Making a Civil War Era Dress

I’m still researching all about civil war era fashion. There is a lot to learn. So much, in fact, that I have decided to stop reading about it and just start making something.

My plan at this point is to learn the basic construction. I am not a seamstress by any stretch, so I need to figure out how it all works. Once I kind-of know what I’m doing, then I can focus on historical accuracy.

I’m starting with about 4 yards of fabric that I got from my mother and I’m turning it into a skirt. The circumference will be about 166 inches. I have read that 160” – 180” was typical. I am hand gathering the top of the skirt and so far, it has been fairly easy.

Since I don’t have enough material to make the bodice out of the same fabric, I’m planning to use a green corduroy for the bodice. This is probably not very historically accurate.

Corduroy was available at the time, but was typically used for men’s clothing. However, It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a poor woman would have used some leftover fabric to make a shirt for herself. And, this is just for practice anyway. I do, however, intend to portray a very poor homesteader or sharecropper. There will be no fancy silk gowns for me.

I have found multiple examples of civil war era ladies wearing bodices and skirts of different prints. So, this in itself is not that out of the ordinary.

The skirt is not awful, but I think my female ancestors would be mortified at my lack of skill, though probably happy that I am finally learning.

I next turned my attention to the bodice. Let’s be honest. It is not good. But, I’m proud of the bishop sleeves.

The sleeves turned out great, but the rest of the bodice is terrible. I also desperately need to make a corset and petticoats.

All-in-all, its not terrible for a first attempt. I will absolutely wear this at some point, probably on a short trip to town to embarrass my husband at work and visit the post office.

It looks passable when covered with my shawl.


I am a mom, small business owner, and lover of all things. I have a variety of interests and obsessions and use this website as an outlet for my eccentricities. I live in Missouri on a small farm, that was originally one of the first homesteads in Laclede County. I enjoy volunteering, gardening, foraging, knitting, canning, local history research, and genealogy. I am a member of Mensa, Phi Alpha Theta, Daughters of the American Revolution, Society of Indiana Pioneers, First Families of the Twin Territories, United States Daughters of 1812, Daughters of Union Veterans, Clan MacBean, Clan Sinclair, and the list continues to grow.