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Victorian Mourning Customs

Many museum collections include artifacts related to the 19th century mourning rituals.

The Victorians believed an outward display of mourning was a sign of respect for the deceased. They developed strict rules for time periods and attire for mourning.

Those in mourning were expected to avoid appearing in society at balls, parties and other celebrations. Both men and women participated in mourning customs, but the rules for women were far more elaborate.

Time Period

Each death required a specified length of mourning based on the relationship to the deceased. A widow was expected to mourn her husband for a minimum of 18 months, but preferably for two years.

After one year and one day, a widow entered "second mourning" for an additional 6 to 12 months. Mourning a mother, father, brother, sister or grandparent usually lasted between 6 to 12 months. Children were mourned for nine months.

Attire

Women in mourning followed very specific guidelines for their attire. Mourning a husband required the most intense rules. During "first mourning" or "deep mourning," women were expected to dress completely in black crepe from head to toe, including a black veil. Dull black kid gloves were appropriate.

After the first year women's dresses were no longer covered in crepe. In "second mourning" -- for the next 6 to 12 months -- they could wear black silk dresses trimmed in crepe. Mourning other family members followed much of the same rules, but for a shorter time period.

Only black jet jewelry was permitted during mourning, since it is dull and not "showy." In "second mourning" dresses were often trimmed in jet beads. Women could wear furs for most of the mourning period, as long as they were extremely dark.

Even children participated in mourning rituals. Typically a small child wore white with black ribbons pinned to their clothing.

End of Mourning

After two years of mourning, widows were often expected to enter a period of "half mourning."

During this time -- which lasted another 6 to 12 months -- the widow could gradually ease back into wearing colors, beginning with shades of gray, purple or lavender.

To re-enter society after a period of mourning, a lady would call on her friends and acquaintances to leave her card. Until this formal overture was made, friends would respect the mourner's privacy and leave her in seclusion.

Elderly women often remained in mourning for the rest of their lives.

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