Are “Gettysburg” Boots Appropriate For Civil War Costuming?

Litchfield Historical Society – 1860

There’s quite a lot of quibbling on Facebook about the dating on the new “Gettysburg” boots, so I’m here to give some insight into how I chose the date range for this style.

The main question is, “can I wear these for Civil War?”

The answer is not a definitive “yes,” or a definitive “no.” Here’s why…

In the 1850s, small heels came back into fashion on women’s shoes, and were common on fashionable boots of the early 1860s (and ever after). However, flat boots and heeled boots existed simultaneously during this period.

The latest museum date I have found on an extant pair of flat side-lacing gaiters is 1860, so this is the latter date I set for “Gettysburg” boots.

victorian boots side-lace boots gaiters civil war shoes
Gettysburg Boots

…”but, can I wear these for Civil War?”

We know from studying fashions of the past and even fashion of today that people do not en mas suddenly start wearing the latest, hottest thing. Advertisements for boots in 1861 show heels, but women of lesser means would certainly have still been wearing fashions a few years old.

An advertisement from a German lady’s magazine, “Der Bazar,” 1861

Edit: After much discussion on several Civil War groups, evidence has turned up for flat-heeled gaiters being sold new in 1862, ’63, and ’64:

(click for larger) – 1862 Hartford Daily Courant, CT
(click for larger) 1863 – Daily Eastern Argus, ME
(click to enlarge) 1863 – Daily Eastern Argus, ME
(click to enlarge) 1864 – The Sun

Published only five years before, “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” was instructing women on how to make their own gaiters at home. This useful little booklet continued to be published into the 1870s, and Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine of 1862 advertises it for 50 cents (pg 303). The book includes patterns for side-lacing, side-buttoning, and elastic-sided, flat boots without heels (for those of you interested in this little publication, you can acquire a copy of it from Originals By Kay, for about $18.00 or Blockade Runner for $12.95)

…”so, I can wear these for Civil War?”

If you are a fashionable lady of means, then I would recommend a heeled boot, but if you are a lady cut off from fashionable developments by the war, a woman on the frontier, or portraying a woman who is not wealthy and up to date with fashion, then you would be perfectly justified in wearing “Gettysburg” boots with your daywear ensembles.

Ultimately it is your choice whether your persona would be wearing styles on their way out, or more up-to-date fashion. If you are unsure about “Gettysburgs” being appropriate for your impression, or your reenactment group, please don’t feel pressured to buy them. We have several more styles of mid-19th century footwear in the works, one of which will surely fit your impression perfectly.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862


  • Robin's Egg Bleu

    January 11, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    Whether or not they were completely in fashion during the Civil War, I have to say, that of all choices available for female costumers/reenactors representing that era of fashion, tis far better to purchase either the "Gettysburg" or one of Robert Land's shoes (nearly impossible to get nowadays), than any of the other footwear choices currently available from other makers. I see far too many wearing substandard choices for Civil War (and to be fair, until very recently, women didn't have much choice in that), and though a tad late in style, the Gettysburg is infinitely more appropriate than what I typically see. I think the Gettysburg is lovely and hey, I would wear them if I were doing 1830's to 1870.

  • Anita Harlan

    January 11, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    At Civil War reenactments I've seen women wearing shoes of a similar shape and style so it can indeed work.

    When I started reenacting and was putting my costume together the first thing that was told to me was "Whatever you do don't wear tennis shoes!!"

  • Anonymous

    January 11, 2014 at 8:36 PM

    There is a pair of wedding boots in the V&A (with elastic gussets) that have flat soles dated to 1865 along with a nice note in the description about boots being available with and without heels at the time. I agree with Lauren's suggestions: the Gettysburg is the perfect shoe for Dickens festivals or for a middle class, modest, or lower class common impression during the Civil War era. For those depicting an upper class woman, just wait until you see the Renoir boot! So lovely…

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 11, 2014 at 11:14 PM

      Liz, I'm familiar with the congress gaiters you're speaking of. I didn't want to post them here because they are not exactly the same, but I do take that as good and reasonable evidence that women were wearing flat-heeled, square-toed shoes well into the 1860s.

  • Unknown

    January 11, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    I think "stitch nazis" sometimes forget that not everyone had the money, time, resources, etc. to wear the latest fashions. I got the whatfor once for wearing a late-1930's dress to a WW2 event. No amount of explaining could convince my "historically inaccurate" accuser that many women wore old dresses in WW2 due to shortages and rationing. Such is life 🙂

    The boots are great, I'd pick up a pair if they ran a wee bit bigger (I'm an 11W, and would SO love to become a customer…)

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 11, 2014 at 11:16 PM

      It's hard to change some people's minds, even with evidence. At some point is seems to become less about the facts and more about "being right," whether the accuser is or not. It's a weird behavior.

    • Emi

      January 12, 2014 at 1:48 AM

      I do medieval reenactment and stitch nazi's made me laugh. Here those are the ones that complain about an item not being 100% stitched by hand and instead machine sewn!

  • Trinny T

    January 12, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    Even now there are people trapped in other decades because of many reasons… Money isn't the only consideration. Some older ladies may have preferred the flatter shoe since they were used to that.

  • Unknown

    January 13, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    Well I'm still getting them for Dickens. Just slow down on the new/next ones. I'm already up to three easy pays. My bank account has American Duchess all over it! lol!

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