History of funeral attire -black

The Victorians celebrated death as an individually meaningful event, with lavish funerals, expensive processions, and feast-like wakes. Their funerals were pompous occasions to show off the wealth of the surviving relatives, as well as a time for reflection on one’s own mortality. For the Victorians, this pageant was just as much about status for the living as honoring the dead (Curl, 1972, p. 25).”

“In the socially rigid Victorian society, there was a prescribed set of stringent rules for mourning wear. An appropriate dress for the occasion would be widow’s weeds, an ensemble of black dress, veil and bonnet (Tomasi, Figure 1), which the widow had to wear for two years to be socially acceptable. In fact, those who tried to avoid the expense and restriction of the formal mourning dress were chastised and ostracized. Widows could wear only fabrics that lacked color and luster.”

“The mourning jewelry had to be dull and lusterless. Brooches and larger ornaments echoed the funeral symbolic motifs that had developed over the centuries (Figure 2): arrows and doves, which represent emotional pain and resurrection; the setting sun, a metaphor for death and resurrection; ivy, a symbol of immortality; forgetme-nots, for remembrance; or hair, which is a symbol of life, because it does not decompose after death. Mourners often wore jewelry made from their loved ones’ hair as a continual reminder of their lives together (Hollander, 1978, p. 244).”

Bedikian, S 2008, The death of mourning: From Victorian Crepe to the Little Black Dress, OMEGA, Vol 57(1) p37-8, 40, New York, viewed on the 3rd of September 2011.

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