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Abraham's Lady

An educational guide for Civil War
Shopping and Reenacting

How to Avoid "Farbiness"


What is Farbie?
It is an acronym used in the hobby to describe someone or some item being used or worn as unauthentic to the period we are all trying to recreate. Farbie is not a nice word, and no one wants to be labeled as one. This book should help you avoid all that. If you find that you need any additional information, you can stop by and talk to us. We won’t act like the goddesses of re-enacting and pretend to know it all, but if our staff can help you, we will, and if we can’t we will do our best to direct you to some one or some information source who can.

Go Into the Past
Look through period photos. Examine what real people wore. Go to historical societies, civil war seminars if possible or find someone who collects 19th century clothing who can help educate you as to what really existed. You will find the clothes are not as fancy as the French fashion engravings you see in books. Avoid over dressing. In photos, notice the medium to dark sepia tones. Period dresses were most often medium or dark colored. Light colors tend to show the dirt. In camp it will rain, the morning dew will saturate your hem lines, and other delightful messy situations await you near the camp fire, etc...

Don’t go running off for the first pretty pastel dress for ordinary day wear you see. If it makes you look like a character in "Gone With The Wind" 10 to 1 it is not correct! If it is a copy of an existing dress, Wonderful! Soft colored fancy party dresses and ball gowns are not permissible during daylight hours..

Swap Meets & Sutlers
Swap meets are a great place to find a bargain when starting out. True, but keep something in mind, some reenactors have purchased or made items which were less than accurate and will use this swap meet to cast off their farbies to you. Not everyone who made their own outfits or purchased them from a sutler has authentic reproductions to pass on.

Some have quality products, some do not. (Remember your course in consumer education - Let the buyer beware.) There are those sutlers who don’t care if you look authentic. All they want is to fatten their purse with your hard earned dollars! Take a seasoned reenactor who dress authentically and appears to know what she is doing to go shopping with you. Ask for reputable agents your unit deals with. Ask the sutler lots of questions. The good ones will open up and talk to you, for they have nothing to hide. If they get flustered, defensive, or you think they are giving you a bunch of BS, then you should probably find someplace else to shop. If you are not sure about fiber content, ASK! Is the trim poly lace or poly braid.... ? Vital information like fiber content, and research data used to produce the garment should be listed on the clothing tags if these people are on the level. Do they make their dresses out of historically correct reproduction fabrics of 100% cotton? Is the fabric of good quality, or does it look cheap? You should not wear a poly blend dress. Not only is it not authentic, it is also a Fire Hazard. Poly fabrics burn at a lower temperature than cotton and resin clings to the skin. Injuries due to fire occur every year. Don’t become a statistic.

If You Sew...

  • Beware of commerically made patterns of old fashioned dresses, some are costumes meant for Halloween!
  • The Watchdog (a publication looking to improve our hobby), reported that the best patterns are Past Patterns. Period Impressions, rated as O.K. as they have a few illustrations in their instructions, but the fit has to be adjusted on most sewers who tested the product. With the exception of Past Patterns the product testers also noted that the other pattern companies did not provide enough historical guidance for the novice to make sound choices in cloth content, designs, and decoration. Without help from trusted outside sources, the novice would be certain to have her project become her worst nightmare. When you sew, follow the instructions. Don’t take 20th century short cuts.. Make the undergarments first, then the dress. The undergarments will influence the fit of these dresses as your torso is remolded by the corset to fit the fashion silhouette. The bodices from a true historic garment will be cut to fit with these corsets.

See Abraham's Lady's Selection of Patterns


Dress Your Age
This is a touchy area for many. According to etiquette books of the mid-19th century reaching the rubicon of 30 meant that you were considered middle aged. That meant there were certain things an older, more mature woman would be expected to dress. She was advised to leave light colored ball gowns to the youthful and wear darker colors. She would not dress in fashions popular with the young teenagers (specified teen aged fashions are mentioned later in this booklet.)

Dress Right from the Inside Out
If the clothes are to fit right you have to dress correctly from the inside out. This means, chemise, pantalettes, corset, privacy petticoat, a small 90-110 inch hoop, an over the hoop petticoat (2 are best), and a corset cover. Of course if you are wearing work clothing, you can leave off the over hoop petticoat & hoop.

Wear a corset. (front busk closing style)
The modern sports bra and the g-string panty does not belong in this era. Beware of corsets which do not fit correctly. They should be comfortable, not too snug, and sit well upon the hips. If the feeling is too constricting, try on another size. If it is too loose you will also be uncomfortable. A proper fitting corset should have about a three inch gap where it laces. A well made corset will have the following features:
  • Constructed of two layers of sturdy material such as duck, canvas or an equivalent weight fabric.
  • If corset has an outer fabric of a light weight damask etc. it still should have 2 layers of heavy fabric used in construction, one as an underlining to the fashion fabric and the other to line the corset.
  • Should have a split busk closing and not be closed solely with hooks and eyes. Even back laced corsets from the 1850’s, lacking a front closeure, had a busk inserted in the front to stabilize the front torso.
  • The best eyelets are of metal and should be at least one half inch from the finished edge in back. A piece of boning should act as a buffer between the eyelet and the finished seam edge. The boning will also add shape to the back and keep the corset from tearing out at the eyelets.

See Abraham's Lady's selection of Corsets and Underpinnings

Hoop Skirts
The huge circus tent hoops belong on Scarlet O’Hara. Research on originals have turned up measurements of 90 through 116 inches of circumference on average. Photographic evidence and examination of originals supports this statement. According to an 1861 article in Godey’s, a manufacturer made them to order with as few as one ring to as many as 15. A 130” hoop is probably the largest width a person about 5’8” would ever need for a ball gown or other grand dress. Anything larger for the camp environment is pure Hollywood at best, and impossible to maneuver around camp or a ball room.
The materials used in the construction of any hoop marketed contains metal. This includes the commercially made ones which resemble a tiered petticoat. The rings of those hoops are wire covered by buckrum or plastic. As a safety reminder, metal conducts electricity. You should never wear any hoop near live electrical equipment or during a thunder storml If you decide to ignore this warning just make certain your Last Will & Testament is in order.
In addition to concerns of safety, do not go near the camp fire while wearing a hoop. You would be amazed at the number of new people who did not realize just how dangerously close they had come to igniting themselves. For everyone’s safety, a bucket of water should be near the camp fire at all times!

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All items sold from Abraham´s Lady LLC via the website, eBay store or sutlery are intended and sold as functional fashion garments. We assume no responsibility or liability for the misuse of our products, possible injury or any undesirable effects resulting from the purchase and wear of an ill fitting garment. Abraham´s Lady LLC makes no claims regarding the use of corsets for general health or medical purposes.