Victorian Mourning Customs from Collier's Cyclopedia
published in 1901
During times of health and happiness, it is perhaps rather trying to be
asked to turn our thoughts into doleful channels; but sooner or later in
our lives the sad times comes, for "Who breathes must suffer, and who
thinks must mourn," and we have perforce to to turn our minds to the
inevitable and share "the common lot of man." In times of
mourning it seems doubly hard to arouse ourselves, and allow the question
of what to wear? to intrude itself. It is, however, necessary. Custom
decrees, if even inclination does not prompt us, to show in some outward
degree our respect for the dead by wearing the usual black.
We do not advise people to rush into black for every slight
bereavement, nor, on the other hand, to show the utter disregard some do
on the death of their relations, and only acknowledge the departure of
those near and dear to them, by a band of crepe round the arm. This is the
mark of mourning adopted by those in the services who have to wear
uniform, but hardly a fitting way of outwardly showing respect to the
memory of those who have been called away from us, and whose loss we
deplore. A short time since, a lady appeared in a new ruby satin dress,
with a band of crape around her arm. The fact of the dress being new,
showed that poverty did not cause this incongruity. It is hardly ever
those who are styled "the poor," who err so against the accepted
ideas of decency and respect. They always, however straitened they may be
in circumstances, contrive to wear mourning for their deceased relatives.
When black is fashionable, no difficulty is found in wearing it, and you
meet all your friend so attired, but when it becomes a question of duty,
these objections are raised as to the unnecessary expense, and the
inconvenience of so dressing. The majority adhere in this respect to the
customs their parents have followed; but the advanced few are those who
air such sentiments, talk of the "mourning of the heart, not mere
outward woe," and not wearing what is really mourning, go into
society on the plea, "Oh! we know that those who are gone would not
wish us to grieve for them." This may be all very well, but in the
case of husband, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and the
nearer-related cousins, decency requires some outward mark of respect to
It will be as well to consider in succession the different degrees of
mourning, and their duration. The widow's is the deepest mourning of all.
That old-fashioned material, bombazine, is now no longer heard of. Melrose
is in the most general use for widows. Henrietta is also worn, but the
first-named is the more frequently used for the first dresses; but
whatever the material, it is trimmed with crape. The skirt, which is
generally cut quite plain, and slightly trained, is completely covered
with crape, put on quite plainly in one piece; the body and sleeves are
also trimmed with crape -- the dress, in fact, presenting the appearance
of one of crape. The body can be cut according to the prevailing style. If
one wishes to follow the latest mode the most up-to-date dressmaker must
The best and most economical crape for all wear is the rainproof crape,
an improvement and development of the Albert crape, which is not brought
to the greatest perfection of manufacture; it costs about half what
ordinary crape does, to begin with, and is very much more durable; its
imperviousness to weather being, of course its great feature. The best
make of this is quite suitable for widows' mourning. Its appearance equals
that of much more expensive ordinary crape. We see no reason ourselves
why, especially if economy be an object, the rainproof crape should not be
worn for all degrees of mourning. We have no hesitation in advising it.
For a second dress it would be a good plan to have some half-worn black
dress entirely covered with crape -- the rainproof crape -- this would
save the better dress a little; and as widows; first mourning is worn for
a year and a day, it would be advisable to start with at least two
dresses; the crape on them could be renewed when necessary
Widows' mantle are made either of silk or Henrietta, trimmed deeply
with crape, or sometimes of Cyprus crape cloth, or cloth crape trimmed.
the Cyprus crape cloth is a sort of crepe material, and wears well,
neither dust nor wet affecting it. In shape the widows' mantle is like any
other wrap of the cut of the prevailing fashion. For those younger,
jackets or capes, crape-trimmed of course, are worn for winter wear, and
for summer wraps made entirely of crape. The bonnet for first mourning is
all of crape, with white ruche tacked inside it, the small, close fitting
shape, with long crape veil hanging at the back; besides this veil, a
short one is worn over the face. Hate cannot be work by widows, however
young they may be, during the period of their deepest mourning.
The following list would be ample for a widow's outfit. We have given a
rather large one because, of course, it can be curtailed as wished.
One best dress of Henrietta trimmed entirely with crape.
One dress, either a costume of Cyprus crape, or an old black dress
trimmed with rainproof crape.
One Henrietta mantle lined with silk and deeply trimmed with crape
One warmer jacket of cloth lined, trimmed with crape.
One bonnet of best silk crape, with long veil.
One bonnet of rainproof crape, with crape veil.
Twelve collars and cuffs of muslin or lawn, with deep hems. Several
sets much be provided, say six of each kind.
One black stiff petticoat.
Four pair of black hose, either silk, cashmere, or spun silk.
Twelve handkerchiefs with black borders for ordinary use, cambric.
Twelve of finer cambric for better occasions.
Caps, either of lisse, tulle of tarlatan, shape depending very much on
the age. Young widows wear chiefly the Marie Stuart shape, but all widows'
caps have long streamers. They vary, of course, in price. Tarlatan are the
easiest made at home, but we do not fancy home-made widows' caps are an
economy, they soil so much more quickly than bought caps. It is a good
plan to buy extra streamers and bows for them; these can be made at home
for the morning caps, very fine thread and needles being used for the
work, which should be very fine, neat, and even. If in summer a parasol
should be required, it should be of silk deeply trimmed with crape, almost
covered with it, but no lace or fringe for the first year. Afterward
mourning fringe may be put on. A muff, if required, would be made of dark
fur or of Persian lamb.
The first mourning is worn for twelve months. Second mourning twelve
months also; the cap in second mourning is left off, and the crape no
longer covers the dresses, but is put on in tucks. Elderly widows
frequently remain in mourning for long periods, if not for the remainder
of their lives, retaining the widow's cap, collar and cuffs, but leaving
off the deep crape the second year, and afterwards entirely discarding
crape, but wearing mourning materials such as Victoria cords, Janus cords,
cashmere, and so on.
No ornaments are worn in such deep mourning, except jet, for the first
year. Jet is, of course, allowable. Rich silk is, of course, admissible in
widows' mourning, especially for evening wear, but it must always be
deeply trimmed with crape for the first year, and the quantity afterwards
gradually lessened. A silk costume is a very expensive item in a widow's
mourning; therefore we only allude to it -- do not set it down as a
necessity. The best silks for the purpose are rich, heavy silks, such as
grosgrain, drap du nord, satin merveilleux. furs are not admissible in
widows' first mourning, though very dark sealskin and astrakhan (a rough
kind of cloth with a curled pile) can be worn when the dress is changed.
In other mournings, furs are now very generally worn -- that is, after the
first few months, but only dark furs.
Widow's lingerie, to be always nice, entails a considerable amount of
expense. If collars, cuffs and caps are made at home, as we before said,
they get soiled directly. As, however, it is not always possible to buy
them when they require renewing, the following directions may prove of
use: "Widow's cuffs, made in lawn, should be about nine inches long,
according to the size of the wrist. They are not intended to overlap, but
just to meet, fastened with two buttons and loops, placed near the upper
and lower edges. The ordinary depth is five inches, with a wide hem at the
top and bottom of an inch and a half depth. The material being merely a
straight piece, they are easy to make. For the collar, the straight
all-round shape, turning down over the collar of the dress, is the most
usual. If any other shape s required, cut it in paper, and make it
accordingly with the wide hem of one and a half inch. If the collar is
straight, it will be merely necessary to turn it down; if rounded at all,
it must be cut to the shape, run to the collar at the edge, and then
turned down. Fine cotton and needles and neat work are required."
If an attempt is made to make widows' caps at home, first procure a
good cap for a model, and copy it as exactly as possible. It must be made
on a "dolly" or wooden block of a head, or it will never sit
To preserve widows' caps clean, fresh-looking, and of a good color,
when not in use they should be put on cap-holders on a shelf in a
cupboard, the long streamers turned up over the cap, and a piece of blue
paper (thin) laid over them. So treated, they will with care last a long
while, that, is, if there are two or three worn in turn, and they are put
away in this manner when not in actual use.
It may be as well to sum up what we have said. Duration of mourning:
Widow's first mourning lasts for a year and a day. Second mourning cap
left off, less crape and silk for nine months (some curtail it to six),
remaining three months of second year plain black without crape, and jet
ornaments. At the end of the second year the mourning can be put off
entirely; but it is better taste to wear half mourning for at least six
months longer; and, as we have before mentioned, many widows never wear
colors any more, unless for some solitary event, such as the wedding of a
child, when they would probably put it off for the day.
Dresses and Wraps -- Henrietta, Melrose, silk
trimmed with silk, Albert of rain-proof crape.
Bonnets and Veils -- Crape
Caps -- Lisse, tulle, lawn.
Collars and Cuffs -- Lawn and muslin.
Petticoats -- Black stuft or silk-quilted.
Pocket Handkerchiefs -- Cambric, black borders.
Hose -- Black Balbriggan, cashmere or silk
Gloves -- Black kid.
The mourning for parents ranks next to that of widows; for children by
their parents, and for parents by their children, these being of course
identical in degree. It lasts in either case twelve months - six months in
crape trimmings, three in plain black, and three in half mourning. It is,
however, better case to continue the plain black to the end of the year,
and wear half-mourning for three months longer. Materials for first six
months, either Henrietta, Melrose, or any of the black corded stufts, such
as Janus cord, about thirty-either inches wide; Henrietta cord about same
price and width. Such dresses would be trimmed with two deep tucks of
crape, either Albert or rainproof, would be made plainly, the body trimmed
with crape, and sleeves with deep crape cuffs. Collars and cuffs, to be
worn during the first mourning would be made of muslin or lawn, with three
or four tiny tucks in distinction to widows' with the wide, deep hem.
Pocket handkerchiefs would be bordered with black. Black hose, silk or
Balbriggan, would be worn and black kid gloves. For outdoor wear either an
outer jacket would be worn or a cape, either of silk or Henrietta, but in
either case trimmed with crape. Crape bonnets or hats; if for young
children, all crape for bonnets, hats, silk and crape; feathers (black)
could be worn, and a jet clasp or arrow in the bonnet, but no other kind
of jewelry is admissible but jet - that is, as long as crape is worn.
Black furs, such as astrachan, may be worn, or very dark sealskin, or
black sealskin cloth, now so fashionable, but no light furs of any sort.
Silk dresses can be worn, crape trimmed after the first three months if
preferred, and if expensive be no object; the lawn-tucked collars and
cuffs would be worn with them. At the end of the six months crape can be
put aside, and plain black, such as cashmere, worn, trimmed with silk if
liked, but not satin for that is not mourning materials, and is therefore
never worn by those who strictly attend to mourning etiquette. With plain
black, black gloves and hose would of course be worn, and jet, no gold or
silver jewelry for at least nine months after the commencement of
mourning; then, if the time expires in the twelve months, gray gloves
might be worn, and gray ribbons, lace of plain linen collar and cuffs take
the place of the lawn or muslin, and gray feathers may lighten the hate or
bonnet, or reversible black and gray strings.
Many persons think it is in better taste not to commence half-mourning
until after the expiration of a year, except in the case of young
children, who are rarely kept in mourning beyond the twelve months.
Black, without crape for one month is suitable in case of death of
parents-in-law; after one month of black and white, with lilac, should
For Grandparents, simple black without a touch of crape, worn
for three months, is the rule. After that the usual garments, or garments
somewhat modified as to color may be worn according to taste.
For Sisters or Brothers, six months' mourning is usually worn.
Crape for three, plain black for two, and half mourning for one month; the
same sort of stuffs, the crape being put on in keeping with the style of
the day; bodice, crape trimmed; jacket of cape, crape trimmed; bonnet of
crape with feathers or jet, hat of silk and crape. Veil of hat with crape
tuck, hose black silk, Balbriggan or cashmere, handkerchiefs black
bordered. Silks can be worn after the first month if trimmed with crape.
For Uncles, Aunts, Nephews, or Nieces, crape is not worn, but
plain black, with jet for three months.
For Great Uncles or Aunts, mourning would last for two months
For Cousins (first), six weeks are considered sufficient,
three of which would be in half-mourning, though unusual
For Cousins less closely related, mourning is hardly ever put
on unless they have been inmates of the house.
No invitations would be accepted before the funeral of any relatives
closely enough related to you to put on mourning for. In the case of
brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, society would be given up for
at least three months, if not more, and it would be very bad taste to go
to a ball or large festive gathering in crape. Widows do not enter society
for at least a year - that is, during the period of their deepest
mourning. With regard to complimentary mourning-as worn by
mothers for the mother of father-in-law of their married children, black
would be worn for six weeks or so without crape; by the second wives for
the parents of the first wife, for about three weeks, and in a few other
It is better taste to wear mourning in making the first call after a
bereavement on friends, but this is not a decided rule, only a graceful
method of implying sympathy for those who are suffering affliction. But
calls are not made until the cards with "thanks for kind
inquiries" have been sent in return for the cards left at the time of
decease. Letters of condolence should always be written on slightly
black-edged paper, and it would be kind to intimate in the letter that no
answer to it will be expected. Few realize the effort it is to those left
to sit down and write answers to inquiries and letters, however kind and
sympathizing they may have been.
Servants' Mourning. - Servants are not usually put into
mourning except for the members of the household in which they are living,
not for the relatives of their masters and mistresses, and very frequently
only for the heads of the house, not for the junior members.
A best dress of Victoria cord of alpaca, two cotton dresses, black for
mourning wear while at work. A cloth jacket, in case of master of
mistress, with a slight crape trimming, a silk and crape bonnet, pair of
black kid gloves and some yards of black cap ribbon, would be the mourning
given to the servants in the house at the time of the death of one of the
heads of the establishment, and their mourning would be worn for at least
six months, or even a year in some cases.
The following is a list of suitable materials for mourning of those
relationships we have named, all of which can be obtained at any good
Silk crape, Henrietta, Albert crape, Melrose, rainproof crape, silk,
Cyprus crape. Janus cord, Victoria cord, Balmoral cloth, Cashmere Francais,
Kashgar Cashmere; these last are wide materials from 44 to 47 inches.
Crape cloth looks precisely like crape, but is much lighter and cooler.
For summer, wear drap d'ete, a mixture of silk and wool, is suitable;
barege for dinner dresses; nun's veiling, etc., etc.
The best all-black washing materials are cotton, satine, foulardine;
black and white for slighter mourning, black with tiny white spots or
Children should be dressed in these black washing materials --- that is
for summer wear, in preference to the thicker materials, as for young
children, crape is soon dispensed with. Neither velvet, satin, nor plus
can be worn in mourning - that is in strict mourning - for they are not
mourning materials. Attempts have been made to bring in some colors, such
as red or violet, and we consider them suitable to slight mourning; but
the only color really admissible for half-mourning is gray, or the pales
lavender, gray gloves sewn with black, gray and black reversible ribbons,
gray and black feathers, gray flowers mixed with black, and so on.
Children under fifteen are not expected to wear mourning, nor should
any girl under seventeen wear crape.
In all cases of mourning, it is the best plan to write to some
well-known house for patterns; good mourning establishments can afford to
sell better materials at cheaper rates than inferior houses. Large firms
have always a good choice of materials for mourning on hand; and it is
really far greater economy to buy good materials when going into mourning
, than cheap flimsy stuffs, which give no wear at all; besides, such
houses send out books of fashions and prices for making up mourning
costumes, which give a good idea of the expense to be incurred, even if it
is not found cheaper to purchase and have mourning made up by them.
Mourning has generally to be purchased hurriedly, and too often a
dressmaker gets carte blanche almost to furnish the mourning. If
such is the case, no wonder mourning is considered expensive; for things
which are quite unnecessary, such as expensive crape in the place of
rainproof kinds, more crape used than the degree of mourning requires, and
many extravagancies of a like nature, naturally swell such a bill into one
of large proportions, when by a little forethought the necessary black
could have been purchased at a far more reasonable rate.
It is not necessary to have very expensive mourning if our means will
not allow it; we should learn to suit our requirement to the state of our
purses. But we sincerely trust the old custom of wearing decent mourning
for those taken away from us, will never be really discontinued in
America, for it is one of those proofs of our home affections which can
never be done away with without a loss of national respect.
Gold Graphics provided by:
Victorian Mourning Wear
Mourning jewelry mirrored the lives
and times of the people who wore it. It was a souvenir to remember a
loved one, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death,
and a status symbol, especially during the Victorian era. This
jewelry was generally made of materials such as jet, gutta-percha,
gold, pinchbeck, and human hair.