I have not yet added a disclaimer to this site and I probably should. To that end:
Anytime I do a post like this, that is personal-ish and open to interpretation I am expressing only what has worked for me and what my views are. I am not attempting to say that there is One True Way(tm) of doing whatever I’m talking about, nor should my words be used as a weapon against people who do things different just because I stumbled into an audience.
I recently changed personas which is what made me actually have to consider this. For years I argued I was Irish, had a scottish name that was later period than I said I was, and dressed Norse. Mhari was a lovable early period hot mess from Northern Europe. She had no direction, dabbled in almost anything, and any attempts at authenticity left me scratching my head. Authenticity to what? Norse? Irish? Scots?
That being said at the time I built who Mhari was? She fit. When I built her I was a college kid trying desperately to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do. Early period garb was something I could make easily when I didn’t care about fiber content or trim. I could get an apron dress out of a yard of fabric (yes I am wee) and that pleased my budget. Mhari let me try on a lot of different cultures and styles in a time when that’s what I needed. I held on to her for years. Mhari let me be goofy and unashamedly new.
I took a two ish year break from the SCA. I still went to War of the Roses every year, but my membership lapsed, events weren’t a priority, and I just didn’t have the desire to play. Real life health was exploding, my employment was spotty, and while I’m sure the SCA could have been an escape at the time it was just One. More. Thing. In that two year period? I out grew Mhari.
I was coming back to the SCA more focused, I knew what my interests were and I knew what culture actually spoke to me the best and held my interest. So I became Aethelflied, a more dignified Saxon name for a less eclectic Saxon lady. I debuted her at King and Queen’s bardic and I’m happy with her so far.
Enough about my story, here is how I think is the best way to build someone that fits and who’s skin you’re comfortable in:
Step one: What era calls to you?
What time period and place makes your heart sing? If you find yourself constantly reading 14th century French poetry on weekends and the tales of King Arthur are your favorite things ever, you probably won’t be happy as a 9th Century Russian. If Russian fashion and culture makes your heart go pitter pat then I wouldn’t suggest Elizabethan. Be sure to look at the culture and mind set as much as you can and make sure it’s a time and place you’d be comfortable portraying. If you’re aiming for an “accurate” persona don’t just grab pretty clothes and call that good enough.
Step two: Check availability of research.
This is more important if you want to aim for authenticity. Later period personas give you more examples of, well, everything, earlier period gives you more room for interpretation but less concrete data. If you want to be documentable without having to hunt for 5 texts in 3 different languages that all say different things about the same dig? I suggest aiming later. If you love the reward of navigating that documentation maze? Join the early period mafia. All the cool kids are doing it.
Step three: What are your non-style interests?
Check as best you can to make sure your interests line up with when and where you’re looking to be. Love rapier? You may want later period. More interested in complicated black work? Late period is your friend. Tablet weaving and spinning? Welcome to any time any place! But you aren’t going to be comfortable if you can’t do what you love in the context of your persona because you’re aiming to do it “right” and your love affair with Norse poetry doesn’t fit your 14th century Greek persona.
Step four: Take a hard look at your finances.
This is the step I hate. A lot. I’m broke. I open my wallet and it laughs at me. But, if you’re on an austerity budget no matter how much you love high Elizabethan court garb it’s probably not a good plan. Don’t lie to yourself on this one. Part of why I learned to spin and weave is because fiber is cheaper than good yarn, and good weaving yarn is cheaper than (when you can even find it) documentable woven trim. Start lower class/less fancy, you can always add to your kit later. But buying the $200 a yard velvet brocade (for those of you who haven’t looked at high end fabric prices recent and think I’m exaggerating, well, I’m sorry for the painful reality check you are about to receive.) is really not the best place to start.
Look at what you can reasonably afford, and start below that. Elizabethan (sorry this is my go to example for f-ing expensive and pretty) really really what you want? Find other people who do it and see if they have cast offs, start low class and slowly build your kit.