How to Make a Civil War Nurse Costume

Creating a Clara Barton costume for Halloween or a re-enactment can be done with some ingenuity and thrift store treasures. Clara Barton was a famous nurse of the Civil War who is responsible for starting the American Red Cross. This costume takes very little, if any, sewing and is appropriate for young girls in a addition to adult women. You do not need to spend much on the outfit, especially if you are only going to be wearing it once. If you are planning on participating in Civil War re-enactments, you may want to make or buy a basic period dress.

Picture of Clara Barton, famous Civil War nurse, from 1865.

Things You'll Need

  • Long dress with a full skirt

  • White muslin

  • Scissors

  • Hem tape

  • Iron

  • Ironing board

  • Pins

  • Dark socks or stockings

  • Dark shoes or boots

Step 1

Find a long dress with a very full skirt. A long, full skirt and coordinating blouse will also work. The dress should have long sleeves and a high neckline. If you use a skirt and blouse, find a blouse that buttons up the front and has long sleeves with a lot of volume. Generally, dresses worn for working during this time frame were dark in color, although it is not required. To blouse out the skirt, you can wear other skirts or petticoats underneath it, or find a hoop skirt slip.

Step 2

Make a pin bib apron. Cut a square of white muslin that covers the chest to the top of the breast area. Cut a larger square that will cover most of the skirt, and a strip of fabric to make the tie for the apron. The tie needs to be long enough to wrap around you and still tie.

Step 3

Pin the bodice of the apron to the middle of the apron skirt. Use hem tape to join these two pieces together. Using the iron, fuse the hem tape to the bodice of the apron first, according to manufacturer's directions. Fuse a section of hem tape along the top edge of the apron skirt. Then add the apron tie and to join the tie to the apron.

Step 4

Put the costume on. Put the dress on, getting the skirt as full as possible. Wear dark stockings and shoes. Tie the apron on, then pull up the bib and pin it into place.


You could add a red cross to the bib of the apron so others can more easily see you are a nurse. However, if you are going for authenticity, do not do this. The Red Cross was not started in America until 1881, well after the Civil War. Wear your hair parted in the middle and pulled back into a low bun. Bangs were not worn during the Civil War.