Civil War Womens Clothing

The Civil War womens clothing outfits worn by the female citizens of Gettysburg and Victorian women visiting after the battle are hard for us to imagine in the modern age of shorts and tank tops.There were specialized Civil War dresses every occasion: mourning gowns, ball gowns, riding habits, etc.

The Hoop Skirt

Civil War Southern belles are best known for their hoops. Civil War ladies clothing and fashion in the 1860s featured the hoop skirt at its greatest width. The hoop extended slightly father out in the back than in the front.

It took up to 5 yards of fabric to make a Victorian hoop skirt.

The cloth supply to the South from northern mills was cut off during the war, so some women made smaller skirts to save material and help the war effort. Or perhaps they recycled curtains as in Gone with the Wind!

Practical Civil War Dresses

While a hoop skirt is a good outfit for Gettysburg Remembrance Day on November 19th when ladies would have dressed up to hear Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is likely not what most citizens were wearing during the battle or while helping in hospitals.

Wealthy Victorian women wore several dresses each day. A “morning dress” was plainer. An “evening dress” was low on the shoulders, and suitable for a party. A “walking dress” had a longer peltote (a type of jacket essential to the outfit) over it that matched the skirt.

On the other hand, working class women during the Civil War likely only had two or three everyday dresses, one Sunday best outfit, and maybe the newest everyday dress reserved for going to town or visiting people.

Layers of Civil War Womens Clothing

Here’s a list of the Civil War womens clothing that they wore starting next to the skin and working out in layers:

Layer 1
* Drawers (underpants) made of cotton or linen and trimmed with lace
* Chemise (long undershirt) usually made of linen
* Stockings held up with garters

Layer 2
* Corset or stays stiffened with whale bone
* Crinoline, hoop skirt, or 1 or 2 petticoats (dark color if traveling due to mud and dirt)

Layer 3
* Petticoat bodice, corset cover, or camisole

Layer 4
* Bodice
* Skirt, often held up with “braces” (suspenders)
* Belt
* Slippers made of satin, velvet, done in knit, or crochet

Layer 5 (outerwear for leaving the house)
* Shawl, jacket, or mantle
* Gloves or mitts
* Button up boots
* Parasol
* Bonnet or hat
* Bag or purse
* Handkerchief
* Fan sometimes made of sandalwood
* Watch pocket

A fine lady never painted her face (wore make up). Sometimes she did carry smelling salts incase she fainted. For festive occasions, young ladies wore a nosegay of flowers.

Visit the Smithsonian website to see a vintage photo of a lady in Civil War womens clothing. (Opens in a new window.) There is also a color fashion plate from Godey’s Ladies Book, June 1862. It was a magazine that served the upper middle class, but those of lower status would certainly have been influenced by the Civil War ladies clothing fashions of high society and tried to imitate them.

I have collected some photos of Civil War dresses from the archives of the Library of Congress.

Color Choices

According to magazine articles from the era, a lady should choose colors based on harmony, simplicity, and influenced by nature.

We might consider some of their flower inspired color combinations gaudy now; however, they were afraid of being gaudy and looking like they were wearing Joseph’s coat from the Biblical story, so they stuck to two main colors in most ensembles.

Various styles of trim and braid were popular. Accessories for Civil War womens clothing were often covered in embroidery, as the vintage patterns from Godey’s Ladies Book and Peterson’s Magazine testify.

More about Women’s Gloves

Victorian modesty dictated that ladies should wear gloves when going out. She must have nice clean gloves on for church or dancing. They were not worn at all times and removed for eating. Think of them as part of Civil War womens clothing outerwear or things put on when going visiting such as the shawl, cape, and bonnet.

Crochet mitts were popular in the 1840s, so wearing them to an 1863 event is out of fashion. Perhaps someone old and clinging to her younger days would wear them, but white kid gloves extending to cover the wrist were the most popular and fashionable gloves.

If you crochet or knit and want to make something for your ensemble, why not make a snood? It was a lacy type of hairnet used to cover a bun.

Is there a hair in your necklace?

Hair jewelry was a special type of Civil War jewelry used to remember loved ones separated by distance or death. It included the person’s hair in rings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, or even watch chains.

This accessory in Civil War womens clothing was a type of sentimental jewelry first given as a token of friendship or love, but as the Victorian era progressed, it became mourning jewelry.

Victorians had an obsession about hair being covered or worn up, and they were very careful about touching each other, hence the gloves. In this form, hair jewelry allowed men and women to touch an intimate part of each other.

The hair could be clipped from the head, but many ladies had a hair receiver on their dresser and emptied their brush into it.

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