Civilian Re-enactor's Guide

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"Military re-enactors teach how we fought the Civil War, Civilian re-enactors teach why we fought the war."


You've selected a role that interests you and you're ready to get started.  The first place to start is with yourself!  Nothing will give more credibility and realism to your role than your personal outfit/dress.  

Remember that it takes about a full year to get your basic needs together. Be patient and get good stuff.  You will add more garments as time progresses.  Accept this indisputable fact right now:  you will never have enough stuff.  You will forever discover new things you just must have! Everytime I walk through a sutler or an antique store, I find something I absolutely want for reenacting!

Get your basic garments together and don't try to do it all at once.  Beginners can reenact effectively with just a dress, petticoat, and pair of boots.  Add the rest as your impression calls for them, you can afford them or as you find them.  

Visit the Dressing Room for a detailed description of clothing and for hairstyles.

Visit the Sewing Room for reproduction dress ideas.

Visit the Tin Types page for authentic dress ideas.


Medium or long hair must be parted down the center and controlled low at the back of the head.

Short hair must be parted down the center kept controlled to hide bangs.

Fake hair or wigs can be used as long as they are in good taste and the same hair color as your hair.

If you color your hair, keep the roots the same color as the rest of your hair please.
Head Covering:
A bonnet or hat should be worn at reenactments, unless you do not own one and are not able to borrow one. This is not only for period impression, but it will also protect you from a nasty sunburn.
 Hats/Bonnets do not have to be worn at balls or period dances. (Most women prefer to wear their hair styled with ribbons or jewels in their hair for dances.)
If no Hat/Bonnet is available to you, a Snood or hairnet may be worn as long as it is in good taste. (Either brown or black, or a color matching your dress, no neon colors please.)
(They're called "foundation" garments for a reason!)
Chemise - RECOMMENDED. Necessary when you are wearing a corset. It will protect your corset and dress from you and you from your corset. Trust us, corsets tend to rub if you are not wearing a Chemise.

Split crotch drawers or Bloomers/ Pantalets - RECOMMENDED. For both modesty and convenience. (Remember, if your hoop tilts up, everyone will see your modern day underwear/thong. Bloomers keep them hidden for your own privacy. Split drawers recommended to make using the bathroom easier- Don't have to untie and pull down.)

Corset - RECOMMENDED. It is obvious when you are not wearing one. Although not required, you will find that most Historically Correct Period patterns are fitted to a corset and thus would look funny (and not fit properly) if you were not wearing a corset underneath.
Also, we do not require you to "suck it in" as they did in the Civil War. This is the 21st century, give yourself breathing room! 
Therapy note: Corsets have been known to provide back support for women who have bad backs, especially lower backs. Recommended: A corset that is long enough to come down over your hips. This prevents boning from digging into your thighs and stomach when seated and also provides better back support as well as slimming the waist for those of us who wish to look a bit thinner!
Hoopskirt - REQUIRED!!!  This is what gives the Civil War Era southern belle her bell shape! The only exception to this is when wearing a campdress/workdress where hoops are not recommended for working/cooking around the camp fire.
Keep hoops about 6" above the ground to prevent tripping over your hem.  
90" to 115" circumference is a reasonable size range for most women. (5 or 6 boned-hoop for average women. 4 boned if you are under 5 1/2 feet tall) 
When worn, an Under petticoat is OPTIONAL and bloomers/pantalets are highly recommended. (If you have split-crotch drawers, you will definately want an Under petticoat!)  
At least one Over petticoat over a hoop is required to mask the lines of the
hoop (or for flouncing/ruffles to be sewn over the bones so they don't show through your skirt) Either one is permitted.

 Corded petticoats - Optional. Made of heavy cotton muslin or duct canvas and rope. An alternative to hoops for working impressions.

Stockings - REQUIRED. Plain white, black, or other solid color. Striped stockings of a very narrow stripe are acceptable or a fashionable young lady or child.
Being as we are out in a field where horses, cannons, and infantrymen are kicking up dust and dirt, we HIGHLY recommend getting black stockings so as to hide the dirt and making washing easier.  Stockings are thicker than pantyhose and do not tear as easily, but do allow your legs to breath, unlike socks. Please do not wear modern pantyhose. Stockings will prevent your shoes from rubbing blisters onto your feet!
Stocking bands  or Garters are also recommended to hold the stocking in place on your leg so you are not constantly pulling your stockings up all day long.
Socks are recommended for late fall and winter reenactments since they are warmer.
One-piece dresses or Bodices and Skirts are REQUIRED. We recommend the two piece as it is easier to get dressed into and allows a bit more movement when worn. Also allowed: white blouses with jackets, vests, tea bodices, swiss bodices, zouve jackets, etc. with skirt.

Dresses should be well fitted and made of a period appropriate pattern and style.

  A narrow white collar is RECOMMENDED. A detachable collar that will fit all your dress bodices is a good idea. If you are a lace-hound and enjoy shopping for collars, feel free to put an attached collar on each dress. Collars are usually white, but ecru/cream colored are also allowed. 
Low necklines should be reserved for night balls and period dances only.
Women were supposed to be modest during the daytime.
Showing cleavage at anytime is not acceptable. Please use good sense. We want to look like respectable women and reenactors, not General Hooker's hookers.
 Avoid obvious synthetic fabrics and trims. (No nylon, rayon, spandex.) Recommend: 100% Cotton,  Cotton Muslin, Polished Cotton, 80% Cotton-20% Polyester, 100% Wool, Chiffon, Taffeta, Jaquarde, Silk, Velvet, Satin.

Zippers are not acceptable. Buttons, Hooks 'n Eyes and Snaps are a better way to appear Period Correct. If a zipper absolutely must be used (maternity clothes, etc.) do your best to hide it with over-hem or bias tape.
Reproduction shoes or Granny boots are RECOMMENDED. These can be purchased on eBay, from Sutlers, or other reenactors. Recommended price is between $10-40. Personally, we do not recommend paying more than $45 for your shoes.
Black leather or fake leather is recommended. No polished black shoes.
Your shoes must lace up (no velcro) and should come to just above the ankle.
If you are able to fit in a Victorian boot comfortably that buttons up the shinbone, then good for you, go for it, just remember you will be walking around in these shoes all day long and probably wearing the same shoes to the ball/dance as well.
Also Recommended: Shoe padding or arch supports. A couple layers in the bottom of your shoe can save your feet and ward off backpain.
If you aren't wearing reproduction shoes, you should at least wear black boots or shoes with very low heels and low, blunt toes. Black flats that fit your foot well can be worn. Make sure they are comfortable to walk or stand in for long periods of time.
No speed laces, thick hiking boots, modern sports/tennis shoes or canvas shoes please. We do not want anything that screams "21st century."

Bare feet are not recommend as there are sharp objects sometimes found in the fields. A current Tetnus Shot IS recommended before attending events.
Accessories (Optional)
 Parasols- black or white acceptable.
Gloves- Full gloves for dances are allowed, netted mitts or hand gloves are acceptable for tea parties and church services.

 Aprons- Pinner or waist style are acceptable. Recommeded if you are doing a lot of cooking around the campfire as aprons often serve as a hotmitt for removing pots from the campfire grill.

Shawls- Highly recommended for all weather. Decorative ones for balls/dances, shopping.. Plain woven, woolen, 
knitted or crocheted ones for campfire or for warmth. Knitted or crochet "sontags" are also appropriate for warmth.

Mantles, paletots, saques, cloaks, and capes are appropriate for cool and cold weather.
Market woven basket- RECOMMENDED. Great for carrying things you buy at the Sutlers and for carrying water with you to drink! Can also hide your camera, wallet, and car keys under a hankerchief in the basket!

The NO NO List
NO makeup (other than a little rouge for your lips and powder for your face.)
NO nail polish (did not have this in the 1860's)
 NO modern glasses (did not have this in the 1860's) Contact lenses can be worn. Period glasses with your prescription are highly recommended.
NO sunglasses (did not have this in the 1860's) Sunglasses were rare in this Era and usually meant the wearer either had Syphallis or was blind.
NO wristwatches (did not have this in the 1860's) Pocket watches on chains are RECOMMENDED though.
NO cigarette smoking in view of others (if you smoke, make it a very private activity) Women did not smoke in the 1860's, it was not seen as proper for a lady.
(This is important as we are trying to portray an Era from 150 years ago and Spectators do not wish to see someone in Period Dress and wearing sunglasses, a ballcap, a pair of Nikes and a Marlboro perched on their lip.)
Please consult one of the 12th South Carolina Ladies for advice, help, and ideas.

Email us with questions


Portraying a Gentleman of the Civil War Era is not only a wonderful idea, but also noble. Most men join a reenacting unit to protray a military persona and to charge into battle, guns blazing. To actually portray a gentleman in hat, dress coat, slacks, and shoes is every woman reenactor's secret fantasy!
A gentleman can strive to portray a high-class gentleman, the blacksmith, store clerk, home guard, a reverand, farmer, mill worker, field worker, miner, etc. Any impression works for the 1860's.
Start out getting a shirt, pair of slacks and some boots. Add things as you go to give more character to your role. You don't have to get everything at once, or if you already have a shirt and slacks from military re-enacting, then get a few other items to switch over once in awhile from military re-enactor to civilian.
Visit Tin Types to view pictures of gentlemen of the Civil War Era for clothing ideas, hairstyles, and facial hair.
Visit the Gentleman's Page for further dress attire ideas.
Visit the Social Etiquette page for etiquette and proper behavior.


Hairstyles must be appropriate to the period.  For men, extremely long hair is not appropriate. A regular haircut with well-trimmed sideburns, moustache, beard, and hairpart are acceptable. Goatees, fu manchus, braids, and shaggy hair are not acceptable. If you dye your hair please try to keep the roots the same color as the rest of your hair. (No neon colors please.)
 Felt Hat – REQUIRED. Top hat, low hat, plug, bowler, derby, or pork pie. In the South and West however, top hats were often replaced by broad brimmed, low crowned hats for everyday frock suit wear. A hat is HIGHLY recommended to prevent sunburn and give shade to your eyes.
Shirt- REQUIRED (cotton, linen, flannel, or wool) with drop shoulders, pullover with button placket with 3-5 buttons made of wood, bone, galvanized rubber, or re-covered with matching fabric. Recommended: cotton for hot weather, wool for cold weather.
Under Trousers- RECOMMENDED. If you are planning on wearing woolen trousers, you may want to buy or have one of the ladies make you a pair of under trousers out of white or ecru cotton to protect your legs and other "important" areas from been chaffed by the wool pants in hot weather. Under trousers also provide extra warmth at colder reenactments. Definately recommended if you are going to be riding a horse at a reenactment.
Outer Garments:

   Trousers- REQUIRED. (wool or cotton) high waist, no back yoke, narrow button fly, no belt loops (didn't have belt loops until the 20th century), well-fitted but not tight. Striped pants or solid black or gray were most popular. Farmers, laborers, ranchers, factory workers and such usually wore a outfit of sturdy wool, cotton, corduroy or denim trousers.

   Braces/ Suspenders (non-elastic) RECOMMENDED. Suspenders were commonly worn. Reccommended to hold pants up and to support tools, ammunition packs, gunbelts, etc. Can purchase these at sutlers, eBay, or from other reenactors.

     Cravat- RECOMMENDED. Colorful cravats were often seen with Frock coats in the 1860's. Cotton, silk, or linen. Bow ties and Windor ties did not become popular until the 1870's.

    Frock Coat- RECOMMENDED. The frock coat was single or double breasted, usually black, bottom hem above the knee, and distinguished by a squared shape at the bottom front. worn with contrasting pants and top hats. Coat and pants usually DID NOT match!!

Sack Coat- RECOMMENDED. Hemline falls a few inches below waistline. Shorter than a Frock. Considered an alternative to a Frock coat. Usually black or gray and DID match the pants!! Instead of squared hemline at the front bottom of the coat, it is curved and rounded out so that the bottom of the vest is shown. Usually only the top button of a sack coat is buttoned.

Vest- cotton, silk, or wool. Usually colorful and garish, stripes were popular. Solid black or gray was also popular for more dressy occasions. 19th Century vests usually (though not always) had lapels, either in a shawl or notched style. They also nearly always had a lower hem that was parallel to the ground, rather than the modern vest which tapers downward in front.


     Shoes- Brogans and other dress shoes are approriate. 

Boots – period pattern with squared toes. Heel plates acceptable. Officer's boots acceptable.

Evening Wear: (Optional)

Dress Suit- The evening or full dress suit for gentlemen is a black dress-suit--a 'swallow tail' coat,

Vest-  cut low in the front to show off the shirt.

Cravat- white to match shirt.

 Shirt- The shirt front should be white and plain; the studs and cuff buttons simple.  

Top Hat- felt, black, tall with a black silk or satin band.

Gloves- White gloves oir gloves of the palest hue  were an essential accessory, especially when dancing, as touching a lady with bare hands was not only a bit crude, but one's sweat could soil her gown.

Accessories: (Optional)

Walking Stick- straight stick with metal caps on bottom and top to prevent wear and tear on the stick. Was not curved at the top like a cane is.

Overcoat or Cape- wool, cotton, or linen, usually lined with cotton or silk. Usually black or dark gray. 

Wallet- made of leather or clothe, usually a bi-fold 

Eyeglasses- must be of the correct style for the period

   Jewelry and Pocket Watches must be of the type used during the time period. Watches on chains that hook to the top vest button are acceptable. 

The No No List

NO modern glasses (did not have this in the 1860's) Contact lenses can be worn. Period glasses with your prescription are highly recommended.

NO Long hair  Exception: Unless you are a Civil War soldier who will be attending a ball in uniform. If you are a soldier with long hair and choose to wear a gentleman's suit instead of uniform, try to keep your hair neatly combed and out of your face if you do not wish to cut your hair. Tie-backs are not acceptable. 

NO sunglasses (did not have this in the 1860's) Sunglasses were rare in this Era and usually meant the wearer either had Syphallis or was blind.

NO wristwatches (did not have this in the 1860's) Pocket watches on chains are RECOMMENDED though.

NO cigarette smoking in view of others (if you smoke, make it a very private activity as modern cigarettes are not period correct.)  If you wish to smoke in public, we recommend either a pipe, chewing tobacco, cigar, or hand-rolled cigarettes. (Note- if you are a cigarette smoker and do not know how to roll your own, ask another gentlemen or soldier to show you how to roll a cigarette. Or break up some of your brand of cigarettes ahead of time and put the tobacco in a little leather pouch and then use that to smoke in a pipe so you still get the same flavor.)



Infants and Toddlers (Birth to 6 months)

Undershirt – Cotton or linen

Belly Binder or Roller – A cotton flannel to provide warmth and support to the infant’s spine.

Napkin – chequered linen called diaper square folded to create a triangular shape for use.

Pitcher or Soaker – This is great for hiding a modern disposable diaper.

Long Petticoats – Cotton or cotton flannel.

Long Day Gown – Cotton or cotton flannel.

Bib or Pinafore

Infant’s Sacque – A jacket.

Flannel Skull Cap

Decorative Day Cap

Stockings and Booties


Six to Nine Months

Virtually no change is seen in the garments of infants from birth until the age of nine months. At this age, mothers were encouraged to shorten baby's gowns to allow for crawling and walking. After this age, pinafores were worn to help protect the clothing. Most pinafores were made of muslim or brown holland. Both fabrics were sturdy and washable.

One Year of Age

The first change in your child's wardrobe takes place when he/she reaches the age of one year. At this time, most mothers replace the belly binder with a corded stay. While it is less restrictive than a fully boned stay/corset, the corded variety offers back support. It buttons up the back and most often has shoulder straps. Buttons around the waist provide a place to hang drawers and petticoats which would otherwise be apt to ride down on children with little or no hips.

Two or Three Years of Age

The second change takes place when the child was potty trained. At this time, cotton or linen drawers were added to replace the nappies and pilcher. These side opening garments would button to their corded stays. Drawers for little boys would have a small hole in the seam of the lower front crotch for his convenience. The length of both boy's and girl's drawers came to mid calf. The legs were often decorated with rows of pin tucking and embroidered trim. Boys and girls would continue to dress primarily alike until the boy begins to process of becoming breeched. This refers to the time when he could leave off his skirts completely. Until that time a little lad would wear stays and petticoats just like his sister.

Subtle differences are seen in the choices in the dress trims. Braid and brass buttons were bery popular for little boy's dresses. Plaids, while popular with both boys and girls, was especially favored for little boys. A popular dress tyle throughout the period featured a wide, open neckline with either drawstring or a small yoke. Although very impractical, it remained fashionable for over thirty years. The open neckline provided no protection from drafts. It was prone to slipping off the wearer's shoulders, making free movement very difficult. This style was usually but not always accompanied by short sleeves. Ribbons and bows were often tied at the shoulders.

Boys, age four & older

Around the age of four, a subtle but important change occurs in the clothing worn by little boys. His dress begins to shorten untul it resembles a tunic. The drawers change from cotton or linen into the fabric of his tunic dress. They are now considered an outer garment rather than part of his underwear. This is the first step in the transition to adult male garments. The next important transition was the knickerbocker suit. It was worn between the ages of four & six. This was an awkward age because the little boy was too old for skirts and too young to be breeched. The knickerbocker suit took various forms, but generally consisted of baggy knee pants gathers just below the knee. Straight legged pants were a popular variation. The knee pants would button to his shirt. A belted tunic would be worn over the shirt and pants. The tunic often had a diagonal opening across the front. Brass buttons and braiding were popular trims for this outfit. The young boy would stay in knickerbockers until he was fully breeched. Breeching occurred anytime after the age of six. A young boy's first breeches buttoned onto his shirt. These knee length pants featured side openings rather thana center front one. As the little boy grew, his pants would go through three different stages. Each stage marked another step toward adulthood and could happen together or seperately over a period of time between the age of seven and ten. The side openings on his pants would be changed to a front button fly. The buttons around his waist would be eliminated and braces(suspenders) adopted. His pants legs would lengthen to his ankles. All three changes were usually complete by the age of ten.

The shirt to which the pants buttoned took many forms. The center or diagonal front opening shirt should have the stylish dropped armholes prevalent in current fashions. Full gathered sleeves or fitted coat style sleeves are both good choices. Braid and buttons were popular for trimming both shirt and pants. Very young boys could have their shirts made of holland, wool, or nansook. These shirts could be worn with or without a waistcoat. They often had diagonal front openings. After the age of seven, the shirt resembled an adult man's and was made from cotton. Just like a man's shirt was considered an undergarment, so was a boy's shirt, and was rarely seen without a waistcoat(vest) or jacket.

Jackets worn by boys varied from the short bolero or Zouave style in current fashion to the shapeless sack coat. Both styles could be worn with a waistcoat and could be adorned with braiding. The fasteners were another subtle age indicator. The youngest boy would have a single button or tab closure. As he grew, the number of buttons increased. After the age of ten, a young boy's clothing should resemble an adult's in every way. This includes the drab and somber colors worn by adults at the time. Black, dark grays and browns were all popular choices. Wool was universally used for men's clothing. Cotton was the primary fabric of shirts.

Girls, age four & older

Little girls fashions changed in more subtle ways as she matured. A little girl never abandoned her stays. As she grew, her stays would evolve into the boned style used by women. Her under pinnings were as numerous as her mother's. They included the chemise, stays, drawers and multiple starched petticoats. Sometime in her development, a young girl would adopt open crotch drawers like her mother. A single boned hoop was appropriate for a fashionable young lady after the age of seven or eight. There is photgraphic evidence showing little girls much younger than age seven wearing hoops. I think it is a matter of choice and common sense. Let common sense be your guide.

The skirt length was a visible sign of maturity. Starting at her knees when a toddler, the skirt would gradually lengthen to mid-calf (approx. age eight), to bott top (age eleven or twelve) and finally to ankle length(age fourteen and up) as the young lady grew. Another sign of growing up was the adopting of the closed necklines and longer sleeves. After the age of thirteen or fourteen, most girls wore short sleeves only for formal wear in the evenings like their mothers. The change from a back closure dress to a front closure one also marked growing maturity and usually happened by age fifteen. The fashions found on little girls of the period share many characteristics found in adult women's clothes. Arm holes were dropped off the shoulder and shoulder seams fell toward the back of the garments. Popular sleeve styles included the full bishop sleeve gathered into a cuff, the fitted coat style, the bell shape and the pagoda. Older girls often wore undersleeves with the latter styles.

Dress bodices had either close fitting jewel necklines, or the wide, open necklines seen in younger dresses. Detachable white work collars were used by girls to protect their dresses just like their mothers. Most, but not all, girls' dresses were one piece with the bodice gathered or pleated onto a waistband. There is some pictorial evidence showing contrasting bodices and skirts. The vast majority of dresses had matching bodices and skirts. SKirts were attached to the waist band by gauging, box pleats or knife pleats. Most were stitched on by hand. Skirts usually feature one or more growth tucks, which could be let down as the young lady grew. Bodices were usually flatlined with minute corded piping used to stregthen armholes and finish necklines and waistbands.

Cottons, wools and silks were all popular for girls' dresses, with cotton calico being a staple for everday wear. Wool guaze was especially popular for good dresses. A variety of trims and ruchings were used. Most were applied in similar style to those found on adult dresses. An important accessory to any little girl's wardrobe was her apron. Aprons or pinafores came in a variety of shapes and styles depending on their intended use. Although all shared the basic function of protecting the dress, some such as silk party aprons, helped to embellish an ordinary dress for a special occasion. School aprons of muslim or hollan were worn daily and usually features a bib of some kind. This style often had a waistband with a button closure. Some of the most simple aprons were know as "old fashioned" and were little more than a length of fabic with armholes and a drawstring around the neck. An "overall" apron covered the dress completely and had sleeves. It buttoned up the back. Pockets, no matter what style of apron, were an important feature.

Little girls enjoyed a variety of jackets for fashion and warmth. The rounded front bolero style was very popular with the new garibaldi waists. Zouave jackets were very popular with girls and were often heavily braided. By the age of fifteen, a young lady should resemble an adult woman in every way. The only visible difference might be a shorter skirt, if she is unmarried or very young looking.

These are merely suggestions for dressing children for re-enactments. A dress for a little girl and a pair of pants and a 4-button placket pullover shirt for a boy works wonders for those who do not wish to invest in a variety of clothing for children re-enactors.

*NOTE*: These clothing guidelines are not meant to be the end result of an impression. They are designed to be the minimum. We are flexible and exceptions can be made for good reasons. As we raise the bar for our own impressions, we set an example for others in the community.


*All pictures are curtesy of eBay, other websites, and our own production. Copyright 2005*

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