Civilian Ladies Clothing and Information

On Acquiring Clothing

In many ways the military reenactors have it easy. They need only find reputable sutlers and order the appropriate clothing and accouterment. Civilians have many more choices and issues.

The first question to answer is: Who are you portraying? Are you the wife of a common soldier? A nurse? A wealthy woman visiting the camp officers? Different civilian roles call for different clothing. So where do you start?

The best way is to get a simple everyday dress and develop your role as you do more research. The basic items are: a cotton dress, a hoop skirt, boots or shoes, a bonnet or hat, and a shawl or other wrap. A lady of the Civil War era would also wear an entire wardrobe of what were called "underpinnings", but those can be added to your ensemble later.

Ready made clothing is available from sutlers and milliners, but most reenactors make their own clothing or have it custom made. This is both because of the cost and that the close-to-the-body fit that is required is very difficult to achieve with ready made clothing.

Someone just starting out should consult with the ladies in the Third Maine before investing a lot of money into period clothing. Some of what is labeled as period-correct is sometimes not correct at all, and in some cases you can make modifications to inexpensive modern garments to get the right "period look".

Check out this website for an illustration of a period lady's attire:

Dress Up: Interactive Description of 18th and 19th Century Clothing

Aren't You Hot in That?

This is the question asked most frequently by visitors to camp. The answer is - not as hot as you think. But heat exhaustion and heat stroke are still very important considerations - the ladies may not be wearing a wool uniform, but the layers of constricting clothing can be just as dangerous on a hot day.

Choosing 100% natural fibers for all your clothing can help to keep you cool. The natural fibers breath in a way that polyester blends don't. Other tricks include wearing a light weight sports bra instead of a chemise and corset. The same "look" of a smooth round bosom is obtained, but without the layers.

Other precautions for the heat include -

Find the shade - suntans weren't fashionable at the time anyway.

Be sure you are drinking plenty of fluids, even if it calls for frequent trips to a not very pleasant porta-potty.

low down and take your time walking or doing other chores (I've heard it called "walking Southern").

Wear a hoop - it can keep the skirt fabric off your legs and allow a little breeze

Wear a hat - it will keep your head and face out of the direct sun.

Know your limits - many of us pack an emergency spectator outfit of shorts, a tee shirt, and sandals. When you are starting to feel more than just uncomfortable, change out of your period attire and change into a spectator.

Don't take a nap in the tent when you have a headache or don't feel quite right - those tents can be like ovens, and you may have early heat exhaustion. Let someone know you don't feel well, find a spot in the shade, put your feet in some cool water and a cool cloth on your head. If you don't feel better, or start to feel light headed or sick to your stomach - get help NOW.

Remember: Heat illness is serious - this is a hobby. It is supposed to be fun, not life-threatening.

Camp Impression Authenticity Standards (PDF)

USV Authenticity Standards (PDF)


Here is a list of suggested books for civilian reenactors (PDF).

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