During the Victorian era, and more so after the death of Albert, Prince Consort, on 14th December 1861, the wearing of mourning dress progressed, and even became a fashion in its own right.
Attached to the etiquette of mourning, came many complexities as to who should be in mourning, for how long, and what it was acceptable for one to wear – to visually symbolise one was in mourning and how one should act in society.
How long should one mourn for?
A widow for a husband: 1 year and 1 day to life, but most commonly 2 and ½ years.
A widower for a wife: 3-6 months.
A child for a parent: 6-12 months.
The mourning of a cousin: 6 weeks.
There were typically 3 stages to mourning:
The first stage of mourning was a year and a day, in full mourning. This stage noted a dramatic change in a person’s wardrobe, socialising in society and even the atmosphere and look of the home. A crape covered just about all of a garment. When the crape was removed, it showed a sign of reaching the second stage of mourning which lasted nine months. Now it was acceptable to wear fancier fabrics: black velvet and silk adorned in jet trimming, lace, fringe and ribbons. Yet, a woman was not allowed to attend church, a concert or dance. Unless there was an exceptional reason a woman could not even attend a wedding.
The final stage was six months – half mourning. This stage of mourning saw a person’s wardrobe introduce colour again. Ordinary clothes could be worn in acceptable shades of grey, white, purple, pansy, soft mauves and of course black, with every change subtle and gradual. This change in colour allowed a woman to re-join society and social gatherings.
Mourning Gloves Worn By Queen Victoria, c1861-1901. Made of black fine wool jersey knit with prix seams, 3 chain stitch points, and a flared cuff which is cut on the cross.
Even though there was etiquette for how long one should be in mourning, in reality this was not often the case for some people. Hence, even though Victoria was our Queen in the public eye, one must remember that behind closed doors she was just a person like everyone else with feelings and emotions. This is why one can begin to grasp how Queen Victoria remained in mourning for the rest of her life until her death on 22nd January 1901.
Her death also marked the beginning of the end for elaborate mourning rituals in both England and America. Perhaps society began to realise how long one should mourn for the loss of a loved one should not have a fixed length of time, as everyone deals with grief in their own time and way.
Dents Museum Curator
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