How to Make a Civil War Costume

The American Civil War was a charmed era. To this day, many people join reenactment societies to recreate that bygone time in history. They purchase or make extremely elaborate, historically accurate costumes for their activities. If you're creating a Civil War costume for Halloween, you don't have to go to such trouble and expense. However, you can create a relatively realistic and attractive costume that will make you the talk of your next Halloween party.

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Confederate Officer Costume

Get a single or double breasted medium grey woolen suit. Preferably, the jacket should be long. Try if possible to find a frock coat which reaches mid-thigh. Sew a different color trim such as red, yellow, black or blue onto the collar and sleeves, depending on the branch of service represented. Apply stars to the collar and ornate braid to the sleeves.

Wear a hat that matches the color of the suit. For a truly authentic officer's uniform, check a reliable reference such as "The Confederate Army 1861-65" to determine the colors for different branches, as well as the arrangement of insignias, braid and buttons.

Wear basic black shoes. Add costume weapons such as a gun and a sword in holsters.

Union Officer Costume

Find a double-breasted navy suit. Try to find a frock coat or shell jacket and a colorful silk sash for the union officer's uniform. In some instances, a sack coat or cape may also be appropriate for a Union officer. Wear a navy officer's hat.

Apply shoulder boards or epaulettes depending on the rank of the officer. Refer to a book like "Uniforms of the Civil War" for additional information on the colors of branches of service, rank badges and other important details.

Wear simple black shoes or boots, and put on costume weapons as with the confederate costume.

Southern Belle Costume

Make a dress for a southern belle by gathering some silk, wool or polished cotton fabric. If you're sewing your dress, obtain a pattern for a historically accurate style. The southern style of dress uses bright colors, often with plenty of taffeta and lace. If you're buying your dress, look for Civil War reenactment dresses on discount sites such as eBay.

Get a hoop skirt to go underneath the dress. Alter the dress and hoop skirt as necessary so that they're the right length and fit close to the waistline.

Curl your hair, then style it up in a bun. Add accessories such as gloves, jewelry, and a parasol.

Northern Lady Costume

Create a dress for a northern girl by getting fabric in a solid, dark color. If you'd like to make a day dress, sew a very plain and simple dress using a basic pattern. Prints such as checkers are fine, but avoid fabrics which are excessively ornate.

Add a whitework collar to the dress. If you're purchasing your northern Civil War dress, look for items don't have a lot of lace and frills. You can construct a northern Civil War evening dress by altering an old prom gown, adding length to the skirt and changing the neckline and sleeves to match old pictures from the 1860s.

Part your hair in the middle and style it in a bun at the nape of your neck. Add demure jewelry and a fan, if you like.

Tips & Warnings

  • For additional information about the styles of dress in the 1860s, refer to "Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion" by Herbert Norris and Oswald Curtis.
  • Make this a group costume by bringing several men and women together in either southern or northern Civil War attire.
  • Check Google Books for an extensive preview of many books on the Civil War era.
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