Currently on exhibit from the at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York is a show of thirty ensembles meant to declare the wearer is in mourning. The clothes are organized chronologically covering the years from 1815 to 1915. The practice, reached its height in the later Victorian era. It came to an end during WW 1 as there were so many suffering bereavement it was thought unwise to have it continue. So grief became a private matter and we haven't looked back
Today we wear black because we like it. In other times there were strict rules over the matter and it was a sign of social status.
Being a Bronte fan, my greatest interest lay in a group of three from the 1840's.
The two women here seem to be conversing. Of course I love those bonnets, but the beauty of the silk is breath taking. It's marvelous such a complete outfits were persevered.
There is also a simpler dress from 1848. It shows its owner was coming out of her deepest grief by the thin buff lines in the material.
However here is a marvelous slide show of the whole exhibit. It also has jewelry and prints on display.
By the 1840's a number tailors were devoted solely to the trade of mourning clothes and I believe some were rented out like tuxes are rented today. The custom seemed linked to the rise of industry and the middle class. It was a matter of status if one could afford a mourning ensemble as well as one's every day clothes. Many had their best dress dyed black to acquire the look.
However those wearing the dresses found at the Met did not have to worry about expense, a good number of the ensembles were made for royalty. Not only is the custom of wearing black because of grief mostly unknown to us, the beauty of these clothes seem surreal as well. It's a pleasure to see such clothes as these. As a friend once said, " It's not that everything was better long ago, but that only the best survives to our day"
In the 1840's morning clothes were worn for brothers and sisters for six to eight months. Later in the century rules became stricter and more exacting, particularly after Prince Albert's death in 1861 when Queen Victoria plunged into 40 years of mourning. It seemed an Olympic sport in later Victorian times.
Sadly for Charlotte, her sibling's deaths came so swiftly and close together, much of her mourning was concurrent. When Charlotte finally came out of mourning in 1850, Anne Thackeray Richie tells us she wore a green dress.
The exhibition runs through February 1, 2015.