’re drinking hot coffee). Get an original canteen and canteen cup, the mess kit and cutlery reproductions are acceptable.
- Note: original stainless steel canteens were soldered down the middle. This could leak lead into your water, so you might want to buy modern reproduction canteens or use the original aluminum canteens instead.
For more information, check our our Resources page.