Mourning Period - 1835 to 1890
mourning fashion was aimed mainly at women, widows in
particular. The fashion had a way of isolating a widow
in her time of need just as the Queen had done. For the
first year, a woman who was in mourning was not allowed
to exit her home with out full black attire and a weeping
veil. Her activities were initially restricted to church
services. But mourning attire was the perfect way to show
the wealth and respectability of a woman. Some went so
far as to dress their servants for mourning when the head
of the household passed away. Middle and lower class women
would go to great lengths to appear fashionable in times
of mourning. Dying clothing black and then bleaching them
out again was quite common. The industry of mourning became
so vital to tailors that rumors were spread concerning
the bad luck of recycling funeral attire. Hair art also
developed in the Victorian era to allow family members
to keep mementos of their departed loved ones.
Mourning clothing was an unmistakable and intricate part
of life in the 19th century. The act of proper Victorian
mourning seems an art today. Certain lengths and stages
of mourning as well as colors and fabrics all contributed
to this language.
In nineteenth century England, a widow was expected to
remain in mourning for over two years. The rules were
slightly less rigid for American women.
These stages of mourning were observed by women.
Full mourning, a period of a year and one day, was represented
with dull black clothing without ornament. The most recognizable
portion of this stage was the weeping veil of black crepe.
If a women had no means of income and small children to
support, marriage was allowed after this period. There
are cases of women returning to black clothing on the
day after marrying again.
Second mourning, a period of nine months, allowed for
minor ornamentation by implementing fabric trim and mourning
jewelry. The main dress was still made from a lusterless
cloth. The veil was lifted and worn back over the head.
Elderly widows frequently remained in mourning for the
rest of their lives.
Half mourning lasted from three to six months and was
represented by more elaborate fabrics used as trim. Gradually
easing back into color was expected coming out of half
mourning. All manor of jewelry could be worn.
The standard mourning time for a widower was two years
but it was up to his discretion when to end his single
stage. Men could go about their daily lives and continue
to work. Typically young unmarried men stayed in mourning
for as long as the women in the household did.
Mourning for parents ranked next to that of widows; children
mourning for their parents or parents for children being
identical. One year was the standard length: six months
in crepe, three in second, and three in half mourning.
Second mourning, without full mourning, is suitable for
parents-in-law. After one month in black, lilac should
Young children were never kept more than one year in mourning.
No female under the age of 17 was to wear creped full
|Victorian Mourning Brooch
||Silver Mourning Brooch
||Hair Mourning Brooch
||Black Enamel Mourning Bracelet
Although mourning jewelry has been produced for nearly
two thousand years, it reached its peak in Victorian England
at the later half of the 19th Century. The height in American
popularity came during the Civil War.
The material most associated with Victorian mourning is
Jet. Queen Victoria popularized this “black amber”
after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Jet is a
variety of fossilized coal. The most prized and expensive
is from Whitby, England where it has been washing up on
shore since prehistoric times. Jet has an appearance similar
to black glass which is used as a modern substitute. In
first mourning Jet jewelry was the only ornamentation
women were allowed.
By second and half mourning jewelry made from gutta-percha,
gold, pinchbeck, and human hair were incorporated into
the wardrobe. Gutta-percha is natural latex obtained from
evergreen trees in East Asia. It was the first plastic
material used for costume jewelry. It is a Jet imitator
that was quite a bit less expensive. Today gutta-percha
can be found, amongst other uses, covering golf balls.
Pinchbeck is a false gold used for inexpensive jewelry
during the 19th Century.
Hair art became popular in the Victorian age. What started
as a simple way to keep a loved one near became an elaborate
art practiced by many. Taking a lock of hair and weaving
it into knot designs for use in a broach was the most
popular form of Victorian mourning jewelry. Rings, bracelets,
earrings, watch fobs and necklaces all became quite common
in the later portion of the century. Today this art is
prized by collectors and family historians alike.
End of an Era
In 1901, the Edwardian period followed the death of Queen
Victoria. In part, the world came out of mourning with
her passing. Fashion changed and women were no longer
so rigidly dictated to by the strict Victorian code of