Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mourning in the Victorian Age.

Death was a commonplace occurrence in the Victorian Age. Three of every twenty babies died before their first birthday, and those who survived infancy had a life expectancy of only forty-two years. No time period planned for, feared and even celebrated death more than the Victorian age.

Queen Victoria turned mourning into an art form.

The idea of deep mourning was introduced by Queen Victoria upon the death of her husband, King Albert, who died of typhoid in 1861. At that time and for forty years after (until the time of her death), the Queen mourned the loss of her beloved husband. She directed her court to dress in mourning with her for the first three years post-mortem.

Fearing the Queen's extreme actions, the Victorians elected to mimic her moral values. After her death, the world came out of mourning and began to change fashion, which introduced the Edwardian Period.

Mourning was also very expensive for all Victorians.

Mourning had to be fashionable. Many times after a period of mourning, the normal wardrobe would be out of fashion and all new clothing had to be purchased. If more than one death happened in a short period of time, (and it often did) the mourning clothing would have to be worn for a long period of time. 

If they became too soiled or worn, the mourning clothing would have to be completely replaced, which was a very large expense. There were many merchants who vied for the mourning clothes business and offered advice and etiquette of how the clothes should be worn.

When a person died, the mourning process began immediately.

Curtains were immediately drawn, clocks were stopped at the time of death and mirrors were covered because of the superstition that the spirit of the deceased could become trapped in the reflective glass.

Mourning Periods were strictly regulated and divided into two time frames: deep mourning and half mourning. A widow was expected to mourn her husband for at least two years during which time she was expected to wear black at all times with her only social time being at church. 

Parents who lost a child were in deep mourning for nine months and half mourning for three months. Children who lost their parents mourned for the same amount of time. The death of a sibling required three months of deep mourning and three months of half mourning. In-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives all had mourning periods that ranged from six weeks to six months.

It would not be unusual for a person to be in mourning sometimes for the better part of a year.

Mourning attire was also very strict.

Due to the strict adherence to mourning attire, it was quite easy to recognize not only who was in mourning but also for how long. Women had very specific clothing that was mandated.

For deepest mourning clothes were always black, symbolic of spiritual darkness. Dresses for deepest mourning were usually made of non-reflective paramatta silk or the cheaper bombazine. Dresses were trimmed with crape, a hard, scratchy silk with a peculiar crimped appearance produced by heat. Crape is associated with mourning because it doesn’t combine well with any other clothing – you can’t wear velvet or satin or lace or embroidery with it. 

After a specified period the crape could be removed – this was called "slighting the mourning." The color of cloth lightened as mourning went on, to grey, mauve, and white – called half-mourning.

On her head she would wear a crape bonnet with a long crape veil and a widow’s cap also of white crape with black kid gloves on her hands. All kinds of black fur and seal-skin were also worn during this time.

After six months, the crape material was removed and after three months the widow’s cap was removed. Now the widow could wear a dress made of silk garbardine, plain black grosgrain or crape trimmed cashmere with jet trimmings. She could also exchange the heavy crape veil for a lighter one.

The women's clothing was dangerous and often caused blindness.

As for the use of crape in mourning veils, medical personnel were very much opposed to its' usage. Most doctors felt that when worn over the face for an extended period of time, the black dye from the crape material was dangerous and could cause serious health problems. 

One doctor stated “it sheds its pernicious dye into the sensitive nostrils, producing catarrhal disease as well as blindness and cataract of the eye. It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crape veil, but so it is. It is the very banner of woe, and no one has the courage to go without it. We can only suggest to mourners wearing it that they should pin a small veil of black tulle over the eyes and nose, and throw back the heavy crape as often as possible, for health’s sake.”

And while women were slaves to their mourning attire, men however, had it easy. They simply wore their usual dark suits with black gloves and black cravats, season after season, death after death.

Nancy Burban 2014

Funeral fund

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