Saturday, August 2, 2014

Victorian Manners and Mourning Etiquette

Circa 1875 portrait of a young, "Master Hackett." He is wearing a black armband – a signal that he was mourning the recent death of a close relative. An important aspect of Victorian etiquette was to wear black clothes, black armbands or "mourning jewelry" for a defined period. This was a sign of respect for the deceased and a way of conveying the news of a bereavement to others.


Those in mourning for parent, child, brother, or husband should not be seen at any public function or private entertainment before six months have passed.


These are the same size as visiting-cards. A black border is used, the width to be regulated by the relationship to the deceased relative. They should be sent to indicate temporary retirement from and re-entrance into society.

Within a month after death in a family friends should leave cards. The persons receiving the same should acknowledge the remembrance and sympathy when they are ready to resume their social functions. This may be done by letter or card.


Mourning cards are the same size as visiting-cards, and a black border is used, the width to be regulated by the relationship of deceased relative.
Victorian mourning brooch.

Mourning cards should be sent, to indicate temporary retirement from society. Later cards should be sent, to indicate return to society.


Children under twelve need not be dressed in mourning, though they often are. Only the lightest material should be used. Girls of more advanced age do not wear veils, but crape may be worn in hat or dress, according to taste. For parent, brother, or sister, mourning is worn for about one year. 


Men wear mourning one year for loss of wife. A crape band should be worn around the hat, its width being determined by the nearness of the relative mourned for. It is usually removed after eight months. A widower wears mourning for one year, or, if he wishes, eighteen months, and for a brother, sister, parent, or a child, from six months to a year, as he desires. For the loss of other relatives, duration of mourning is generally regulated by the members of the family.

The wearing of a black band on the coat sleeve in token of half-mourning is an English custom, and is somewhat practised in this country.


A widower uses a black border about one-third of an inch on his stationery, and this at intervals is diminished. All stamping should be done in black.


A widow's stationery should be heavily bordered, and is continued as long as she is in deep mourning. This is gradually decreased, in accordance with her change of mourning. All embossing or stamping should be done in black.


Mourning should never be worn at a wedding, but it should be laid aside temporarily, the wearer appearing in purple.

"Carson says: 'The universality of human desire for symbolic signs of private emotions is ever standing. The emotion of grief at the loss of relatives and friends by death has found in dress fertile fields for expressing the desire. Black, death's particular emblem, has been used for this purpose certainly since the early part of the 14th century. Chaucer and Shakespeare give occasional allusions to it to use, particularly in the case of the widow.' He tells us also of a curious custom of giving away black gloves to be worn 'in memoriam.' In 1736 at the funeral of Gov. Belcher of Boston more than 1000 pairs of mouning gloves were distributed. At the funeral of Andrew Faneuil 3000 pairs were given away." From Lillian Eichler's "The Customs of Mankind"


A widow should wear crape with a bonnet having a small border of white. The veil should be long, and worn over the face for three months, after which a shorter veil may be worn for a year, and then the face may be exposed. After six months white and lilac may be used, and colors resumed after two years.


The mourning dress of a woman for parent, sister, brother, or child is the same as that worn by a widow, save the white bonnet ruche--the unmistakable mark of a widow.

For parents and children, deepest mourning is worn at least one year, and then the change is gradually made by the addition of lighter material or half-mourning.

For other members of the family--as, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc.--black clothes should be worn, but not heavy mourning.

Complimentary mourning is worn for three months; this does not necessitate crape and veil, but any black material can be used.


For a child, mourning is usually worn for six months, thereafter substituting black and white.


Mourning for a brother or sister, step-parents, or grandparents is the same as for parents, but the time is shorter, generally about six months. For an aunt, uncle, or cousin the time is three months.
The city of Toronto's proclamation for a day of mourning befitting Queen Victoria

In the event of the death of a woman's betrothed shortly before the date of the wedding, she may wear black for a short period or full mourning for a year.


Mourning cards are sent out, to indicate that they are not making or receiving calls.

Mourning is generally worn for two years, and sometimes much longer. Woolen material of the deepest black and crape should be worn during the first year. When out-of-doors a crape veil should be worn for a year, or at least three months, covering the face, or, if preferred, the veil may be thrown over the shoulder, and a small one of tulle, or other suitable material, edged with crape, worn over the face.

A crape bonnet should be worn, and a very small white ruche may be added if desired. After the first year a gradual change to lighter mourning may be made by discarding the widow's cap and shortening the veil. Dull silks are used in place of crape, according to taste. In warm weather lighter materials can be worn--as, pique, nun's veiling, or white lawn.

Black furs and sealskin may be worn. Precious stones, such as diamonds and pearls, may be used if mounted in black enamel. Gold jewelry should not be used. A woman should avoid all pretensions to excessive styles.


A married woman wears mourning for her husband's immediate relatives.


Mourning for these persons is generally worn for one year. During the first six months, black material trimmed with crape is used, and also a deep veil, which is thrown over the back of the head and not worn over the face, as for a husband. After this period the mourning may be lightened, according to taste.

From W.C. Green, "The Book of Etiquette"