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.
OBJECTS OF REMEMBRANCE
“Mourning jewelry has existed as a genre in European decorative arts since the Renaissance. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as women assumed more responsibility for the emotional life within bourgeois society, jewelry provided a way to express tender and deep emotions which might be otherwise prohibited or discouraged. Gifts of remembrance, including tiny portraits in ivory or enamel, bracelets woven of hair, and lockets containing intimate inscriptions were as much a part of love as of loss.”
“Greatly influenced by German romanticism, jewelry containing human hair was common amongst bourgeois women. Hair curled in a decorative pattern was given in friendship or worn to signify closeness between women.” “…acts as a memento mori.”
Simon, M, Objects of Remembrance: Contemporary Mourning Jewelry, Metalsmith Vol. 29 no.5, p24-5, North America, viewed on the 3rd of September 2011.
University Student (Zong Lei) worked in the cosmetics department -on the deceased.”During my studies, I saw all kinds of frightful faces of the deceased in my textbooks – some of which were even smashed out of shape.”
“I didn’t expect dead bodies would have such a strong smell, especially those that have started to decay. Something that happens if the body is not sent to the funeral home for several days.”
When changing clothes for the deceased, the liquid inside the body may also pour from the mouth as the body is being turned over, frequently running into the cosmetician’s hands.
“We never wear gloves when changing clothes as it makes it difficult to button up the deceased’s clothing,”
“At the beginning, I even vomited at the sight of the liquid, and completely lost my appetite. But now I’m gradually getting accustomed to it.”
The first step is to wash the face of the dead person; second involves giving the body a simple face lift, for example helping to close the eyes and mouth; third involves applying cosmetics. Usually one team of four people handle each body.
“These difficulties are not important as long as our work satisfies the families,”
“The best reward for us is to hear from loved ones that the deceased looks like they are sleeping.”
Haixia, P 2002, “Working at a funeral parlour,” viewed on the 5th of September 2011.