Ask A Reenactor: What’s a Farb?
If you spend any amount of time around reenactors, you will hear the term “farb” bandied about quite a bit. You’ll hear it used as a noun (“that guy is such a farb”), as an adjective (“his jacket is so farby”), and even as a verb (“so what’s this I hear about you farbing out at the event last weekend?”). So, what does this word mean?
“Farb” means something or someone that is inauthentic.
A “farb” is generally a person who is wearing or doing something that is not in keeping with the period or impression they are portraying. Something that is “farby” is something inaccurate. To “farb out” means to intentionally do something that you know to be incorrect. “Farbery” is a general term for all things relating to farbs and inaccuracies. A “farbism” is an incorrect belief that has come to be accepted as the truth.
Is being a farb bad?
Calling someone or something a farb or farby is pretty much the worst insult you can give someone in the reenacting hobby. While the word “farb” makes no distinction between intentional and unintentional inauthenticity, the implication is that the reenactor knows that something he has is incorrect, but he is too lazy to use a more authentic item. It’s hard to say whether that is true of most farbs, but it is certainly true of some. Some farbs are “unintentional farbs” who simply don’t know that their gear or clothing is incorrect, but many are simply too lazy or too cheap to use an appropriate item. The latter are generally very looked-down-upon within the hobby, whereas the former are merely seen as needing proper guidance.
Are some farbs worse than others?
There is also a spectrum of farbery, with some offenses being greater than others, but much of that determination lays in the eye of the beholder. In general though, at the top of the chart are offenses such as use of modern items (glasses, watches, shoes, sleeping bags), use of non-natural fibers in fabric (for periods where it didn’t exist), and grossly inappropriate equipment. Near the bottom are more minor offenses that often go un-challenged such as inappropriate hairstyles (within reason), modern food, and modern items converted to look like original items (you see this a lot in reenactment vehicles).
Who decides what is farby and what isn’t?
While the general rule is that all things inauthentic are, by nature, farby, all units have their own peculiarities when it comes to what they accept and what they consider to be farby. A major trespass in one unit may be standard procedure in another, and some units let certain things slide while being stringent on others. Some units will allow “girlfarbs” (women dressed as men), provided that they do their best to hide their gender and as long as their equipment is top-notch, while others consider them a heinous offense. One unit may allow modern socks to be worn, but have a ban on non-period food, while another may disallow facial hair but will allow the use of sleeping bags. Because of this, most units have very clearly stated standards for what they will and will not accept.
I don’t want to be a farb. What can I do to avoid becoming one?
My best advice for avoiding farbery is to join a unit that has a low tolerance for it. It’s pretty easy to spot reenacting units with a high degree of authenticity – their members generally take a strong stance against inauthenticity, they have clear standards for what to wear and where to get your equipment, and they have a heavy focus on having the best portrayal of their period in the hobby. They take their hobby seriously and put a lot of time and effort into researching the people they portray. Many of these units have a reputation for being somewhat uptight, but if authenticity (and the respect of other reenactors) is what you’re looking for, this is the route to go. The other necessity is research. Research research research. Don’t have anything in your clothing or equipment (your “kit”) that you haven’t documented. Photographs and illustrations are a good place to start, but reading original accounts is often even better. If you place a high value on authenticity and are careful about what you choose to wear and carry with you as a reenactor, chances are that you won’t end up as a farb (at least not intentionally).
Why do reenactors dislike farbs?
There are several reasons that farbs are looked down upon in the reenacting hobby. One argument I’ve heard is that it’s an insult to the people we portray. Another is that it’s an insult to reenactors who actually take the time and effort to create a highly authentic impression. Yet another is that seeing something inauthentic on the field takes other reenactors “out of the moment” by reminding them that what they’re experiencing isn’t real. Just as some units have looser authenticity standards than others, some reenactors are more bothered by farbs than others. As a general rule, pre-20th century reenactors tend to be bothered by farbs more than 20th century reenactors, and reenactors who primarily attend private, reenactor-only tacticals tend to be bothered by them more than reenactors who mostly attend public living history events.
What are your personal feelings on farbs?
Well, I spent the first 6 or 7 years of my time in the hobby as one! When I started reenacting, I didn’t have much contact with other reenactors, so I didn’t have much guidance either. As a result, much of my equipment was not correct for the period. To top it off, I was a girlfarb as well, because I didn’t like the idea of spending my entire weekend cooking and cleaning over a campfire while the men and boys got to do all the “fun stuff”. Most reenactors are farbs to some degree or another when they start out, unless they’re given a whole lot of good advice and support from the very beginning. That said, I am relatively intolerant of most farbery these days. Most farby items stem from a wish to maintain modern comfort and convenience while portraying an era in which they did not exist, and I think that that takes away a lot from the purpose of reenacting. If you want to have a comfortable and convenient hobby, go to a drive-in campground. The rest of farbery has to do with either laziness or ignorance. Given how easy it is these days to put together a fully accurate impression, I don’t really tolerate laziness as an excuse for inaccuracy. As more and more information about reenacting is available on the internet, I am less and less tolerant of the ignorance excuse as well, but I am always happy to lend a hand to someone who clearly is inaccurate only because he doesn’t know any better. I don’t really make fun of farbs the way some reenactors do (okay, I do sometimes, but only the reeeeeally egregious ones), but that doesn’t mean that I’m a fan of them, either.