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Victorian Mourning

Victorian Mourning

Wearing mourning clothes are an ‘outward token that they loved those they lost.’ (Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, 1831, p. 117)

In the Victorian and Edwardian era, wearing mourning was a social obligation but it also helped to protect the feelings of the mourners: Every stranger would instantly recognize the mourning dress, know of their loss and wouldn’t hurt their feelings with unnecessary jaunty remarks.

The colors of Victorian mourning are black, white, gray, purple, lavender and scarlet. Black is the color most associated with mourning wear. However, not all extant black dresses are mourning dresses: Continue reading Victorian Mourning

How To Dress In The Edwardian Era

‘ I am sure she was well dressed […] for I cannot remember what she had on.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Edwardian women were advised not to neglect the importance of dress: ‘Suit your dresses to the occasions upon which they are to be used’ (Household Companion, 1909). ‘A trailing gown of velvet and lace is not adapted for shopping or travelling, any more than a tweed skirt and flannel blouse is appropriate to an afternoon reception.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

To be well dressed, isn’t costly, as a well fitted gown of cheap material always looks good: ‘the aim of all who aspire to be well dressed should be simplicity and taste’. (Household Companion, 1909)

A well-dressed woman will ‘rather follow than lead the prevailing fashion, and in no event will permit the costume of the day to lead her into violation of good taste and common sense. The golden rule in dress is to avoid extremes.’ (Household Companion, 1909)


In the morning, at home:  ‘Morning dress should be Continue reading How To Dress In The Edwardian Era

Mourning In The 1900s And 1910s

Edwardian Mourning

In 1909, the ‘length of time for wearing mourning has greatly decreased during the past five years, as formerly there was such an exaggeration of this that sometimes the young people in a family were kept in constant black, owing to the death of successive relatives.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)



Why wearing Mourning?

Wearing mourning clothes ‘serves as a protection to those whose deep sense of loss induces them to avoid many social duties, and who would escape from thoughtless and painful allusions.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)

Mourning In The 1900s And 1910s
Edwardian horn hairpin

‘We do not advise people to rush into black for every slight bereavement, nor, on the other hand, to show the utter disregard some do on the death of their relations, and only acknowledge the departure of those near and dear to them, by a band of crape round the arm. This is the mark of mourning adopted by those in the services who have to wear uniform, but hardly a fitting way of outwardly showing respect to the memory of those who have been called away from us, and whose loss we deplore. A short time since, a lady appeared in a new ruby satin dress, with a band of crape around her arm. The fact of the dress being new, showed that poverty did not cause this incongruity. It is hardly ever those who are styled “the poor,” who err so against the accepted ideas of decency and respect. They always, however straitened they may be in circumstances, contrive to wear mourning for their deceased relatives.

When black is fashionable, no difficulty is found in wearing it, and you meet all your friend so attired, but when it becomes a question of duty, these objections are raised as to the unnecessary expense, and the inconvenience of so dressing. The majority adhere in this respect to the customs their parents have followed; but the advanced few are those who air such sentiments, talk of the “mourning of the heart, not mere outward woe,” and not wearing what is really mourning, go into society on the plea, “Oh! we know that those who are gone would not wish us to grieve for them.” This may be all very well, but in the case of husband, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and the nearer-related cousins, decency requires some outward mark of respect to their memory.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)




Mourning stages

Deep mourning

‘For deep mourning, black stuff dresses, heavily trimmed with black crape, and long crape veils, are worn.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909) Mary Stuart bonnet or small toque hat, widow’s cap, no ornaments except jet, no furs. 1900s crape-covered dress with veil and parasol. Photograph of widow in crape-covered dress with bonnet and veil. Photograph of two women in crape-covered dresses (in the middle of the page).

Mourning fabrics: crape, silk, wool
Black leather gloves and mourning fabrics: crape, silk & wool

‘For gentlemen, at first plain black cheviot suits, with broad crape bands on their hats, and black gloves.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)

Second mourning

‘During the second period the crape is left off, and plain black alone is used’. (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)

Black dress trimmed with black crape, no cap, only dark furs. 1904 painting of older widow. 1902 crape dress with two bodices: one crape-covered, one with low neckline and shiny silk belt. Elegant 1902-4 dull-finished, sheer cotton-silk dress. 1900s wool dress trimmed with crape. 1900s crape-trimmed wool dress.

Gentlemen ‘cease to wear black clothes, varying these by dark suits of black and grey, and the width of the crape hat-band is narrowed.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)


‘For half-mourning light black, black silks, black and white, or costumes of mauve or grey, can be worn.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909) The colors are ‘restricted to black, white, and various shades of the blue lavenders and violets; and occasionally greys; in England, cardinal is added to this list, accepted because of its ecclesiastical use.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909).

Colors for half mourning: gray purple lavender mauve
Colors for half-mourning: gray, dark gray, purple and lavender

‘Attempts have been made to bring in some colors, such as red or violet, and we consider them suitable to slight mourning; but the only color really admissible for half-mourning is gray, or the pales lavender, gray gloves sewn with black, gray and black reversible ribbons, gray and black feathers, gray flowers mixed with black, and so on.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901) 1902-3 embroidered, shiny black silk dress. 1903 embroidered silk and wool dress. Black and white dress. Black and purple dress. 1902 mauve silk evening dress with sequins.

For gentlemen ‘the black hat-band is the one emblem of grief retained.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)




How long should one mourn


Deep mourning for one year, second mourning for one year, then half-mourning for six month. ‘crape two years, slight mourning one year (cut in half if desired). Long veil six months, lighter six months.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909) ‘The skirt, which is generally cut quite plain, and slightly trained, is completely covered with crape, put on quite plainly in one piece; the body and sleeves are also trimmed with crape — the dress, in fact, presenting the appearance of one of crape. […] Second mourning cap left off, less crape and silk for nine months (some curtail it to six), remaining three months of second year plain black without crape, and jet ornaments. At the end of the second year the mourning can be put off entirely; but it is better taste to wear half mourning for at least six months longer […] many widows never wear colors any more, unless for some solitary event, such as the wedding of a child’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

Mourning in the Edwardian era
Tulle lace collar and cuffs

‘The following list would be ample for a widow’s outfit. We have given a rather large one because, of course, it can be curtailed as wished.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

  • crape-trimmed henrietta dress
  • dress trimmed with rainproof crape
  • crape-trimmed henrietta mantle with silk lining
  • crape-trimmed cloth jacket
  • crape bonnet with long veil
  • rainproof crape bonnet with long veil
  • 12 muslin or lawn collars and cuffs with deep hems
  • one stiff black petticoat
  • 4 black silk or cashmere stockings
  • 12 cambric handkerchiefs with black border, 12 finer cambric handkerchiefs
  • lisse, tulle, or tarlatan caps
  • crape-trimmed silk parasol for summer (without lace or fringe in deep mourning)
  • muff of dark fur or Persian lamb

For Parent and grown-up Child

One year ordinary mourning with veil. ‘crape six months, black without crape three months, slight mourning three months. Veil three months.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909) ‘six months in crape trimmings, three in plain black, and three in half mourning. It is, however, better case to continue the plain black to the end of the year, and wear half-mourning for three months longer.’

For Brother or Sister

Six month to one year. ‘Crape for three, plain black for two, and half mourning for one month […] Silks can be worn after the first month if trimmed with crape. ‘

For a young Child

Six month

Victorian tulle lace, locket with violets, pearl necklace
Carrickmacross lace day cap

For Grandparents

Three month or longer ‘simple black without a touch of crape […] After that the usual garments, or garments somewhat modified’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

For an Infant

Three month

For Uncles, Aunts, Nephews and Nieces

‘Crape is not worn, but plain black, with jet for three months.’ ‘Face veils; no long veils.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909)

For Parents-in-law

‘Black, without crape for one month […] after one month of black and white, with lilac, should follow.’

For Cousins

‘Six weeks are considered sufficient, three of which would be in half-mourning […] For Cousins less closely related, mourning is hardly ever put on’

Victorian Edwardian servants mourning
Antique 1910s silver mirror

Servants’ Mourning

‘Servants are not usually put into mourning except for the members of the household in which they are living, not for the relatives of their masters and mistresses, and very frequently only for the heads of the house, not for the junior members. A best dress of Victoria cord of alpaca, two cotton dresses, black for mourning wear while at work. A cloth jacket, in case of master of mistress, with a slight crape trimming, a silk and crape bonnet, pair of black kid gloves and some yards of black cap ribbon, would be the mourning given to the servants in the house at the time of the death of one of the heads of the establishment, and their mourning would be worn for at least six months, or even a year in some cases.’

Childrens’ Mourning

‘Children under fifteen are not expected to wear mourning, nor should any girl under seventeen wear crape.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

Complimentary mourning, sympathetic mourning
Handsewn lace collar

Complimentary Mourning

‘Complimentary mourning is worn for relatives-in- law, distant relatives, or friends one wishes to honor. This is black and white in mourning combination.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909) ‘worn by mothers for the mother of father-in-law of their married children, black would be worn for six weeks or so without crape; by the second wives for the parents of the first wife, for about three weeks, and in a few other cases’





‘In fashioning mourning garments the same modish lines that characterize ordinary dress should be observed, with individual taste and needs the first items to be considered. […] For the correct street costume, a light-weight dull-finished broadcloth or cheviot is the best choice, and it is made in two-piece style with coat and skirt. An accompanying shirt-waist or blouse may be made of dull-finished silk or of some of the soft woollens. Dull jet buttons give a pleasing finish, while at neck and wrists there should be fine white linen collar and cuffs, daintily hemstitched. The coat of this street costume may be in any becoming length, from the Eton or bolero to the three-quarter garment. The tailor skirt in comfortable walking length is the correct mode.’ (The Delineator, 1905, fashion plates with descriptions) – The Delineator, 1900, fashion plates with descriptions

Dress Materials and Trimmings

‘Soft, pliable materials such as henrietta, cashmere, cheviot, serge and eudora cloth – the last a fabric similar to henrietta […] Frequently the only trimming employed is self folds, tucks or plaits, though crape folds and bands are used with smart effect.

The popularity of crape, both for trimming and making entire gowns, has increased, and those who follow Fashion closely will provide at least one crape gown for the mourning outfit. The crape now used has attained comparative prefection in finish and lightness of texture, and even the crape veil is no longer objectionable, though it is rarely worn over the face.’ (The Delineator, 1905)

Edwardian mourning: gold locket with violets, pearl necklace, roses

Barege and nun’s veiling for summer. Bombazine is no longer worn. ‘Melrose is in the most general use for widows. […] Silk crape, Henrietta, Albert crape, Melrose, rainproof crape, silk, Cyprus crape. Janus cord, Victoria cord, Balmoral cloth, Cashmere Francais, Kashgar Cashmere […] Crape cloth looks precisely like crape, but is much lighter and cooler. For summer, wear drap d’ete, a mixture of silk and wool, is suitable; barege for dinner dresses; nun’s veiling, etc., etc. The best all-black washing materials are cotton, satine, foulardine; black and white for slighter mourning, black with tiny white spots or sprigs. Neither velvet, satin, nor plush can be worn in mourning – that is in strict mourning – for they are not mourning materials.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901) 1890s black silk for mourning wear.






A crape veil is still worn, but no longer over the face (The Delineator, 1905). ‘The rigorous law is that this veil is to be worn three months, but, as a matter of fact, many widows wear the crape veil only six weeks, then throw it back and wear a Brussels net or tulle face veil hemmed with crape; many have the veil cut off and redraped to get rid of the weight, which is perfectly sensible, and in three months more this veil may be changed for one of net with deep crape hem; this also is later shortened, and a narrower hem allowed.

The orthodox rule for a widow is crape for two years, but now one is considered long enough, the second year dull silk, crepe de chine, chiffon, &c., taking its place. Pure white crape, made up and used in the same way as black, is equally deep, and now soft dove and steel gray are being worn, even to the long veil. […] The veil, if not too heavy, is quite becoming to most women; hence French women often adopt it for grades of mourning that really do not call for this; the taste, inclination, and purse of the mourner being at present the chief law as to the style and duration of mourning. It may, however, be taken for granted that in deep first mourning rich simplicity in design and line of veil is in best taste; later more ornate and picturesque designs may be suggested, but from first to last the chapeaux must be becoming. A woman of position must have the ultra-correct things in town, but in the country she may substitute a crape-trimmed net or plain chiffon veil on a crape toque or small, plain crape hat.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909).

1900s mourning
Antique Victorian gold brooch with onyx

‘Net face veils are only permissible in the last periods of mourning, and these must be plain black, without figures other than small dots’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909). 1901 black crape hat with long crape veil. 1895 long crape veil. Ca. 1915 crape toque with net face veil and crape border. 1897 advertisement with picture: nun’s veiling bonnet with 2 yards long silk grenadine veil and short Brussels net face veil with crepe edge. 1899 painting ‘The Widow’ with short face veil and long crape veil.


‘The bonnet for first mourning is all of crape, with white ruche tacked inside it, the small, close fitting shape, with long crape veil hanging at the back; besides this veil, a short one is worn over the face’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901). Crape or lustreless silk hat trimmed with crape, silk folds, or rosettes, worn by young women (not widows) (The Delineator, 1905). To trim 1909 mourning hats make some wild and full roses using crape scraps and some wire.

‘The “Marie Stuart” bonnet for first widow’s mourning is no longer the only correct thing; they are not becoming to all, and the changes in modern coiffure make modifications imperative; therefore, a small toque often replaces the bonnet, with a touch of white near the face, put in after the funeral.’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909)

Ca. 1903 crape toque hat. 1900s black crape hat. 1915 hat trimmed with black grapes and vine leaves. 1895 hat trimmed with black feathers and silk bows. 1900 photograph of widow with black and white bonnet and long veil. 1904 crape bonnet with long veil. 1890 painting of compassionate widow with bonnet. 1900 crape widow’s bonnet in Mary Stuart shape with white crape ruche (at the bottom of the page)


For a widow: silk or henrietta mantle (jacket or capes for younger widows), trimmed with crape; in summer: crape wraps. ‘furs are not admissible in widows’ first mourning, though very dark sealskin and astrakhan (a rough kind of cloth with a curled pile) can be worn when the dress is changed. In other mournings, furs are now very generally worn — that is, after the first few months, but only dark furs.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901). 1907 embroidered, shiny silk coat. 1893 photograph of widow with coat and face veil. 1900s crape-covered coat.

Edwardian mourning: lilac silk, lace collar, locket


Black kid gloves. Cambric handkerchiefs with black border. ‘If in summer a parasol should be required, it should be of silk deeply trimmed with crape, almost covered with it, but no lace or fringe for the first year. Afterward mourning fringe may be put on. A muff, if required, would be made of dark fur or of Persian lamb.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

1915-8 dull-finished silk parasol trimmed with crape. Ca. 1915 shiny silk parasol trimmed with crape. 1895-1900 parasol made of crape, mousseline de soie, and black lace.


‘No ornaments are worn in such deep mourning, except jet, for the first year. Jet is, of course, allowable.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)


‘Caps, either of lisse, tulle of tarlatan, shape depending very much on the age.’ Widow’s caps have long streamers, widows usually wear caps in Marie Stuart style (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901) of white crepe lisse with ‘long white tulle veil floating from the back’ (The Art Of Millinery, 1909)


Lawn and muslin collar and cuffs. The ‘straight all-round shape, turning down over the collar of the dress, is the most usual’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)


Widow’s lawn cuffs, nine inches long. ‘They are not intended to overlap, but just to meet, fastened with two buttons and loops, placed near the upper and lower edges. The ordinary depth is five inches, with a wide hem at the top and bottom of an inch and a half depth.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

Victorian gold onyx brooch, lace, gold locket, paper roses, pearls
1920s bobbinet tulle and Maline lace collar


Some ‘women like black lingerie inset with white lace for mourning. Mourning lingerie takes the form in many cases of fine white cambric threaded with black satin, and corsets to match.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)




Mourning by mail-order

‘In all cases of mourning, it is the best plan to write to some well-known house for patterns; good mourning establishments can afford to sell better materials at cheaper rates than inferior houses. Large firms have always a good choice of materials for mourning on hand; and it is really far greater economy to buy good materials when going into mourning , than cheap flimsy stuffs, which give no wear at all; besides, such houses send out books of fashions and prices for making up mourning costumes, which give a good idea of the expense to be incurred, even if it is not found cheaper to purchase and have mourning made up by them.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)

‘At short notice. By letter or telegram. All grades of mourning kept in stock for immediate use. […] Dresses can be made to order from any measurements in two days.’ (Jordan, Marsh & Co. advertisement, 1897)




Mourning and Society

‘During the first period of mourning it is not considered becoming to visit places of amusement or to enter social life or indulge in gaiety of any kind. After a certain time elapses six months or a year, according to the depth of the mourning—a person is at liberty to go out quietly to concerts, theatres, informal dinners, etc.

1910s mourning WW1

It is customary to send a few words of sympathy to the family after a death has taken place. Such letters should be brief and written with real interest and affection, otherwise they had better be omitted.

During a period of mourning, note paper and visiting cards are usually edged with a black border, the width of this to be determined by the depth and recency of the mourning. The very wide band is exaggerated, ostentatious, and in bad form.

No invitations of any kind should be left at a house of mourning, until after a lapse of a month or more, according to circumstances. Then, cards to balls, weddings, and general entertainments may properly be sent. When persons who have worn black are ready to resume their social life, they should leave cards with all their friends and acquaintances, either in person or by sending them through the mail.’ (Household Companion: Book Of Etiquette, 1909)

‘Ladies in deep mourning should not dance, even if they permit themselves to attend a ball. Should they do so, black and scarlet or violet is the proper wear. Where the mourning is sufficiently slight for dancing to be seemly, white, with mauve, violet or black trimmings, flounces, etc., is proper.

White gloves befit the ball-room; in mourning they may be sewn with black.’

‘Invitations to large entertainments, receptions, etc., may be sent to persons in mourning if the bereavement has not occurred within a month; but etiquette permits them to refuse without assigning a reason, sending, however, on the day of the entertainment, black-bordered visiting-cards, which announce the cause of their absence. Invitations to dinners and luncheons should never be given to persons in recent affliction.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Victorian and Edwardian mourning

‘No invitations would be accepted before the funeral of any relatives closely enough related to you to put on mourning for. In the case of brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, society would be given up for at least three months, if not more, and it would be very bad taste to go to a ball or large festive gathering in crape. Widows do not enter society for at least a year – that is, during the period of their deepest mourning. […]

It is better taste to wear mourning in making the first call after a bereavement on friends, but this is not a decided rule, only a graceful method of implying sympathy for those who are suffering affliction. But calls are not made until the cards with “thanks for kind inquiries” have been sent in return for the cards left at the time of decease. Letters of condolence should always be written on slightly black-edged paper, and it would be kind to intimate in the letter that no answer to it will be expected. Few realize the effort it is to those left to sit down and write answers to inquiries and letters, however kind and sympathizing they may have been.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)




More about Mourning


Mourning In The 1850s

Mourning In The 1850s

In the 1850s, three stages of mourning were worn: Deep mourning, second mourning and half mourning – each stage had its own requirements. Women had to dress accordingly in order not to become a social outcast. Mourning was less strict for working men, whereas young men usually wore mourning as long as women.

Close or deep mourning was worn for the nearest relations: husband, parents, child and siblings. Usually, a lusterless black dress with long black crape veil over the face and reaching the skirt hem at the back. Second mourning was worn for distant relatives or by those who have previously worn deep mourning. The usual dress was made of black silk, worn with a black demi-veil or without a veil. In half mourning, colors may be worn: such as lavender, grey and purple.

The mourning etiquette in England was very strict, while in the US it was less rigid, sometimes mourning wear was even ‘dressy’ or ‘showy’. So keep in mind that some of the dresses described in Godey’s Lady’s Book might be too dressy for mourning wear in England or other countries.



Deep mourning

Victorian deep mourning: black, white lace collar, violet locket, roses, pearls
Victorian handsewn lace collar

A widow always wears deep mourning, and some wear it for the loss of a parent, sibling or child. The signs of deepest mourning are a black lusterless dress, a black bonnet trimmed with black crape and a black crape veil worn over the face. Deep hems on veils and coats are also characteristic for deep mourning. Because there can’t be much variety in deep mourning dresses, ‘neatness is considered its principal elegance’. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854, p. 190)

In the first six month, some mourners don’t wear anything white: collar, cuffs, undersleeves, sometimes even underwear (underwear was usually white in the mid-Victorian era). All mourners ‘in first mourning [except the widow, see below] are indeed in deep black’.

In Philadelphia, deep mourning is plain and veils are worn for a longer time, while mourning in New York is rather ‘showy’, so that even deep mourning dresses are trimmed with jet, beads, crape flowers and feathers. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)

Some US mothers who mourn for their lost child choose to wear ‘white or soft neutral tints’ instead of black (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 286).

Victorian widow weeds

Deep Mourning of a Widow

‘A widow’s mourning, though, strange to say, is the only close black relieved by any white for the past year or two. Fashion graciously permits her a close white cap about the face, “a widow’s cap” as it is called, of plain lawn or muslin as a double border, formed by two extremely narrow puffs of the same, slightly rounded by passing a rod through when newly made or “done up”. This is not generally adopted, as yet, in our own country [USA], though many wear them; but bonnet caps in the same style are as universal for widows as a double crape veil.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)


A widow’s double crape veil is worn for twelve month over the face. After a year, she may wear a demi-veil (shorter at the back and no longer over the face) or choose to ‘go on blinding and stifling herself’ and wear the long veil over her face for further three to five years.

‘Others in deep mourning wear a single thickness and width, about a yard, ordinarily, and two yards long.’

A mourning veil is secured by two black veil pins on each side of the bonnet, or it is tied with attached strings. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)

Victorian white undersleeve eyelet lace

Dress Materials

‘The principle dress fabrics are bombazine, Tamese cloth, alpacca with bombazine finish, Canton cloth […] plain merino, cashmere, and mouselline are also used for the house or street.’ In summer, lighter dress fabrics are chosen, such as barège (a cross-barred fabric) and grenadine. Morning dresses (which are worn at home, for housework etc.) are made of plaids, printed mousselines, chintzes and ginghams.

Travelling dresses are made of serges, mohair, etc. ‘For morning or travelling dresses, where crape would soon spot or rust, plain Mantua ribbon, of one broad or several narrow width, is much used; also a variety of galloons and braids manufactured expressly for this department.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)


A close black tarlatan or muslin cap with crimped border is worn for at least a year. In 1858: ‘Plain white lace quillings are admitted as bonnet caps in the deepest black’ instead of the ‘quilled crape of the past three years’. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 572)

‘Black crape collars are worn by all, lightened with thulle insertions and frills, if the taste inclines to display, rather than simple severity.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)

‘Undersleeves are of crape, tissue, or grenadine.’

Cambric handkerchief are either with a plain broad hem or a printed black border. ‘An embroidered pocket handkerchief would be as much out of taste as a Valenciennes collar.’

Victorian mourning: watch, rose petals, lace


Bonnets are of crape, or bombazine with or without crape trimming. For summer wear, crape-covered black straw bonnets or double crape bonnets ‘over a light wire foundation covered by silk. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 572) Bonnet strings are made with black ribbon or double crape. A ruched black tulle cap is worn under the bonnet.

Black cloth cloaks with a double row or stitching, crape-trimmed bombazine mantles and Thibet cloth shawls with ribbon binding or fringe. In February and March, a sack or knitted worsted Sontag may be worn underneath for additional warmth. In 1858, unlined crape-trimmed bombazine summer mantles, or lusterless silk mantles with net yoke and flounce (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 572).


‘As a principle of taste, ornaments used in mourning should be few and plain’: such as a jet or jet imitation brooch or bracelet, or a plain gold brooch with black enamel. ‘The oval brooch for hair is frequently the only ornament worn. This is usually surrounded by a rim of small jet, and many have an outer rim of pearls.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192)

1850s mourning: lace handkerchief, locket with violets, Victorian onyx earrings

Extant Dresses, Photographs and Fashion Plates

Picture of 1850s mourning dress. Mourning dress of dull fabric. Sheer black dress of dull fabric.

Photograph of woman in dull black dress with black collar, white cap, and with brooch.

1850 fashion plate of a widow with veil. 1852 fashion plate of a woman in black with black day cap.

Extant Accessories

Picture of 1850s crape covered bonnet. 1860s mournig veil with deep hem. 1857 mourning cap. Black net day cap. Crape covered mourning parasol. Instructions for a netted mourning cap (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 66). Victorian mourning jewelry




Second mourning

Victorian mourning: crape silk and wool
Crape, silk and wool

Second mourning is worn for a distant relative or by those who have previously worn deep mourning (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 192). The usual mark of second mourning is laying aside the veil altogether or exchanging it for a […] demi-veil’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1859, p. 287). In the US, there’s less distinction between second mourning and half mourning, while in England both stages are very different. A second mourning dress is usually a black silk dress trimmed with black crape.


No veil or a ‘demi-veil, of thulle, grenadine, or net, with round corners, and a border of crape or thulle’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1859, p. 287)

Demi-veils of Brussels net with round corners and ‘with a ruche of black crape, lightened by another of black illusion, being placed underneath’. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 192)

Dress Materials

Fabrics may be ‘plain or in small bars, cheques, and “Bayadere stripes”‘ (horizontal stripes) (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1859, p. 287)

Black watered silk dress with ‘richly worked’ muslin jacket. Plain black silk dress with flounced skirt: each flounce trimmed with a chequered pattern of tulle and velvet and chenille fringe. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 478)

Victorian mourning black figured silk pearl necklace roses


Collars and undersleeves of white tarlatan or cambric (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 574) or even ‘plain lace’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 192).

Black net headdress embroidered with black bugles and black beads (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1859, p. 354).


‘Mixed straws, gray chips, white chips, trimmed with black and white ribbons, Neapolitans, and crapes are among the favorite bonnets. Ruches of ribbon or crape’ are used as trimmings (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 192).

Black crape-trimmed silk mantles (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 574).

Victorian mourning: black, white lace, gold onyx brooch, locket, pearls
Antique Victorian onyx and gold brooch

Extant Dresses, Photographs and Fashion Plates

Picture of shiny striped black silk mourning dress. Shiny black silk dress. Rather dull striped silk mourning dress. Shiny silk taffeta gown with flounces. Picture of shiny black silk dress. Black silk moire gown trimmed with velvet. Silk damask gown. Shiny black silk dress trimmed with crape.

Photograph of woman in demi-veil, wearing shiny gloves and shiny bonnet ties, mantle trimmed with ruches. Photograph of woman in lusterless dress and mantle, trimmed with shiny fabric, bonnet without veil. Photograph of woman in plain dress with mantle. 1850s photograph of two ladies in mourning.

1851 mourning attire. Painting of black silk dress trimmed with frills.

1851 fashion plate of second mourning dress. 1850s fashion plate of a mother in mourning for her child, wearing a black dress, white collar, cuffs and day cap. 1850s fashion plate of a woman wearing a black dress and bonnet trimmed with a feather.

Extant Accessories

Black faille bonnet trimmed with crape. 1850s trimmed black mourning parasol.




Half mourning

victorian half mourning colors gray lead purple lavender
Half-mourning colors: Grey, purple and lavender

Color is coming back at last! However, the change from black to color should be made gradually: First, the black dress and bonnet is trimmed with colored ribbons, later, colored dresses may be worn. Colors for half-mourning are: lavender, purple, grey, black and white, and sometimes blood-red.

In the US, light mourning wear, especially black and white, is hardly distinguishable from other fashionable dresses. ‘Every shade of lavender is called into requisition in ribbons, silks, indeed all dress fabrics.’ Even lace mantles are worn in half mourning. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 574) In 1858, rather black and white is worn, than violet or lavender and black. ‘In fact, purple and lavender, are not now considered mourning at all, and never have been really so, though admitted to general wear the past five years.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 192)

victorian mourning locket with violets lavender white lace collar
Lavender quilted petticoat

Dress Materials

A variety of material and colours may be worn: lead and stone colour, lavender and deep purple (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854, p. 190). ‘Gray cloths, whether Lavella, mousselines, Madonna, or silk tissues – and stripes, plaids, and figures of black on a white ground, or white on a black ground, are the most desirable.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858, p. 192) Also silks, such as glacee, foulards and chinee; and grenadines and organdies in summer.

Slate-coloured flounced taffeta dress trimmed with black moire antique bands (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 192). Pearl-coloured reps silk dress trimmed with ruches of ribbon (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1856, p. 383).


Black crape collar trimmed with seed beads and bugles (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1857, p. 357).

Crocheted mourning bracelet with black beads, in ‘all black, or gray and black’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 264).

‘White tulle cap, trimmed with crape ribbon’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 192). White tulle cap with pale lavender ribbons (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 192).

‘Black lace bonnet; black parasol and gloves’ (worn with a black silk walking dress). ‘White chip bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon and flowers; white kid gloves; fancy white parasol’ (worn with a gray silk dress). (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1855, p. 192) Gray silk bonnet, trimmed with black lace and velvet, with white ruche inside the brim and violet and black ribbon ties (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1856, p. 383).

Victorian brooch, lace, violet locket, roses, pearls
1920s bobbinet tulle and Maline lace collar


A black velvet mantle and close velvet bonnet (worn with a black silk dress) is one of the most truly elegant costumes’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1853, p. 92).

Coats trimmed with chinchilla fur (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1856, p. 68).

Extant Dresses and Fashion Plates

Picture of shiny black silk dress trimmed with velvet. Grey and purple plaid gown. Lavender gown. Gray and black plaid gown.

1853 fashion plate of black dress trimmed with purple.

Extant Accessories

Drawn gray silk bonnet. Gray plaid half-mourning shawl. Half mourning straw bonnet trimmed with purple ribbon and black tulle.


Locket, pearls, roses, Victorian lace
Victorian Limerick lace day cap



How long should one mourn?

How long mourning should be worn hasn’t changed between the 1840s and the 1860s. Here you’ll find how long mourning was worn in the 1840s which was published in 1840 in ‘The Workwoman’s Guide’. And here you’ll find how long mourning was worn in the 1860s which was published in the 1870s in ‘The Bazar Book of Decorum: The Care of the Person, Manners, Etiquette, and Ceremonials’.




About Mourning Clothes in General

Mourning clothes can be bought in ‘mourning stores’ in all large towns and cities: Jackson’s in New York, Beeson and Son in Philadelphia. ‘Beside these and similar places, nearly all large dry-goods houses, such as Stewart’s, Arnold’s, Evan’s, Levy’s, Sharpless’, etc. etc., have a “mourning department,” where materials may be purchased.’

The first essential in buying mourning clothes is a ‘good shade of black, neither blue nor rusty; a dead, solid color is considered most desirable.’ Dress, mantle, and bonnet should be of the same fabric, either bombazine or silk. Cashemeres and mousselines wear better than bombazine. Don’t buy cheap black fabric. Black English chintz morning dresses ‘fade very little in washing’. Lead-coloured lining is used for thick materials, whereas black linen or black silk covered lining is used for thin materials. Black cambric lining and black lawn dresses will stain the skin. Mourning dresses should be trimmed very little, and rather with tucks than ruffles. For traveling, grey dresses are worn because of the dust (even in deep mourning). A grey silk and linen fabric trimmed with black braid is best for this purpose. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854, p. 190) Crape trimming, in shell, diamond or honeycomb pattern, in different width can be bought at any trimmings store (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1859, p. 287).



Mourning in the Victorian era
White tulle lace collar and cuffs


More about Mourning


Mourning In The 1860s

Mourning In The 1860s

Three stages of mourning were worn in the 1860s: Close or deep mourning for the nearest relations. Second mourning for distant relatives or by those who have previously worn deep mourning. Slight or half-mourning was the third mourning stage before mourners returned to wear ordinary dress. Each stage had its own requirements. It was a social obligation to follow the mourning etiquette in order not to become a social outcast.

Be aware that the mourning etiquette in America is less rigid than in England (some of my sources are US and some English) (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854).



Deep mourning


For deep mourning: Lusterless black fabrics, such as bombazine, grenadine, crape, barège; crape bonnet with crape veil ‘kept in place by long jet clasp pins’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862). Bombazine is less worn in 1864, but rather Henrietta cloth, Barathea, wool delaines, and merino; for summer: grenadine. In ‘deep mourning no trimming is used’. Shawls of silk grenadine trimmed with crape or silk; for colder weather: fine black Thibet (wool) shawl trimmed with crape or silk. Bombazine, crape, and crape-covered silk bonnets. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864)

Victorian mourning Civil War
Mourning fabrics: crape, silk and wool

1861 black barege or grenadine dress with tiny flounces, a shawl of the same material, and ‘a black crinoline bonnet, trimmed inside and out with branches of black lilac’ (The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, 1861). ‘The plain black worsted cord is much used for the trimming of mourning dresses’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1866, p. 104).

Pictures, photographs and paintings

Picture of 1860s crape covered dress.

1860s photograph of a young widow. 1865 photograph of woman mourning for her father. 1860s photograph of woman with mourning veil over her face. Photograph of two ladies in mourning.

1861 painting of a young widow. 1860s painting of a widow.

Mourning clothes can be ordered per mail: ‘mourning goods from Besson & Son’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864).

Victorian mourning: black silk, violet locket, pearl necklace

Bonnets, caps and accessories

1860s crape covered bonnet; mourning bonnet with deep mourning veil. 1858 netted mourning cap. 1872 mourning cap for elderly woman. 1870s white mourning indoor caps.

Crape covered mourning parasol.




Second mourning


‘There is no dress that requires more discretion in the choice and arrangement than that called second mourning, but it is one of the most elegant, when well selected.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864)

Pictures and photographs

1860s shiny black silk gown.

A woman who had lost her son ordered from her dressmaker for herself and her two grown-up daughters three bombazines, three alpacas, and three black calico dresses (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863).

Ca. 1864 photograph of a widow in short demi-veil, bonnet with white quillings. 1860s photograph of mother and child in mourning. Victoria and her daughters in crape trimmed mourning dresses. Victoria in a 1862 mourning dress of dull fabric and demi-veil. Victoria in crape-trimmed dress, dull black coat and widow’s cap with demi-veil. Ca. 1863 photograph of a woman in second mourning. Another photograph of a lady in second mourning. Ca. 1862 photograph of a lady in dull black gown, black cap, and shiny black leather gloves. Photograph of widow in second mourning with shortened veil and some shiny fabric. Photograph of woman with longer demi-veil and shiny bonnet ties. 1861 painting ‘In Memoriam’ of a widow wearing a demi-veil. Painting ‘In Memoriam’ of a widow and two other ladies. Painting of a widow in shiny black dress.

Civil War mourning
How to sew an authentic mid-Victorian day cap


Two black lace day caps with jet beads.

1866 mourning fan, ‘edged with black feathers’ (Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, p. 440). 1870-2 crape trimmed mourning parasol.






Some colour may be added, such as pearl, grey, lilac and purple. Dresses may be trimmed with flounces, gathered ribbons and ruches edged with lace (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862) Black grenadine dress trimmed with frills and silk; dresses and trimmings in black, grey and lavender. Alpaca trimming on the skirt. Shawl of black grenadine trimmed with white and violet striped border and silk fringe. Lusterless silk basquines without trimming. Black tulle bonnet trimmed with violets. ‘White crape bonnet covered with black lace and trimmed with violet flowers and violet strings’ for afternoon half mourning wear. Sheer devoré bonnet trimmed with black ivy leaves, and white and black flowers, and with white strings. (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864)

victorian half mourning colors gray lead purple lavender
Half-mourning colors: Gray, dark gray, purple and lavender

Dress for slighter mourning: ‘a black silk dress with five narrow flounces at the bottom, edged with lilac silk; a black silk mantle, trimmed with lace, and a pelerine; and a white tulle, or crepe bonnet, bound with black velvet, trimmed outside with a black and white rosette, or a bunch of black and white feathers, and inside with a bandeau of violets’ (The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, 1861).

Pictures and fashion plates

1860s black and purple half-mourning dress. 1860s grey and lavender half-mourning dress. 1860s grey and black half-mourning dress. 1869 grey silk dress.

1865 fashion plate with black and purple dress. 1866 half-mourning dress of grey taffeta trimmed with black velvet ribbon and closed on the front with mother-of-pearl buttons (figure in the middle of the second image).

Mourning etiquette Civil War
Handsewn Victorian lace collar

Bonnet and accessories

1866 half mourning bonnet: front border and curtain of white chip, crown of black tulle, trimmed with black velvet ribbon, white chalk beads (Godey’s Lady’s Book, p. 109). Half-mourning bonnet of black straw trimmed with purple silk. 1865- 70 half-mourning bonnet in purple and white.

White linen mourning handkerchief embroidered with black silk.

1871-2 gold locket with hair. 1860 gold mourning ring with black enamel. 1870 black jet earrings. 1860 gold mourning bracelet with black enamel, diamonds and pearls. 1870 jet mourning bangle. 1870 jet mourning brooch. 1875 jet brooch. 1860s gold brooch with pearls and black enamel.

1862 jet and steel mourning fan with black lace over white silk (Godey’s Lady’s Book). Picture of mourning fan.


How long should one mourn



How long should one mourn?

  • husband or wife: 1-2 years, or life-long
  • parent, grandparent, children (above ten years of age): 6 months – 1 year
  • siblings: 6-8 months
  • uncles, aunts, children (under ten): 3-6 months (photograph of mother in mourning for her child)
  • cousins, uncles and aunts related by marriage: 6 weeks – 3 months
  • infant: 6-7 weeks
  • distant relatives and friends: 3 weeks or more

(The Bazar Book of Decorum: The Care of the Person, Manners, Etiquette, and Ceremonials, 1870)


Victorian mourning customs



More about Mourning


Mourning In The 1840s

Mourning In The 1840s

‘It shows the best taste to make mourning as plain and as little fanciful as possible’. (The workwoman’s guide, 1840)

Mourning customs were very strict in the 1840s, especially in England. However, wearing mourning wasn’t a ‘punishment’, mourning clothes helped to protect the feelings of the person in mourning. Every stranger they met would recognize their mourning clothes and wouldn’t hurt the feelings of the mourner with unnecessary jaunty remarks.

1840s mourners knew four stages of mourning: They began with a dull black dress, gradually adding more luster and color, and finally wearing a lavender, purple or scarlet dress in the last mourning stage before they returned to wear colors.

Mourning clothes in the 1840s were still dyed with natural dyes. True black was difficult to dye with natural colors – wool and silk is easier to dye than cotton or linen – and it was prone to color bleeding. Mourning dresses could stain the skin and a shower of rain would ruin the mourning veil. Mourning dresses should also not be stored together with white or colored dresses, as they’d stain them. Mourning clothes could be stored separately in divans (The workwoman’s guide, 1840).

Victorian mourning customs
Antique Victorian onyx and gold brooch

Bombazine and black crape were the two typical mourning fabrics. Bombazine (or bombasine) is a lusterless twilled black silk and wool fabric (silk warp and worsted weft) used for mourning dresses.

Black crape (spelled with ‘a’) is a dull, slightly sheer, creped silk fabric used for mourning veils and and trimmings. Close-up of 1870s black crape fabric. Crape is ‘made of raw silk, gummed, twisted on the mill, and woven without crossing. […] Crape is either crisped [more twisted] or smooth : the former is double, and expresses a deeper mourning; the latter single, and is worn in ordinary epics, or for more distant relations’ (Domestic Encyclopedia Or A Dictionary Of Facts, And Useful Knowledge, 1802). Black crape is strictly for mourning, while crape in other colours is also used for veils or ball dresses. Jet black crape ‘wears well to the last, whereas […] [blue black crape], even when new, does not look handsome’ (The workwoman’s guide, 1840). If one got caught in the rain, crape fabric was ruined.

Since 1841, mourning clothes could be bought at Jay’s London General Mourning Warehouse.



Mourning Dress

Deepest mourning

Bombazine dress trimmed with crape, crape or silk and crape bonnet (picture of 1860s crape-covered dress)

Victorian white lace collar, pearl necklace, paper roses
Handsewn Victorian lace collar

Second stage mourning

Black silk dress trimmed with crape, silk and crape bonnet

Third stage mourning

Plain silk dressblack or white silk or straw bonnet (1846 painting of a widow in shiny black dress and white cap; 1840 plain silk dress; 1845 plain silk dress; 1841 fashion plate of woman in black dress trimmed with velvet and with black cap, 1840s painting of a dress trimmed with velvet and fringe; 1840s painting of a dress trimmed with fur, 1848 fashion plate of a woman wearing a shiny black dress, white collar, cuffs and day cap)

Victorian half mourning
Edwardian horn hairpin


Grey or lavender silk dress, evening dress may also be white silk trimmed with black ornaments, white or lavender silk or straw bonnet (painting of black dress trimmed with grey) (The workwoman’s guide, 1840)



Mourning Dress in Detail


‘Mourning veils are of black crape. They should be made of […] jet black crape, as the blue-black soon wears whitish, and looks shabby. The other, though the most expensive at first, is the best economy in the end. They are made quite plainly, with a broad hem all round – say three-quarters of a nail deep’. (The workwoman’s guide, 1840) Black mourning pins.


Caps are made with ‘borders of white crape, lisse, tulle, or net, with broad hems’ (The workwoman’s guide, 1840). (Picture of an 1840s black crape cap; fashion plate of 1847 mourning dress and black cap; 1848 fashion plate of shiny black silk mourning dress and white cap trimmed with blue)

Victorian mourning fabrics: crape, silk and wool, black leather gloves
Black leather gloves and Victorian mourning fabrics: crape, silk and wool

Collar and Cuffs

Mourning cuffs and collars with a ‘broad hem one nail deep all round’ of muslin, net, lawn, cambric, tulle, white or black crape. Cuffs are ‘sewed upon the sleeve or made to slip over the hand’. ‘If the mourning is very deep, the muslin collar is covered with black crape.’  (The workwoman’s guide, 1840)


For walking, a cape is worn trimmed ‘with black crape gaufiered round the edge a nail deep’. A black silk shawl covered with black crape and lined with black sarsenet (a silk lining fabric) for deepest mourning; or a black silk shawl with one or two nails deep hem of crape (The workwoman’s guide, 1840). Photograph of a woman in mourning with shawl

Victorian mourning jewelry


Black glass mourning brooch. 1837 gold memorial ring with black enamel.

‘A mourning bag looks well done to imitate lace, worked in black floss silk, and ornamented with black glass and silver beads, disposed in a tasteful and ornamental style’ (The Ladies’ Work-table Book, 1844).

Black silk mourning parasol trimmed with black crape; and another mourning parasol.


Ordinary petticoats are worn, or sometimes of silk or satin (The workwoman’s guide, 1840)



Victorian mourning etiquette


How long should one mourn?

  • husband or wife: 1 – 2 years
  • parent, or children (ten years and older): 6 months to 1 year
  • siblings: 6 – 8 months
  • uncles and aunts, or children (below 10 years): 3 – 6 months (1838 fashion plate mourning for child)
  • cousins, uncles and aunts related by marriage: 6 weeks to 3 months
  • infants: 6 weeks or more
  • distant relations or friends: 3 weeks or more

Young persons, or those in mourning for young persons, ‘frequently wear a good deal of white’.

It’s customary for rich families to put their servants in mourning. For deepest mourning, women servants will be given a stuff or bombazine dress for best wear with muslin collars and caps, two black print or working gowns, a silk bonnet trimmed with crape, a black silk handkerchief, black stockings and gloves. Men servants are given a ‘complete suit of dress and common livery, with hat-bands and shoulder-knots, gloves and stockings.’ (The workwoman’s guide, 1840)



Gold locket with violet flower


More about Mourning