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Victorian Etiquette of Mourning

From the Dictionary of Daily Wants, 1858-1859

MOURNING, ETIQUETTE OF. The various degrees of relationship which the living bear to the dead, regulate the depth of the mourning worn, and the length of time that it is to be retained. Mourning for a husband in the widow's cap and crape is usually extended over twelve months, and after that period the wearer may either adopt a half mourning, or put by mourning altogether, without appearing singular or wanting in feeling. In cases of this kind, the wearing of mourning beyond the prescribed interval depends, as a matter of course, greatly upon sentiment, the degree of affection which subsisted between the parties, the length of time which the marriage existed, &c.

Mourning for parents is usually worn with crape for six months, afterwards without crape for the same period. For a brother or sister, six months; but in many cases for a longer period. For an uncle or aunt, three months; the same for a first or second cousin.

Male attire, however, is not subject to very stringent rules; black is always expensive wear, and sometimes a person's pursuits and avocations will not permit him to wear it. The most prominent article in mourning with males, is the hat. For this purpose hat-bands of cloth are now made of various depths, as required. For a wife, the hatband should, in the first months of mourning reach to the extreme verge of the hat, and be gradually reduced in depth as time passes by. For a parent, the hat-band should reach to within two inches of the crown, and so in proportion according to the degree of relationship.

Pockethandkerchiefs used during the period of mourning should be white, not coloured. Little or no jewellery should be displayed when persons are in deep mourning, the sombreness of the one, and the ostentation of the other, are incongruous.

During the first few weeks for very near relatives, it is customary to observe comparative seclusion, balls, theatres, concerts, parties, &c., being alike unvisited. Custom, in general, only exacts the adoption of mourning from the relatives of deceased persons, but there are occasions when friendship may evince a proper delicacy in such a matter, not only out of respect to the departed, but in consideration of the survivors. Thus, if a person be going to visit a family, with the members of which he is on the terms of the closest intimacy, and who have recently experienced a heavy bereavement, such visitor, instead of appearing in coloured clothes, should dress in black.

In England, when the monarch of the realms dies, every person who aspires to move in what termed the better class of society, is expected to appear in slight mourning for a prescribed period; or rather it may be taken in a negative sense, that is to say, if during the period of national mourning a person were to appear in many-coloured apparel he would be considered as offending against good taste and manners. Written correspondence during the mourning is conducted on paper and with envelopes bordered with black; the depth of the border is regulated in the same way as are the clothes that are worn. When sealing-wax is called into requisition, it should be black. Visiting cards are, upon the same principle, edged with black

The Victorian Celebration of Death

The Victorian Celebration of Death
by James Stevens Curl
  In this beautifully illustrated and well-researched book Professor Curl has rescued much fascinating material from undeserved oblivion, and his work fills a genuine gap. From humble working-class exequies to the massive outpouringof grief at the State funerals of Wellington and Queen Victoria herself, The Victorian Celebration of Death covers an immense canvas. It describes the change in sensibility that led to a new tenderness towards the dead; the history of the urban cemeteries with their architecture and landscapes; the ephemera of death and dying.
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