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Ready to Wear - Civil War Era Clothing
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Abraham's Lady

An educational guide for Civil War
Shopping and Reenacting

From the Neck Up


According to fashion, hats made quite a splash by the mid 19th century. They were, however considered informal.  Even in times past the civil war, Mrs. Grant sternly admonished a lady who had the gall to wear a hat to one of her outdoor receptions rather than a proper bonnet.

  • Young girls (teens and early 20’s) wore hats more than their matronly counterparts.
  • If you insist on wearing a hat be certain the brim is narrow (the exception being a sun hat) and the brim curves down in the front and back. A good rule for this is, if you can place the brim on a table and it will rock back a forth like a cradle, you probably have a correct repro. Check fashion plates and period photos.
  • Never buy the open buckrum weave hats with the overlay of poly lace you can get at a bridal store. Nothing like this even existed in the 19th century!
  • According to Godey’s and Peterson’s magazines, the bonnet was formal headgear and unless you were wearing a dress for a ride in the country or to a watering place you best consider a bonnet.
    There were several varieties of bonnets in style. When you select one, try to keep these things in mind. ‘Bonnets were made to match or contrast an outfit.
  • Bonnets came in more colors than black - (but by looking at most reenactresses you wouldn’t know it.) If you want to find colors for bonnets check old fashion pictorials. They were also varied in the cut, materials, colors and decorative motifs used to embellish them.
    Some things you will NEVER find on a good reproduction bonnet are:
    polyester lace, polyester flowers on plastic stems with plastic stamens that look like they came from the local five and dime, feathers in 20th century fashion colors.
  • Look for sturdy construction. If you see a bonnet curtain tacked on with large stitches don’t think it will last too long. Although it is on your head, headgear does take some abuse. Make sure the frames have enough wire in them to hold their form. Even original bonnets of cloth had plenty of firm wire in them so they would hold their shape. Wire only around the brim of the bonnet does nothing to support the remaining buckrum used in the design. If buckrum is over handled it will become softer, flex and buckle. If the bonnet you hold droops now imagine what they will be like when the season is over.

See Abraham's Lady's Straw Hats

Hair nets
An area of controversy. In most carte de visties I have seen they all are dark in color although there are a few light ones. I have seen a few originals, but they were made of hair. Unless you can unearth any more information on your own, best to stick with dark colors that compliment your hair color. Red and “day-glo” colored hair nets are NOT authentic. Day glo colors are produced by chemical dyes which did not exist in the 1860’s. The only chemical dyes in use at this time were magenta (which resembles the color of beet juice) and a shade of medium green of which I highly doubt either were used for hairnets. One more thing about hair nets. Hair was dressed in a fashionable bun then covered with the net. Nets are not for covering long fly away hair by stuffing it into the net. Shiny rayon hair nets with elastic should also be avoided.

Abraham's Lady sells Hair Nets in an assortment of colors


  • If you are an adult, your hair should be done up in a period style. Types of hair styles generally worn by ladies include rolls, buns, braids wrapped around the head, and of course, banana curls. Fashion plates are a good resource for styles, as well as period photos.
  • Children can let their hair catch the summer breezes. Girls generally had short hair, but some had long, so don’t worry. Bangs were generally not in style but the hair was parted in the center. Photographic evidence has turned up some young girls with bangs, (and they had always seemed to have short hair to go with them.) Hair cut in layers was not fashionable, but this hairstyle can easily be turned into a 19th century “do” by using a curling iron and making banana curls!
  • Any female from the age of 13 on was considered an adult and should conform her dress accordingly.
  • Long cascading youthful hairstyles on a lady past the age of 30 is out of place. Photographs will support this.
  • Those with very short hair may be able to account how they lost their tresses from illness. It was common to take the hair off when the doctor thought he would lose his patient Long hair was thought to sap a person’s strength.
    A girl selling her hair for money (after all hairpieces back then were truly made from real hair) would also have short hair, but this was done most likely by the lower classes who were in need of money.

See Abraham's Lady's Hairpieces and Accessories

Shawls and Knitted Items
Fiber arts were big in the 19th century. Many women knitted and crocheted shawls, hats, men’s smoking caps, scarves, gloves and sweaters. You can occasionally find period patterns for them. If you plan to use a modern day shawl, sweater or etc. avoid acrylic knits. Best to stick with wool. Also pick reasonable colors, avoiding the 20th century high fashion colors and staying with traditional ones such as gray, blue, cream, brown, cranberry, etc.

Abraham's Lady sells Shawls in a variety of colors

Eye Wear
If you have contacts and can wear them, you might find it a good idea. If you can’t get your prescription in those tiny framed glasses and have no choice but to wear 20th century style ones, do not take to heart what you see printed here. But if you just are wearing your 20th century glasses because you don’t think that this accessory is important to your authentic looks, you are mistaken. Small round rimmed glasses from the mid 19th century can be found at some sutlers and antique shops. Avoid the square framed Ben Franklin styles that were popular during the hippie craze of the 1960’s.

You may think you can skimp in this area because your dress almost sweeps the ground and with a hoop on you can’t see your feet, so no one else can....Wrong. Hoops sway and when you are ascending stairs you can see more than you thought possible.... usually up to the knees. Some women have had males comment on their pantalette trim.... now you know why it is a good idea to tuck in that chemise and wear a privacy petticoat. The point of this is, if they can see that much, they also can see your shoes...or sneakers, cowboy boots, or whatever you thought you could get away with. Curious spectators will ask to see footwear, petticoat hems, hoop bottoms, and pantalettes, (if you allow it to go that far.)

Foot wear with square toes (but not boxed toes), was in style from 1827 through the 1860’s. There has been some who have insisted that some footwear had rounded toes. I have not seen any fashion engravings showing footwear of this kind or come across any historical fashion books showing any either. The lady’s work boots being sold to us by many sutlers have rounded toes and in light of finding something better many of us own these. Many shoes were made without metal eyelets, but the shoe industry was beginning to use them. Heels are short and thick.

Avoid 20th Century Construction Features and Styles

  • Spiked heels on footwear- besides being incorrect, they are a hazard in the type of places we reenact.
  • Ice skate type hooks on boots, even lady’s boots made well into the 20th century didn’t possess hooks.
  • Shoes with gummy rubber soles - prop your feet up and you can see just how they don’t fit in.
  • Shoes with a welt of stitching showing on the upper sole - this was not a construction feature of 1860’s footwear.
  • Button boots with elastic loops to close them - button boots buttoned through buttonholes.

See Abraham's Lady's women's stockings and men's socks

  All items sold from Abraham´s Lady LLC via the website, eBay store or sutlery are intended and sold as functional fashion garments. We assume no responsibility or liability for the misuse of our products, possible injury or any undesirable effects resulting from the purchase and wear of an ill fitting garment. Abraham´s Lady LLC makes no claims regarding the use of corsets for general health or medical purposes.