Monday, February 8, 2016

Etiquette and Mourning Dress

Have we any right to sadden others with our grief? The sight of somber colors, of dull crepe and clinging sable veils is actually painful to many. Perhaps it recalls to them a kindred and terrible experience, perhaps they are merely supersensitlve and easily affected. 

SHALL WE WEAR MOURNING? 

TIME was when such a question would have been simply preposterous. That was the age when widows went into deepest mourning. Black crepe and all, for the rest of their natural lives, or until they married again; when mothers wore black even for little babies that had not lived an hour; when third cousins and almost-fiancés and intimate friends were all subjects for mourning. But, no doubt about it, public opinion has changed. 

Thirty years ago you would have shocked a conventional world by suggesting all-white for deep mourning; now it is almost as common as all-black. Thirty years ago, even those who looked forward to some day terminating their mourning never expected to do so under three or four years at the very least. Now there is much confusion in the matter that from a question of etiquette it has become a question of taste. And that is all it ever really can be. 

You certainly are in no way affecting the dead by wearing black for them; if it were possible thus to show your sorrow to their eyes, there is not one of us who would not wear, on the heart at least, that badge of unforgotten grief. But the dead sleep and cannot dream. You are left, then, with two sides to the situation. Those who wear mourning reasonably — I mean those with whom it is not a mere matter of unthinking convention— say that it is to them a means of withdrawal from pleasures and excitements they could not bear. It puts up a screen between them and the world— a screen that says, "Respect my affliction and leave me for a little time alone." And that is the only good argument for mourning. 

Yet even for these there is another side to the question, and it is this: Have we any right to sadden others with our grief? The sight of somber colors, of dull crepe and clinging sable veils is actually painful to many. Perhaps it recalls to them a kindred and terrible experience, perhaps they are merely supersensitlve and easily affected. Then there are the children; have you ever watched the pathetic solemnity creep over a child's face when he is being made to live in the midst of blackness? 

Sully-Prudlhomme, the French poet, lost his father at an early age. and he tells how the mourning his mother wore and put upon him "sank from the clothing to the heart." Have you a right to subject a child to your sorrow? There are those, too, who even while in mourning cannot endure shutting themselves entirely out from life. How often I have known women to ask if it was proper to go to a wedding in deep mourning! And always, if it was I that was asked, I have answered, "You have no right to intrude your grief on the bride's joy. Unless you can lay aside your mourning, stay away." 

As for those who wear mourning simply because every one else does, they deserve no reverence, and hardly respect. "I am simply crazy to get into colors, and to go around again." said a young widow to me recently. In one year she had lost her father, her sister and her husband. If, after all this, she still felt like "getting into colors and going around again," why in the name of good sense, was she wearing mourning at all?  

At any rate, whatever your position on the subject, one thing you should make your most anxious care. You should never too lightly condemn the man or woman who, after a death in the family, makes no change in garments or in mode of living. How do you know, because a woman wears green and blue and brown, and because she goes to concerts and the theater and to club meetings, that her heart is not heavy and sore? Often, it is this woman who carries with her the heaviest burden, and carries it the longest. "Judge not, that ye be not judged!" —San Francisco Call, 1910



Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia