What Did Women Wear During The War?

Civil War

The Corset

Virtually every woman wore a corset of some type under their clothing, from working class women to domestic servants to genteel ladies of society. The ideal was a waist of 15 inches, but corsets did come in different sizes so we know that not everyone squeezed themselves to match this standard. Corsets were stiffened with whalebone, steel, or even oak splits for women in the South during the war.
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The Hoop Skirt

The women’s fashion feature most associated with the Civil War era is the hoop skirt, named for the structural support of wire hoops or whalebones called “crinolines,” worn under the skirt to hold its shape. In a typical dress, the width of the skirt at its widest point (which was close to the floor) was about 50 to 70 percent of the woman’s height. In formal gowns, such as those worn by First Lady Mary Lincoln, the skirt was up to eighteen feet in circumference, using twenty-five yards of fabric.
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Mourning Dress

The period of mourning varied according to the relationship with the deceased. A widow was expected to wear deep mourning for at least one year. This included bombazine (dull, lusterless black) fabric, widow’s cap, black cuffs and collars, and black crepe. Black petticoats, stockings and parasols were also required.


During the second stage of mourning (from twelve months to eighteen months after the death), the widow could trade silk or wool for the bombazine and add jet black jewelry and ribbons to her attire.

The third stage of mourning commenced at eighteen months after the death, and allowed the half-mourning colors of grey, purple, mauve, lavender, or black and grey in her dress.

A daughter’s rules for a parent’s death were less stringent. She needed to only wear black for six months, then two months of half-mourning colors.

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