Victorian & Edwardian Mourning Attire at Anna Wintour Costume Center New York City
1st January 2015 “She was beginning to find that everyone had an air of remoteness; she seemed to see people and life through the confusing blur of the long crape veil in which it was a widow’s duty to shroud her affliction.” Edith Wharton, “New Year’s Day,” in Old New York (New York; D. Appleton, 1924
Mourning after the death of a loved one was an intricate part of social mores in the 19th Century. Throughout this period, the duty of wearing mourning fell primarily on women, whose sartorial choices were seen as a reflection of the family’s collective grief, as well as their social status, economic standing, and level of respectability. A woman in full mourning dress became the emblematic icon of bereavement in Europe and America. Mourning dress served as a visual symbol of grief and respect for the deceased.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York traces the mores and fashions of this period in Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. The mourning period could be up to a year; however, after being widowed in 1861, Queen Victoria limited her public appearances, and dressed in shades of mourning for the remaining forty years of her life, presenting an image of chast widowhood, in her “widow’s weeds.” The thematic exhibition is organised chronologically and features mourning dress from 1815 to 1915, primarily from The Costume Institute’s collection.
Formal rituals of bereavement aided in memorializing the dead, and mourning attire was subject to increasingly complex codes of etiquette and fashion. For Queen Victoria, in her forty years of widowhood, her mourning never lightened. When King Edward, Victoria’s son died in 1910, The Palace issued messages that wedding celebrations should take place as scheduled. The weddings did take place, but most guests still wore black. Even in sadness and grief, fashion played an influential role. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through 1st February 2015. www.metmuseum.org JG
All images: Gallery View Anna Wintour Costume Center, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery Copyright: The Metropolitan Museum of Art