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→
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 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)
‘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)
‘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).
‘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).
‘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.
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)
‘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
Three month or longer ‘simple black without a touch of crape […] After that the usual garments, or garments somewhat modified’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)
‘Black, without crape for one month […] after one month of black and white, with lilac, should follow.’
‘Six weeks are considered sufficient, three of which would be in half-mourning […] For Cousins less closely related, mourning is hardly ever put on’
‘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.’
‘Children under fifteen are not expected to wear mourning, nor should any girl under seventeen wear crape.’ (Collier’s Cyclopedia, 1901)
‘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)
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).
‘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)
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.
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)
‘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)
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.
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)
‘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)
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.
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)
‘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.’
‘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.’
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)
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.
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.
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)
‘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).
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.
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)
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.
‘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).
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).
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).
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)
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)
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).
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).
Here I’m in my 1840s mourning outfit. The dress is black wool fabric with separate bodice and skirt. The bodice is boned and lined with cotton fabric. Skirt and bodice are closed with hooks and eyes. The entire dress is hand sewn. Continue reading 1840s Mourning Dress→
‘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).
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.
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.
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
‘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).
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)