Perspectives on reproduction uniforms

The first WWII reenactors used original and converted postwar items. As originals became more expensive and more scarce, converted postwar uniform items came to dominate the hobby. The first reproductions, made in Germany and the USA, were a huge improvement over converted Swedish wool. The most authentic units soon began to stipulate that their members must wear reproduction uniforms (as opposed to Swedish). It was generally not necessary to stipulate what manufacturer the uniform had to be obtained from, because choices were extremely limited and the available choices were mostly roughly equivalent in quality. Because many sellers had long lead times, a reenactor’s choice usually was determined by availability.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, reenacting was in a period of rapid growth and demand for uniforms was extremely high. The pice for a new field blouse at that time was around $350. Starting around 2004 (give or take a few years) a number of suppliers began to have uniform items made in China, in an attempt to meet the burgeoning demand with a lower price option. Most of the Chinese made stuff was absolutely terrible, Halloween quality. The field blouses appeared to have been made from photos of originals, the details simply were not there, shirt weight wool/poly blend fabric with plastic buttons. For the first time, reenactment units had to specify which reproduction uniforms were and were not acceptable. More and more manufacturers were coming on line and the reenactor for the fist time was faced with a wide array of choices. A new hobby paradigm developed that heavily focused on what gear was acceptable and what was the best.

Even a child could have seen that the first wave of China-made reproductions were not correct for WWII. But the product quickly improved. Sturm and other vendors began to offer cheap imported products that appeared very similar to those made in the USA. The existing sellers suddenly had to make the case that their field blouses were still worth $350 when you could buy a China made copy for $150 or less. In the rush to disparage the cheaper copies, much reenactor myth and lore was born- much of which echoes down to the present day.

Let’s look now at 2017. The Chinese made cheap uniforms have killed off some businesses, and the sellers that remain have had to turn to having their products largely made overseas. Constant improvements to the cheap uniforms over many manufacturing runs are yielding products that are in most cases superior to the high-end products of 2004 and earlier. The quality difference between the uniform items offered by most manufacturers is extremely small. None are exactly identical to originals but most are extremely close. And yet, the paradigm of obsession over “the best” and which manufacturer offers the most prestigious product still stands. It’s an old model of thinking, it’s outdated, and we need to get past it, because it is a pitfall for people.

It was also a pitfall for me. Some USA vendors disparaged Sturm products by saying that they were based on a modern suit jacket and that the shoulders were wrong and the arm holes too big. I repeated this line, I took it as gospel. Only years later did I actually compare Sturm arm holes to originals and discover that they are the same size. It was wrong of me to parrot this bad information. It is still possible to find old posts of mine on the Axis History Forum in which I make statements that are uninformed. My erroneous conclusions were based on study of a tiny number of originals, and dealer propagated myth and lore that I was foolish enough to take as gospel.

The best uniform is the decent copy that you buy and then tweak and break in and wear and make your own. The decent copy is a blank canvas for your effort to make something that looks realistic. Decent copies are available from almost any manufacturer nowadays. There are some specific exceptions to this, of course. But the old style hype about certain sellers and manufacturers is hype that is not based on fact, and I think it is well past time that we as a community acknowledge that. When we look at (for example) a Heer field blouse, the reality is that insignia choice and application method is almost certainly going to have a greater impact on overall realism, than who made the blouse!

Original uniform items are in most cases not rare. Original M43 tunics are widely available and accessible. Lots of collectors are happy to share photos and information about the items they own. Unfortunately we are still stuck in a mindset of disparaging copies based on suppositions and lore. If the arm holes on a tunic are too big this is something that we can actually objectively measure and quantify. We can look at original tunics and determine if arm hole size is scaled and graded based on chest size or tunic length, and we can collect data on arm hole sizes and determine what size the arm hole should be on any given tunic size. Unfortunately nobody has ever collected data like this or really done anything like this at all and most of the assessments posted here or anywhere are based on comparing reproductions to other reproductions, or on repeated myth and lore.

Fact: nobody has ever been able to list an objective reason why ATF tunics or caps are inferior to any other copy. The same can be said for many products made by many other manufacturers. If anyone has given one objective reason backed by data why Hessen field caps are wrong, or Gavin caps, or Sturm caps, or caps from 3_reich on eBay- I haven’t seen it.

I would put my field blouse against any other anywhere in terms of realism. It is made by Sturm. Is it better than an ATF blouse? It is, but only because of the work I have put in. I could have started with an ATF or custom Gavin and the end result would have been the same. In the absence of actual objective quantifiable data points to the contrary, they are all equally good.