|The Well Dressed Widow|
|Since women throughout the Victorian Era were expected to show the outward appearance of sorrow, it was customary for the widow to wear mourning dress for about two and half years after losing her husband. Naturally, rural women could not afford to follow this custom, since it was usually essential that she marry again as soon as possible; so traditions would be whatever were acceptable within her community.
Others took the lead from Queen Victoria who had begun an almost cult-like phenomenon after the death of Prince Albert in 1861; bringing mourning to a whole new level. In larger cities there were shops that sold nothing but mourning wear, including all accessories; from bonnets to black hankies; and wardrobes were selected as carefully as those of a bridal trousseau.
|Lily Elsie "The Merry Widow"|
Paris Ontario - 1883
|"Deep mourning requires the heaviest of black serges, bombazine, lustre alpaca, delaine, merino, or similar heavily clinging material with collars cuffs of 'crape'. Mourning garments should have little or no trimming; flounces, ruffles or bows are allowable. If the dress is not made en suite, than a long or square shawl of barege or cashmere with crape border is worn.
"The bonnet of black crape; a hat is inadmissable. The veil is of crape or barege with a heavy border; black gloves and black bordered handkerchief.
|"In winter, dark furs may be worn with the deepest mourning. Jewelry is strictly forbidden, and all pins, buckles etc. must be of jet. Lustreless alpaca and black silk trimmed with crape may be worn in second mourning, with white colIars and cuffs. The crape veil is laid aside for net or tulle, but the jet jewelry is still retained. A still less degree of mourning is indicated by black and white, purple and grey, or a combination of these colours. Crape is still retained in bonnet trimming and crape flowers may be added.
"Light gray, white and black, and light shades of lilac, indicate a slight mourning. Black lace bonnet, with white or violet flowers, supersedes crape, and jet and gold jewelry is worn. The deepest mourning excludes kid gloves, they should be cloth, silk or thread; mourning handkerchiefs should be of very sheer linen with a border of black, very wide for close mourning, narrower as the black is lightened. Mourning silks should be perfectly lustreless and the ribbons worn without any gloss. The mourning for children under twelve years of age is white in summer and gray in winter, with black trimmings, belt, sleeve ruffles and bonnet ribbons."
|The Stages of Mourning|
|The above article discusses the 'stages' of mourning, and for a widow there were four:
FIRST STAGE - The first stage was known as the 'deepest period of mourning', usually lasting a year and a day. During this stage, dresses were to be of two pieces, consisting of a bodice and a skirt. Those who could not afford to buy a new mourning suit, could make a dress of cotton, or dye one of their old dresses black.
A middleclass woman would purchase; or have one made; in black wool, cotton or even silk, while the upperclass would have the latest fashion made up plainly in silk or wool. The only requirements were that they be black and lusterless. One of the main clues to the fact that a woman was in the deepest stage of mourning was the addition of crepe (spelled 'crape' above). A long crepe veil that came down to the waist or knees; as well as a crepe covered bonnet, and crepe trimmings on the dress, including crepe covered buttons, hem, collar and cuffs.
Throughout this stage women were also required to wear some form of a widow's cap, usually made of white crepe. Black gloves of leather, suede or dull cloth, were a must, as were black stockings. Even your petticoats must be trimmed in black and a black ribbon pulled through the hem just in case they showed. Jewelry must be of a dull black; usually jet or bog oak.
|SECOND STAGE - The second stage of mourning lasted anywhere from six months to life; depending on the age of the widow. The manner of dress was the same, but much of the crepe was taken away. The veil was shortened and bonnets could now be trimmed with flowers and ribbons could be black or white.
Though jewelry was still mostly in jet, you could now add earrings, buttons, brooches, bracelets and hair combs. Cuffs and collars were of white book-muslin or lawn; trimmed in black. Mourning caps could be also be trimmed with flowers and jet, and gloves could now be white.
|THIRD STAGE - The third stage of mourning; often called the "ordinary mourning" lasted three to six months. At this time, crepe would be completely removed from the dress, and black silk trim with jet and black ribbon; embroidery and lace were now allowed. You could add more lavish trimmings to your bonnet and the veil would be drastically shortened or removed. The mourning cap could also be eliminated, though elderly women preferred to keep them on.
FOURTH STAGE - The fourth stage of mourning, usually called "half-mourning" lasted from six months to a lifetime, again depending on the age of the widow. Dresses could now be made in the latest fashions, and no longer necessarily black. Other traditional mourning colours were: violet, lilac, soft mauves, gray and white. Bonnets could be of the most fashionable style, so long as they were in proper mourning colours; and trimmings of feathers, beads, flowers and ties, were allowed. The black ribbon in the petticoat could now be removed and jewelry more lavish and fashionable was worn.
THE WIDOWER - Men in mourning, had only one stage, that lasted about six months. The widower's suit was usually black, though a dark coloured 'Sunday' suit was also acceptable, so long as any shiny buttons were removed. The hat was trimmed with a thick crepe band and a crepe armband had to be worn on the sleeve.
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