Yesterday’s mourning.

If you have a taste for the macabre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire is a little polished gem of jet for those with perhaps a bleaker mindset, but also for those who simply possess an interest in the history of costume and fashion.

Mid-19th-century mourning (and half-mourning) attire from Death Becomes Her.

The exhibit presents almost exclusively ladies’ mourning attire, ranging from 1815 through 1915. In addition to garments, you can also take a gander at some beautiful mourning jewelry, including Victorian memorial jewelry, with its intricate design elements that utilize  the dearly departed’s hair.

The exhibit features a very tiny taste of menswear and children's wear, also.
The exhibit features a very tiny taste of menswear and children’s wear, also.

Beautifully preserved and restored, the clothing itself was in astonishing condition– there was a notable lack of moth holes, wear marks and tears, and, generally, the richness of the black fabric was still present (as a rule, black dyes used many years ago don’t stand the test of time, as they fade or turn green, purple, red or brown -ish hues, depending upon what type of dye was used and what type of fabric it was used upon). There were also examples of half-mourning garments, which can be discerned from full mourning by the addition or use of greys, mauve, purple fabric and trim, or small amounts of white integrated into the pattern of the fabric itself. If you’re interested, here is a link to further Victorian mourning etiquette.

Especially of note, there was a gown on display worn by the monarch who so famously mourned the death of her beloved husband for years after his earthly departure, and who set the standards for Victorian mourning etiquette: Great Britain’s Queen Victoria.

Mourning gown worn by Queen Victoria.
Mourning gown worn by Queen Victoria.

Additionally, and in stark contrast to changing times and sensibilities, Queen Victoria’s daughter, Queen Alexandra, also had a couple of mourning dresses on display, for when she mourned the death of of dearly departed mother.

Queen Alexandra's rather less sombre morning attire.
Queen Alexandra’s rather less sombre morning attire.


The one downside is that I found Death Becomes Her to be a bit on the sparse side– sometimes certain exhibits seem to drag on unnecessarily, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more. Maybe the show could have used additional accessories and other jewelry, or perhaps a bit more  of content like memorial photography (there was one lone Daguerreotype beneath a curtain and what might have been tintype that was painted over) or memorial paintings (there were a couple paintings and embroideries), although I do understand that items like these might be difficult to procure.


The next big fashion history exhibit I’d love to see is the Bata Shoe Museum’s Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century (it runs until 2016, so maybe I can make it up to Toronto by then!) , which focuses on the hefty price people of the 1800s paid by means of their health in the pursuit of fashion and beauty.

What’s the last great exhibit you’ve visited, readers? Or have you gotten a chance to visit Death Becomes Her? Tell us all about it in the comment section!


2 thoughts on “Yesterday’s mourning.

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