Civilians When building your wardrobe, you may want to keep in mind that Hollywood is not an accurate source for costuming advice. Copying fashions and hair from movies will not build a credible impression. Fashion plates from the period are better, but were designed for the extremely wealthy and then toned down by the general public. Good sources are the actual people who lived during the Civil War. Photographic evidence is still in abundance and you are encouraged to examine and copy real clothing from the period. However, it can be hard to tell from a picture what fabric was used for each clothing article. Basics for Men, Women and Children • Nose, eyebrow, tongue, etc. piercings with jewelry were not used. Wearing them while providing a Civil War impression would be a considerable distraction. • Women of the period used no nail polish, noticeable makeup, or wrist watches. Obviously, Civil War era people did not have visible tattoos, Velcro, zippers, cell phones. • Sunglasses were available during the Civil War for syphilis and mental illness. • Period hair styles need to be researched through pictures available. Hats, bonnets, and lace caps were used liberally. • Period eyeglass frames are different than they are today. They are available at local shops or on the internet. Most optometrists can install prescription lenses if needed •Women and civilians used a cup to drink from. Tin cups were found among civilians but it was more common for a lady to drink from a stoneware mug, tea cup, or period patterned glassware. • Plates were available, but not disposable (paper) plates. White stoneware or ceramic, transfer ware, or other period patterned plate is preferable. • Although silverware was a bit different that the modern versions we have today, suitable silverware pieces can be obtained easily and inexpensively with a few visits to the thrift and antique stores. • The 19th century people used water containers for water storage. You may often be away from water sources and will want your own supply. Glass or stoneware bottles/jugs, wicker covered bottles or water gourds were the order of the day. Civilians did not carry military canteens unless they were refugees. • Furniture, albeit somewhat primitive was used in camps and in structures. Sometimes quilts were spread on the ground along with a stool or a chair. Women: This list is designed to satisfy the “everyday/every woman” working to middle-class lady. The clothing here can be dressed down or up to meet the occasion. . Options for wealthier impression may be added later. What is included here will be welcome at any group’s reenactments (for those who wish to travel). • Cotton dresses in the mid-19th century era: Dyes on cottons did not hold well; they tended to fade and in spotty patterns when long exposed to the sun and multiple washings, so cotton fabric was not typically dyed a solid color for use in clothing; it was plaid, striped, or printed (prints take expertise and practice to learn what is period correct) in order to hide staining and fading. Because cotton was not as sturdy of a fabric as wools and silks it was not commonly made up into fitted bodices. After a short time of heavy use the cotton would tear along the seams and darts due to stress. They were, however, made into a “round dress” style with a gathered bodice that wore much better. Cotton dresses were called “wash dresses” because they were made of fabric referred to as “wash goods.” Wash goods could be laundered more frequently and easily than silk or wool. Because they were so very washable their trims were not like those of silk and wool dresses. Many times print on the fabric was considered “trim” enough, but if more was desired it was made of self-fabric or contrasting cotton fabric; in this way they remained “washable” The basic styling, wash ability, lack of fancy trims and quick fading by nature predisposed dresses made of cotton for “work” or casual day dresses. • Undergarments: Chemises and Drawers were almost always of white/natural linen or cotton with the exception of winter drawers made of red or grey wool flannel. Petticoats for “dress” were white as well. “Working” petticoats were frequently colored or patterned (exskirts). Drawers were split in the back for “outhouse” ease. • Knitting vs crocheting: Crochet was vastly popular during the CW but most items made in crochet were for children or the home, however French fashion magazines tended to show more crochet options for ladies. Knitting for ladies clothing was the rage – done on very small needles with what we would consider DK weight or sport yarn or finer. • Laces: While this document is not long enough to go into an in-depth study of period laces it should be mentioned that battenburg lace was not in use until well after the civil war and that eyelet white-work was. Lace was made by machine as well as hand done but was made of fine cotton or silk, therefore, it is best to avoid heavy poly laces and lace in any color except black, white and ivory. • Basic Dress style: Most dresses were wool or silk; neither fabric was considered special, but rather thought of as economical, durable dress goods. Dresses made of wools and silks were most commonly made in two matching pieces with the bodice and skirt basted together after construction. Trims shared the same wash ability as the main dress and were usually of self-fabric, silk fabric, or ribbon (silk or velvet – today’s equivalent would be rayon). • Matching skirt and bodice vs. white blouse with a skirt: White blouses with skirts were considered high fashion items for casual wear and were very popular among the YOUNG ladies (teens). Older, married, ladies wore them only under certain circumstances: the blouse was sheer silk/wool/muslin and worn with a wool or silk skirt and were often topped with a Spanish or Zouave Jacket. The cotton broadcloth version sold by many sutlers is not proper and is discouraged. “Stand alone” garabaldis and “waists” were worn for work or casual wear, again, under certain circumstances - A solid colored or printed wool or silk bodice (“waist or body”) was paired up with a coordinating wool or silk skirt, and these waists were frequently ornately trimmed. • Basques or Jackets: Frequently the skirt to a silk or wool dress was paired with a Basque/Jacket made of silk or wool. This option allowed for additional wear for the skirt and variety for the wearer. Please plan your wardrobe with a respect for how THEY dressed and of the fabrics in the styles THEY used. To do less is to cheat yourself of an authentic experience, to cheat the public of fashion history and to cheat the group of credibility. • Hair Most women had long hair, but not all. Women did cut their hair for sale, head lice . . . and some lost their hair temporally due to illness and fever. Short hair is an option, but be prepared to explain why – create a back story for the public. Bangs were NOT a civil war era hair style “fringe” across the forehead came along later in the Victorian era. While a small number of pictures remain of ladies with side parts the vast majority wore center parts while men parted their hair on the side – it was a gender specific and small children, still in skirts, were designate “girl or boy” by how the hair was parted. Hair is a difficult thing, we must still live in the 21st century; accommodating both time periods will have to be a personal judgment call. Authenticity is encouraged . . . • Corset Please get a corset before making or buying any dresses – civil war fashions were designed for a corseted form, going without looks “frumpy.” Corset laces should be drawn to a comfortable tension as they were during the CW era and measurements taken). If a corset is not possible expect to use braces/suspenders to help support your underskirts and skirt to give you a better appearance. • Chemises Consider getting one or two. If you choose not to get them, you should know about them • Drawers Consider getting one or two. Drawers are not needed if a hoop is not worn but strongly suggested Idaho Civil War Volunteers Guide to Authentic Clothing, Equipment and Etiquett • Shoes A pair of period reproduction shoes or modern shoes/boots that can pass as period correct: Laced through eyelets or elastic side gussets for fit (no zippers or “speed laces”), square toed, heeled (no wedge) with a smooth leather looking sole (no waffle stompers or other heavily textured soles). • Shawls A shawl, woven or knitted, triangle or folded square made of wool to provide warmth when needed. • Collars or neckerchief Plain white collars or neckerchief. If collars are worn brooches or neck bows are strongly encouraged. Collars were not an accessory but a part of the wardrobe as they protected the neck edge of the dress from body oils and stains – it was much easier to replace a collar than the entire dress . . . a lady without a collar was not considered “dressed.” • Petticoats Consider getting one or two petticoats. Working petticoats were frequently patterned or colored as they began life as skirts. • Head Covering A straw hat, bonnet (of correct shape), slat bonnet, lace cap are all welcome and encouraged as ladies rarely appeared bare headed. • Corded Petticoat If going without hoops) or a work width hoop (90 inches) • Stockings Consider getting one to two Pairs over-the-knee or higher stockings preferably white or cream • Gathered Bodice Consider getting one or two gathered bodice dresses in period correct cotton calico or homespun. A simple wool dress with a fitted bodice is also an option for the beginning re-enactor. • Gloves While Ladies did not eat with gloves on they were rarely seen in public without them. Kidd leather gloves are best but cotton will due. They were worn in a variety of colors so have fun with these! • Handbag A device to carry your necessary items in such as a basket or carpet bag. Modern purses and haversacks are discouraged (they were a military issue item and civilian versions were for men). Men: • Shirt Shirts used for military were used by civilians with the exception of the Federal issued shirt. Most soldier’s shirts were made at home. The buttons are different then they are today. Button holes are reworked by hand. Keep in mind that men’s shirts during the Civil War period were made of cotton, wool, and linen and were frequently lined to protect the shirt fabric from body oils. Shirts were white, solid colors (if wool or linen), plaid, or striped. What we refer to as calico (floral quilter’s cotton) was not a common choice for men’s shirts and patterned geometrics were infrequent. • Trousers Britches during the 1860s were made of wool, cotton and linen, the fabric you may wish to wear will depend on season and “time and place.” Trousers fit at or above the natural waist (not around the hips) and had lots of room in the rear. All period trousers featured a button fly as zippers were not yet available. For civilian impressions it is best to choose darker neutral solid colors or checks. Trousers were also made out of plaid fabric. (be careful of the pattern) Fall front trousers are also appropriate for working class or those doing heavy labor. • Waistcoat/vest A man during the 1860s was considered “undressed” if he appear in only his shirt sleeves. Such a look was reserved for heavy manual labor or the blacksmith who is busy at his forge. It was allowable for a man to wear only a waistcoat or vest if he was wearing a white shirt with a tie; if the shirt was patterned, plaid, or striped an overcoat or sack coat was required by society. The high neck military vest was not used by civilians, however, collared, lower necked vests in period appropriate fabrics were used. The majority of vests I have seen have been shawl colored. These can be high or quite low. Vests were made with a roll collar however the photos I have seen of these have been more formal vests with frock suits. A rule of thumb from the photographs I have seen is that the more formal the attire the higher the neck line of the vest. Another option to keep in mind is that it was that trousers and vests would be made out of the same fabric and worn with a dark sack coat. • Sack Coat Men of the Civil War ear did not appear on the street without a vest, or coat of some sort. While the more formal paletots and frock coats are attractive, it is recommended that a suitable sack coat be the first selection as it is applicable to more situations and seasons. For civilians these can be made of wool, cotton or linen, however linen was considered a more costly fabric and would not have appeared on a poor farm worker. Please keep in mind your back story, time and place when selecting fabrics. Example of tweaking the look: A sack coat of wool or cotton would be worn by a working class man going into town or by a middle class gentlemen in informal circumstances. A sack coat made of finer wool broadcloth or linen would have been paired with matching trousers (outfit called “dittoes”) and was appropriate for a wealthier gentleman in an informal setting. For a flexible use of one sack coat made of linen or wool broadcloth in a neutral color, pair it with matching trousers (dittoes), with a waistcoat, boiled white shirt and cravat for a wealthier man or wear the same sack coat with non-matching trowsers and checkered or striped shirt for a working class look. Men’s clothing is just like ladies in that who you are and where you are dictated what you wore. A professional such as a Banker, Lawyer, would have worn a frock suit when performing his profession. He would “dress down” with a sack suit when he went to a picnic or other casual event. • Foot Wear Military brogans and boots were patterned after civilian shoes so are welcome in the civilian camp. It is acceptable to use leather soled, healed, and leather shoes with the “look” of brogans or boots preferably laced up through eyelets. Elastic sided ankle boots are also appropriate. An example is the “congress gaiters” from Fugawee. I have seen pictures of men wearing similar shoes. • Hats Slouch hats, porkpies, beehives, mechanics caps, etc. were not military issue items and can be worn for civilian reenacting.
Children • Boys’ hair was parted on the side and girls’ was parted in the middle. Parts were well acknowledged gender characteristic and in the Civil War era very important for an authentic look. • Boys under the age of 5 or 6 appeared in dresses or little suits with pantaloons – no adult styled trousers until after age 6 when the pants start to get longer (as do girls skirts) until by age 10-12 boys are wearing adult length trousers. Trousers for little boys should be paired with civilian styled sack coats or short Eton type jackets. As boys get older the clothing is the same a men’s civilian clothing. • Girls dresses fastened in the back with either a high neckline or a boat necked style until the child was old/developed enough for stays or corset. Either long or short sleeves were common. Skirt lengths “grew” with the age of the young lady. Skirts frequently had tucks sewn into them to be let out as the child grew in height so the hemline would remain consistent for her age would remain consistent for her age. Below is a diagram from an 1868 Harper’s Magazine to illustrate proper hem length.
• Shoes for children is a considerable expense. If one is not desirous of purchasing new reproduction shoes each season for the youngsters here are a few suggestions for plausible substitutes. Avoid thick or wedge soles and speed laces. Front lacing “paddock boots” with smooth leather soles and moderate heal or elastic gusseted “jodhpur boots” are welcome; square toes are preferred but not required. • All infants wore gowns and preferably cloth diapers. Civil War era people did not have plastic “binkies.” Feeding from bottles was done in private. Blankets should be knit, crocheted, quilted or of other suitable fabric. Walt Disney character blankets were not available. • Children are most adept at “play” and should therefore be allowed to have first person make-believe time and period toys and games to amuse themselves and others. • Modern toys and electronic entertainment did not exist. Civilian Safety: As a family oriented group geared towards education it is important to keep the safety of our members and the public, which frequently includes children, in mind and in practice. The following concepts should be embraced in the spirit of safety: • No unattended fires. Campfires that cook our foods may also harm the public who walk while texting, engage in horseplay and generally just don’t pay attention! All fires must have a responsible party in attendance. • No unattended knives. While it is hard to prepare meals without sharp knives we need to remember that curious little hands want to see and touch everything in the camp. Knives left on a camp table can quickly become a “public” toy or curiosity. • Avoid unnatural fibers in our clothing. Every year re-enactor clothing becomes kindling. Dresses ignite from the hem up and men’s shirt sleeves catch fire, as well as the bottoms of socks on feet held up to warm at the campfire. Non-natural fibers burn quickly and hot and have been known to melt right into the wearer’s skin. Cotton, wool, silk and linen are slow to catch fire and slow to burn. Rayon, made of bamboo, burns like wood and should be used with care. Especially avoid polyester, acetate and nylon fibers in “camp” areas where fires are expected. • No feeding the public. Offering the public tastes and bites opens us up to lawsuits. Cooking sanitation in camp is at times not to health codes simply by the nature of the event, therefore, food cooked in camp is to be consumed by members only who know and understand the risks. • No unattended children. This is a family friendly activity and the family should be embraced and cherished at events. Keep your children close and cared for, for their safety and enjoyment as well as the public. • For all in civilian camps, hunters, soldiers on furlough, spies, and civilian police authorities . . . the club safety rules for the use and handling of gun powder apply. General Civilian Behavior Idaho Civil War Volunteer civilians should look and behave as closely as possible to the civilian population of the time. There were, as there are now, certain customs and actions that were true to the time. Civilians should seek to salute and address each other as the ladies and gentlemen of the 1860s did. Given names were rarely used and then usually only in the home or in correspondence with a family member or childhood friend. It was common for a husband and wife to address each other as Mr. and Mrs. in public and to address siblings in the same manner. Military and elected or professional titles were used with pride and frequently extended to the spouse as well. People of the Victorian era were concerned with what the neighbors thought, looking their best in whatever their circumstances, and in the enjoyment of polite society. It is suggested that members should read a few etiquette books or self-improvement books from the period to get a feel for the culture. Speech was often formal, polite, and tempered with “higher” undertones. They did not necessarily put on airs in their communications but they did carefully choose words to affirm they were educated and intelligent. Most Victorians had a good solid foundation in religion (bible), some education and did not use “poor” language or topics in mixed company. Ladies were LADIES, gentlemen were GENTLEMEN, and children were respectful of elders. This is the picture we can convey to the public.