Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mourning Etiquette

Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess in early 20th C. period mourning attire.

Death comes to all alike and custom has long established a conventional observance in dealing with the presence of death, in our own homes or elsewhere. In our own country black is worn as the typical attire of sorrow, and it has come to be regarded as a token of respect to the lost one. It is now decreed that crape shall only be worn six months, even for the nearest relative, and that the duration of mourning shall not exceed a year. A wife’s mourning for her husband is the most conventionally deep mourning allowed. Bombazine and crape, a widow’s cap, and a long, thick veil—such is the modern English idea. Some widows even have the cap made of black crêpe lisse, but it is generally of white. 

In this country a widow’s first mourning dresses are covered almost entirely with crape. There are now, however, other and pleasanter fabrics which also bear the dead black, lustreless look which is alone considered respectful to the dead, and which are not so costly as crape or so disagreeable to wear. The Henrietta cloth and imperial serges are chosen for heavy winter dresses, while for those of less weight are tamise cloth, Bayonnaise, grenadine, nuns’ veiling, and the American silk.

Mourning is expensive, and often costs a family more than they can well afford; but it is a sacrifice that all gladly make. Many consider it an act of disrespect to the memory of the dead if the living are not clad in gloomy black.

Widows wear deep mourning, consisting of woolen stuffs and crape, for about two years, and sometimes by choice for life. Children wear the same for parents for one year, and then lighten it with black silk, trimmed with crape. Half mourning gradations of gray, purple, or lilac have been abandoned, and, instead, combinations of black and white are used. Complimentary mourning is black silk without crape. 

The French have three grades of mourning—deep, ordinary, and half mourning. In deep mourning, woolen cloths only are worn; in ordinary mourning, silk and woolen; in half mourning, gray and violet. In France, etiquette prescribes mourning for a husband—six months of deep mourning, six of ordinary, and six weeks of half mourning. For a wife, a father, or a mother, six months—three deep and three half mourning; for a grandparent, two months and a half of slight mourning; for a brother or a sister, two months, one of which is in deep mourning; for an uncle or an aunt, three weeks of ordinary black. Here, ladies have been known to go into deepest mourning for their own relatives or those of their husbands, or for people, perhaps, whom they have never seen, and have remained for seven or ten years, constantly in black; then, on losing a child or a relative dearly loved, they have no extremity of dress left to express the real grief. Complimentary mourning should be limited to two or three weeks.
Lady Mary of Downton Abbey in jet jewelry – In the Victorian era, there was a wide variety of materials used to mimic Whitby Jet for mourning jewelry. Some was made from genuine jet, onyx, French jet (black glass), obsidian, black garnets, black amber, vulcanite, dyed horn or gutta percha. – Source "cleopatra*s_boudoir"            

For light mourning, jet is used on silk, and makes a handsome dress.

Elegant dresses are made with jet embroidery on soft French crape, but lace is never “mourning.” During half mourning, however, black lace may be worn on white silk; but this is questionable. Diamond ornaments set in black enamel are allowed even in the deepest mourning, and also pearls set in black. Gold is never worn in mourning.

The Swedish kid glove is now much more in use for mourning, and the silk glove is made with such neatness and with such a number of buttons that it is equally stylish, and much cooler and more agreeable. Mourning bonnets are worn rather larger than ordinary bonnets.

People of sense, of course, manage to dress without going to extremities in either direction. Exaggeration is to be deprecated in mourning as in everything. The discarding of mourning should be effected by slow stages. It shocks persons of good taste to see a widow change into colors hurriedly. If black is to be dispensed with, let its retirement be slowly and gracefully marked by quiet costumes, as the grief, yielding to time, is giving way to resignation and cheerfulness.

A woman may wear mourning all her life if she choose, but it is a question whether in so doing she does not injure the welfare and happiness of the living.
 –From How to Behave and How to Amuse by G. H. Sandison, 1895

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

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