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Omega (Westport). 2008;57(1):35-52.

The death of mourning: from Victorian crepe to the little black dress.

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New York University, USA.


Mourning is a natural response to loss. In the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, in England and France, the bereaved was expected to follow a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes, with women more bound to adhere to these customs than men. Such customs involved wearing heavy, concealing, black costume and the use of black crepe veils. Special black caps and bonnets were worn with these ensembles. Widows were expected to wear these clothes up to four years after their loss to show their grief. Jewelry often made of dark black jet or the hair of the deceased was used. To remove the costume earlier was thought disrespectful to the deceased. Formal mourning culminated during the reign of Queen Victoria. Her prolonged grief over the death of her husband, Prince Albert, had much to do with the practice. During the succeeding Edwardian rule, the fashions began to be more functional and less restrictive, but the dress protocol for men and women, including that for the period of mourning, was still rigidly adhered to. When World War I began, many women joined the workforce. Most widows attempted to maintain the traditional conventions of mourning, but with an increase in the number of casualties, it became impractical for them to interrupt their work in order to observe the seclusion called for by formal mourning etiquette. Never had the code of mourning been less strictly applied than during this period. The mourning outfits of the time were modest and made of practical materials. Little jewelry and few other accessories were used. Certain aspects of traditional mourning were still followed, such as the use of jet beading, crepe trim, and widows' caps. However, the hemlines fell above the ankle, the veil was used to frame the face instead of cover it, and the v-neckline left the chest and neck bare. During the following decades, gradually the rules were relaxed further and it became acceptable for both sexes to dress in dark colors for up to a year after a death in the family.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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