Civil War Costumes

Tracy Johnson
Civil War Costume

Much of the attire from the Civil War era was handmade by family members or by seamstresses hired by the wealthy. Clothing wasn't just for style, but it also indicated status in the society. While colorful, embellished garments symbolized affluence, simple, modern frocks and apparel were for commoners.

Costumes for Men

During the Civil War, the Northern Union armies wore navy blue uniforms and the Southern Confederate armies wore grey. However, for those not fighting in the war, men typically wore a vest, trousers, and coat set with wool being the common factor. Not to mention hats and brogans - or heavy, ankle-high shoes or boots - were amongst the accessories utilized by the men of this precise day and age.

Confederate Officer

The Confederate Officer uniform often changed due to a variety of reasons such as location, limitations on the supply of materials, and state regulations during the war. The typical uniform consisted of a slouch hat, gray shell jacket, trousers, and brogans.

Rather than heavy knapsacks, they carried their bedding rolled in a blanket and threw it over their shoulder. Most pieces are sold separately and there are a variety of reliable websites that offer unique pieces for your reenactment or costume.

  • Double Breasted Frock Coat: This exact replica costing about $500 is lined with black cotton and natural muslin. The coat features an inside left breast pocket, flap style pockets in the folds of the skirt, button detailing, and matching collar and cuff facings.
  • Confederate Officer Costume: Available at just under $60, this ensemble features a gray double breasted jacket with gold buttons down the front and matching gold trimming, along with a matching pair of snazzy trousers.

Union Officer

Similarly to the Confederate Officer, there were many changes to the Union Officer uniform during the span of the Civil War. Union Officers generally wore a blue forage cap with black leather visor, a dark blue sack coat, matching wool trousers, and leather brogans. In his knapsack lived a tent, groundsheet, and overcoat, along with a rolled blanket attached to the straps.

  • Civil War Union Uniform: For around $200, this great reenactment go-to includes a federal blue wool sack coat, matching trousers, a muslin shirt, a pair of adjustable canvas suspenders, either a blue kepi or forage cap, and a waist belt/buckle combination.
  • Civil War Union Officer Costume: This remarkable replica costs about $275 and features a double breasted jacket with contrasting color and cuffs, gold trimming, button up detailing, a satin sash, and trousers to seal the deal.

Navy Officer

Navy Cotton Duck Trousers
Navy Trousers

An important part of the Civil War took place on the high seas or the rivers which flowed through the South. The sailors or navy men typically wore a blue wool jumper, blue or white wool trousers, a flat hat, a black silk neckerchief, brogan shoes, wool socks, and a black leather waist belt.

  • Navy Fatigue Coat and Hat: For just under $300, this single breasted wool jacket features black cotton lining, rolling naval collar, and five-button front. For $75, the dark blue wool hat with leather visor has gold detailing and side buttons.

Victorian Gentleman

The Victorian Era identifies with the reign of Queen Victoria in England from 1837 to 1901, and civilians during the devastating Civil War times continued the fashion trend. This included fancy top hats, knee-length frock coats in a wide range of shades, vests, and trousers. Often they would stride with walking sticks while dapper pocket watches hung from front vest pockets.

  • Randolph Pickwick Financier Costume: Each piece is sold separately with the highest price point under $200. A costume for the sought-after Victorian gentlemen, this all-in-one package includes a tan wool frock coat, a black top hat, a pocket watch, a white shirt, a double-breasted vest in an alluring crimson hue, black trouser, back braces, and a cross tie.
  • Arthur Camden Saloon Keeper Costume: Each piece is sold separately with the highest price point under $65. A different take on Victorian-style clothing, this costume features a felt derby hat, a red vest, a collared dress shirt, trousers, a mechanical pocket watch, a bow tie, and more.

Newsboy

Whether traveling by foot or horse, a newspaper correspondent or newsboy had an important job of delivering word of strife or battle. Typically you could catch these young lads wearing a button down shirt, either a vest or suspenders, a tie or bow tie, patterned, knee-length knickerbockers, wool stockings, and a cap.

  • Toby Greenwell Costume: With the most expensive piece costing $55, this head-turning ensemble includes a white collar shirt, snickers, leather suspenders, a grey, wool tweed news cap, a bow tie, and calf-length stockings.
  • Newsboy Costume: This all-in-one costume costs just under $55 and features a white collar shirt, a brown, wool vest, a tie, snickers, a tan flat cap, and argyle-patterned wool stockings.

Costumes for Women

From infamous hoop skirts to simple frocks to practical pioneer gear, women's fashion in the 1860's trying decade depended upon social status and location. There was the prim-and-proper elite of the North and plantation belles of the South, the brave female nurses, and the hard-working pioneer ladies, all decked out in very different styles that have shaped fashion trends of the future.

Southern Belle

A southern belle, derived from the French word belle (beautiful), is a quintessence for a young woman of the American Deep South's upper class. Covered from head to toe, this extravagant costume entails a multitude of layers.

The first layer is the bloomers.

  • Second is the chemise, which is basically a cotton nightgown worn under the corset.
  • The third is the constricting corset for a bustier boost and slimmer waist.
  • The fourth is the corset cover or camisole.
  • Fifth is the petticoat.
  • Sixth is the hoop skirt to give southern belles their bell.
  • Lastly is the over petticoat to cover the hoop skirt.

Additionally, a variety of accessories were utilized by these well-mannered, flirtatious yet chaste ladies of the civil war period including wide-brimmed straw hat, gloves, parasol umbrellas, and hand fans.

  • Southern Belle Adult Costume: Scarlet O'Hara, the very essence of the southern belle, has shaped the look of southern women since the 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and the subsequent film adaptation starring Vivien Leigh. This affordable costume costs less than $50 and emulates the look of those in the film. It features three ribbons around tiers on the skirt and an off-the-shoulder top. The material is thin, as noted by customers, so plan to wear a slip beneath it. It comes in sizes small/medium and medium/large.

  • Southern Belle Civil War Ball Gown: This gorgeous costume costing around $150 features a sexy royal blue bodice dress with boning, a big, black bow with an abundance of ruffles adorning the neckline, a poly lace-up bodice for shape, and smooth cotton underskirts with tiers of never-ending ruffles.

Nurse

Back in 1861, Dorothea Dix became superintendent of nurses for the North's side of the Civil War. One on her duties was to figure out a consistent dress code for the nursing staff. A couple requirements were that the nurses be over age 30 and plain-looking. Dresses had to be either brown or black and unadorned - no hoop skirts, bows, or ruffles to go with the popular 1860's trend. This resulted in a plain dress with no defined waist covered by a white apron, along with a simple hat to keep hair out of their face.

  • Colonial Dress Costume: Simple and modest just as Dorothea's requested, this dress that costs around $60 comes in an array of sizes for women. It features a black, short sleeve dress covered by a white apron with a red cross, along with a plain white mop hat to add that special Civil War originality.

Pioneer

Civil War Gown
Civil War Gown

Although luxurious styles of silks and bustles were left behind, traveling by wagon train or foot required these courageous ladies to take on a different type of ensemble. Hemlines were raised a bit to save them from dirt and wear. A corset was impractical thus often not worn, excluding formal occasions. For this same reason, bodices and sleeves were fitted less closely and an apron was often worn to protect the dress underneath. A bonnet or wide-brimmed hat was worn while outside to protect the face and neck from the sun.

  • Civil War Gown: Perfect for Civil War enthusiasts, this costume costs around $160 and features a fitted bodice with rope and lace trim and matching trim on the skirt.

DIY

Whether you need a Civil War costume for a theme party, theater production, or re-enactment, you must first decide what you want to dress up as. From there, you must pick the right pattern for your blast-from-the-past getup.

Soldier

Civil War soldiers wore similar uniforms, the main difference being the color. First decide whether you are dressing up as a Northern Union soldier who predominately wore navy blue or a Southern Confederate soldier who wore grey or light blue.

Things you'll need:

Instructions:

  1. Glue colored ribbon or a braid down the outside leg of the pants and horizontal stripes across the front of the jacket with fabric glue. Officers had different colored stripes according to their rank; general officers, field officers, and officers on higher staffs wore trousers of the same shade of blue as the coat. General officers had their trousers trimmed with double striping in gold.

  2. Sew or fabric glue a line of brass buttons down the front of the vest and jacket.

  3. Finish with a military-style peaked cap.

  4. Pair all pieces together for your finished costume.

Southern Belle

The guidelines of 1860s dress were very strict. Keep in mind a lady never showed anything below her collarbone before five o'clock PM, a hat or bonnet was always worn outdoors, gloves were never removed (unless eating), and sleeves always went to the wrist. And of course, simply think layers.

Things you'll need:

Instructions:

  1. Pair all above pieces together in the order listed.
  2. Make sure your blouse is tucked in.
  3. Style your hair in rolls or curls, and the rest twisted and pinned in a roll at the nape of the neck.
  4. In the summer, ladies wore palomino hats with ribbons or flowers that matched their dresses. In the winter, ladies wore bonnets made of thicker material.

Civil War Style

Civil War costumes are an essential part of a re-enactor's repertoire. With the wide array of incredible sources, shops, and sites for your Civil War-inspired outfit, you are certain to create a relatively realistic, attractive, and inexpensive costume that will make you the talk of your special occasion.

Civil War Costumes