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Mourning Becomes Her


 826402. New York Public Library 826380. New York Public Library Because I’m going to a funeral at the end of this week, I thought I’d take a look at the nineteenth century’s special affection for mourning dress. Black mourning survived over the centuries in various forms. It took the mid-nineteenth century, however, to give the fashion for mourning an added fillip. The Victorian era is awash with ornaments and details affiliated with mourning, from jet and onyx jewelry to lacy veils and black tippets. Women, of course, carried the particular burden of grief. Their physical appearance was rendered according to the dictates of society: deepest black for a full year when glossy materials were forbidden, like furs, velvet and satin, and then permission to go to half-mourning, to add dull colors—like lavender or gray—before a slow return to original dress. Widows were encouraged in the dowager look, aided by that most familiar of examples perched on the English throne. Black lent dignity to the rituals of grief. Yet, did it ever cross a woman’s mind, that her mourning dress isolated her further? That, here, through the vagaries of fashion, was a western way to emulate the Hindu practice of suttee? By the mid-1870s, there were groups speaking out against the extremes of mourning wear for women. The adoption of morning clothes put an economic squeeze on poor and lower middle class families. However, the social regulations governing mourning dress didn’t really begin to relax until the 1890s. Many critics of the era consider that mourning dress was a form of conspicuous consumption, symbolic of the pervasive atmosphere of gentility and conformity. Do you agree?


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Condolences to you... Great

Condolences to you... Great picture post! In North America, the only time one wears mourning is at the actual funeral. Even widows no longer wear black after the ceremony. Apart from the widowhood of Queen Victoria, you must also think about the assassination of President Lincoln on the American side of the Pond, which also happened in the early 1860s. The culture of mourning reached its zenith in the latter half of the 19th century, with industries catering to every aspect of mourning and its observance: dressmakers and tailors; hearse makers, drivers and professional mourners (mutes); jewellery makers; stationers....the list goes on and on. Some mourning clothes were sumptuous! The mourning gown worn by Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) of Austria, is a feast for the eyes: opulent black lace and jet beading almost cover the entire bodice! (This was displayed at the Met Museum almost 30 years ago.) For your readers, jet (a type of gemstone) was the appropriate stone for mourning jewelry. (You can also see brooches/jewellery made of the deceased's hair and worn as keepsakes.) The rules of widowhood were not hard and fast. Benjamin Disraeli (the dandy and British prime minister) started courting his wife in the late 1830s when she was in the first year following the loss of her husband. (She was married to politician Tony Wyndham Lewis, a colleague and mentor of Disraeli.) Wealthy widows often had queues of suitors looking to court them.

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