About Victorian Mourning Jewellery

Victorian Mourning Period - 1835 to 1890

Victorian 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.
Stages
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 follow.
Young children were never kept more than one year in mourning. No female under the age of 17 was to wear creped full mourning.

Victorian Mourning Brooch Silver Mourning Brooch Hair Mourning Brooch Black Enamel Mourning Bracelet
Victorian Mourning Brooch Silver Mourning Brooch Hair Mourning Brooch Black Enamel Mourning Bracelet

Jewelry
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.

The 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 etiquette.

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