Civil War Fashion

Women’s fashion during the Civil War was really something. Dresses ran the gamut depending on the woman’s imagination — and whether she was wealthy enough to afford a high-end sewing maven to craft clothes for her.

It was, after all, a time of war. So even women’s dresses often took on a “military” look.

Many women’s dresses took on a military look during the war.

 

 

 

 

 

But fashion was still fashion; well-dressed women knew how to splurge.

Embroidery accented this  gown.

The “look” was captured in innumerable ladies’ magazines, such as Godey’s: wasp-waisted, full-sleeved, and above all, utterly demure.

Gorgeous dress, trimmed in lace.

 

And those skirts! Exactly how they sat down remains a bit of a mystery.

“It” girls.

A stylish hat was a necessity if you were going outside, of course. And regardless of whether rain was in the forecast or not, a parasol was another mandatory accoutrement.

Not everyone was a dress-making whiz, of course. Some women clearly didn’t have the designer’s gene. These photos display less-than-lavish versions of typical 1860s fashions, or even a decidedly homespun touch.

Simple children’s clothing.

In other pictures, it’s clear that the woman’s infatuation with fashion magazines got the better of her.

Akk, those accordion sleeves!

What ever possessed the makers of these, for example, not only to sew but wear them?

 

 

 

But cringe-worthy though they may seem today, at the time these creations were considered photo-worthy.

Another concept that must have looked better on paper.
I wouldn’t look so happy wearing this either.
Someone evidently thought bigger was better.

 

Homemade cape… with tassle.

Still, some period photos clearly show a designer who knew what she was doing.

Understated and elegant.

One of my favorites is this beautiful gown, with elegant white undersleeves and understated geometric accents. Yet another glorious design is this one —
a day dress, probably in cotton, featuring fashionable
checks and a generous bustle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there were these lovely creations:

Probably a homemade design — but what rich deep peach color!
A gorgeous combination of fabrics, colors, and patterns.

But all of these fashions had to be sewn! While the treadle sewing machine had already been invented, not every family could afford one.

A seamstress at work.

Women were eminently practical about the whole sewing concept. They often sewed together as a way to make the time pass more pleasantly.

Women often sewed together.

And they wasted no time getting to work, when just a stitch or two was needed. Here’s my all-time favorite photo:

Why take the britches off when only a little mending is needed?

For more than a hundred images of Civil War-era fashions, see: