Wednesday, February 28

9 ways for Women to 'MAN UP' in Reenacting

Love it or hate it, women have been dressing as men in reenacting for ages. Some do it well and some need a little help to make a semi-passable gentleman. For assistance with this article I got help from two women who cross dress at reenactments, and who do it REALLY WELL. Some suggestions come from Mr. Vassermann (my good wife), with additional comments and suggestions from “An Anonymous Lady & Sometimes Gentleman, who wishes to remain unknown”, whose insightful contributions will be highlighted in RED.

Here are some suggestions for the ladies who want to cross-dress as a man and do it well!


Not every woman is built like an androgynous beanpole (my wife Maggie's own words), so it sometimes takes a little work to hide your womanly figure. Binding your bust is the first step, and can be done in a way that is not uncomfortable. Even a little bit helps the look. If you have a curvier bottom, like Vassermann does, wearing petticoat trousers over your pants can help hide that, as well as straight legged trousers that don't hug the form. Avoid breeches if possible as to hide delicate calves and ankles.

There are number of tutorials on the web for drag kings, actors, and cosplayers. Don't use an Ace bandage, as this can damage your muscles - depending on your cup size wear a sports bra or a gynecomastia binder.


In my own period of the War of 1812 the clothing includes tight pants and well-fitted jackets, and in most time periods clothes are meant to fit well, not hang on you. Ill-fitting clothes won't help you hide your figure - they just make you look like you stole your dad's or boyfriend's clothes. 

And even if your tight pants do show off your glorious behind, at least they look better than completely wrong baggy saggy trousers.

When Maggie and I created Vassermann (her male alter-ego) we decided that since she was so small to begin with, we'd scale all her clothing and accessories down to make her look bigger. Her clothing is made using mostly patterns for little boy's clothing, with her buttons being a little smaller than what is called for. If the Jacket called for a 1 inch button we'd use a 3/4 inch button instead. Vassermann’s belt and shoes are a little smaller as well.

The main goal being that we didn't want to to look like she was swimming in borrowed duds, but instead that Vassermann was a slight young man with clothes custom made for his frame.


Nothing helps sell it like a little make up. Before we sent Vassermann into the field, we watched some excellent online tutorials on how to make women look more like male characters (thank you Youtube Cosplayers!) Some of the tips we took from the tutorials was the fill in the eyebrows a little bit to make them a little beefier, and to lighten the lips to make them a little less pink.


Women's shoulders are naturally less square than men's shoulders, you might consider beefing up your shoulders with some simple pads.

You can include pads to widen your shoulders or waist in your clothes, and skillful tailoring can hide other parts of your body.


Long or short, you've got to do something with it… if you have a short haircut, style in in the fashion that men with short hair did. Take a look at some period portraits of gentlemen with short hair to seek inspiration. Take a comb and a little hair product and play in front of the mirror to get a look that's different than your everyday look.

Long hair? Don't just tie it back into a loose ponytail. Instead, braid or queue it in a period appropriate fashion like men with longer hair did.

... don't tuck [your hair] up into your hat. It fools no one.


...moving right is critical to looking male. Watch how men walk and sit and practice doing it. Practice walking confidently - get a male and female friend to watch you walk while you practice to criticize you. Throw your shoulders back and spread out. Take up lots of space at all times - when you sit, sprawl - and then sprawl more. Lean on things. Ooze out. Lounge. Practice when you're wearing your modern clothes, too. 


The most important thing you can do to be accepted as a cross-dresser costs nothing: pull your weight and learn how to be competent in camp and on the field. Learn how to do your job and how to do it well. If your impression involves carrying a musket purchase two five-pound weights and do exercises that simulate holding a musket. Learn the details of your weapon and your campaign. Learn how to put up a tent, dig a fire pit, clean a musket, and pack a trailer. Be there for set up and take down whenever you can. March and sleep in the rain and snow. Step in and get dirty, wet, and miserable.


With Vassermann, we worked on the impression for a YEAR before we finally showed it off at an event.

Maybe you can't afford a well-fitted coat right now or do a single push-up or recite the armament of all the frigates of the Navy circa 1812, but get excited! Make plans. Read read read. And always be looking to improve yourself - every reenactor no matter what their gender should always be working on improving their knowledge and impression.


If your body is extremely female or you're extremely out of shape, consider not cross-dressing, or not cross-dressing in all circumstances.

Let’s face it, cross dressing isn’t for everyone and not everyone CAN or WILL do it well.

Do you have any easy suggestions for reeanactors to improve their impressions? Please feel free to share them in the COMMENTS section below, we'd love to hear your ideas!
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Images by Stefan Barges and Tony Gerard


  1. YES.

    Ahem. To add to this - speaking from my own perspective as a woman in a trousers role:

    Don't be afraid of dirt. A bit of dirt on the face can do wonders (I still need to investigate make-up - especially sideburns) but a bit of cold ash from last night's fire rubbed into the skin does help a lot. And dirt under the fingernails - which is acquired naturally in camp, if you're anything like me.

    If playing a soldier, consider going for the Light Company, if allowed: They deliberately took the shorter, nimbler men so you won't be as obviously out of place. And the shoulder wings do amazing things for disguising narrow shoulders. (Obviously this may not apply - but if you're doing Napoleonic/War of 1812, it's definitely worth considering.)

    It's definitely worth learning how to queue hair - we do ours patterned on the Hornblower series' hair department's method for doing the queues for the Marines. For this, you need: Two hairbands/hair elastics in black, one hairbrush, one long piece of ribbon or tape (bias binding works the best as it grips itself and the hair far better than satin ribbon). And a friend.

    Brush the hair into a ponytail low on the head - a queue should sit on the nape of the neck. fasten with a hairband. Plait (braid) the hair tightly - as tight as you can. Fasten the end with the second hairband - about an inch or two from the very end.

    Tuck the ribbon through the top hairband, leaving a tail long enough to tie it off with at the end, and tuck the rest through the second hairband. We found that weaving it through the braid iteself a couple of times helps to anchor it in place, too.

    Then wind the ribbon around the braid, wrapping it tightly and making sure that each pass overlaps the previous one a little. Make sure you cover the hairband completely before working your way up the queue, and try not to allow any hair to show through. Once you reach the top, tie the two ends together and tuck in. If it's done well enough, it ought to last for two or three days before needing to be redone. The tighter it's done (plait and wrapping both), the longer it'll last.

  2. Maggie is Vassermann?? I never would have guessed in a thousand years. Good job!!

  3. Manspread. It's not just a misogynistic a-hole thing: It's physiological. Men's hip joints are generally closer together than women's, which is part of the reason men are less likely to cross their knees: our thighs get in each other's way, making it actually impossible for some of us. It actually takes effort for some of us to sit upright, with our knees together. I've actually shade to use a shoulder strap from a knapsack, to hold my knees together, so I Wouldn't "manspread" on a bus. Not excusing manspreading, here: some guys do it on purpose. But I AM saying that if you're portraying a man, as it with your knees a bit apart. The farther forward you lean, the wider the stance.
    HATS: Wear them forward, not back. Many women are in the habit of wearing hats back on the crown, and don't think about this, but most men will wear a hat or cap covering the hairline, in front. Sometimes, if you're trying to look PARTICULARLY tough, (off-site, in town, and looking for a dust-up) shove your hat a bit forward,even.
    These aren't absolutes: you'll see period portraits of men crossing their knees, and tilting their hats back, but a woman portraying a man will be more effective is she errs on the side of Vin Diesel, as opposed to David Bowie.