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Dating Ancestor Photos Through Clothing and Hairstyles

Civil War Era Fashions for Women


Typical features of Civil War era women's fashions were
  • contrasting collar (easily removed for laundering or replacement)
  • wide sleeves and folds on the bodice give a sense of width at the shoulders and bustline
  • wide hoop skirt showing width at the bottom
  • gathers from the bodice and skirt into a narrow waist, which is emphasized by the contrasting width of the sleeves
1861 woman 1862 woman 1860 woman
clothing style 1861 fashion 1862 clothing ca 1860s
1863 hair 1870 hair 1900 hair
fashion 1863 woman 1870 fashion ca 1900


There was a universal hairstyle popular during the war. Hair was arranged very low on the crown of the head, and wider to the sides. Hair was always parted down the middle and slicked down on the crown, then pulled to the back and secured with pins into a bun or roll. Sausage curls and ringlets were popular in the evening, but some women did their hair this way for a photograph.

Hairnets, or nets, were sometimes worn during the Civil War era. Most often they matched the color of the woman's hair. Most were quite plain but some were elaborate constructions of ribbon, velvet strips, or braid with beading.
1863 civil war ribbons in hair Hair with netting
1863 Hair 1860s Hair with ribbons late 1860s Hair with net
1870s woman with ringlets 1871 woman 1880s hair
late 1860s early 1870s
hair with ringlets
1871 Hair much fancier 1880s Hair

Civil War Era Fashions for Men


There were four types of coats worn in this time period:
  • Men generally wore a frock coat, their equivalent of today’s casual suit jacket. It was cut straight across at the bottom.
  • The tail coat (where the back of the jacket was longer than the front) was only worn for formal occassions.
  • The cutaway coat was similar to the frock coat except the front was cut so that it flared back instead of being cut straight across.
  • The loose fitting sack coat was popular during this period
Most shirt collars were of the “turn down” variety rather than the earlier stand-up type.
Civil War Era Frock Coat Civil War Sack Coat
Civil War Era Frock Coat Civil War Era Sack Coat

Vest (Waistcoat)

Vests or Shirtcoats were often worn. They could be almost any style and material but in general were cut straight across at the bottom. They had a shawl or notched collar Trousers or pants were cut high on the waist and had button fronts as zippers were not in use at this time. Suspenders were usually worn to hold the trousers up.


There was a wide range of acceptable hair styles and facial hair styles in the 1860s. Men’s hair during the ante-bellum and Civil War periods tended to be longer, about collar length on the sides.

Hair oils, Macassars, or pomatums were used by almost all men during the mid 19th century and gives the appearance of a wet look to the hair. This is how men achieved the various wings, swirls and rolls often seen in their hair in images of this period.
1872 hairstyle 1870 hairstyle 1878 hairstyle
1872 hairstyle 1870s hairstyle 1878 hairstyle
1879 hairstyle 1880s hairstyle 1890s  hairstyle
1879 hairstyle 1880s facial hair 1890s hairstyle

Civil War Era Fashions for Children

Skirt and petticoats for girls were mid-calf and the pantaloon was ankle length. As girls developed a bustline, skirts and petticoats get longer until they were ankle length or longer. Pantaloons get shorter until they were mid-calf for young ladies.
Children Fashion Civil War
girl ca 1863 young girl 1863 young girl 1880s
boy 1864 young boys 1865 young boy 1886 dressed traditionally as girl
This is my grandmother's brother Ernest Simpson

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