Taylor’s Arguments About The Mourning Dress Essay

Taylor further talks about the mourning dress and explains how funerals were a great platform to exhibit one’s rank and wealth in the society. Even the women in the family zealously participated in the display of their family’s status through their intricate mourning dresses (2010, p-20). 3 In the pictures above, mourning dresses have been depicted as another form of Fashion of that period.

Taylor says that, “the wealthiest and the most fashionable women had their mourning clothes made up by Court or private dressmakers, according to the usual instructions still issued by the Lord Chamberlain on the occasion of a royal death or that of a national leader” (2010, p- 124) 5. The royal women would wear expensive fabrics with lavishly embroidered, fine details with trimmed crape with statement hats which generously boasted their status in the society. But not everyone could afford to have the black mourning dresses. And most of them were the women of middle classes.

But it was mandatory to wear black for mourning, if not so, one had to face horrific looks by the society. Taylor quotes one of the incidents which highlight the importance of black mourning dress, “When Victoria died in 1901, the 16 year old daughter of a nonconformist minister went to watch the funeral procession. She recalled: I had no black clothes. My mother lent me a black hat and gloves, and, of course, one had black shoes and stockings those days; but I had a rich violet costume, and as I descended the stairs the family in the Hall look horrified. She will be mobbed” declared my brothers. It rather spoilt my day – I was the only bit of colour in all London. ” (2010, p- 252) 6

To avoid abashment and mortification by the members of the society, the women who could not afford the black mourning dress resorted to a different solution. They started dying their clothes black. Taylor acknowledges one of the cases, talking about Mrs. Mason who could not afford mourning dresses for her five children after the sudden death of her husband.

Unfortunately, she had to send the new summer dresses of her children to the local dyers to get them dyed black for the mourning period. (2010, p- 178) 7 But it was not for long that the middle class women remained deprived of the fashionable mourning dresses. Mourning fashion plates and magazines on mourning etiquette were introduced which could be afforded by the people of middleclass families. Those fashion plates and magazines not only focused on mourning etiquettes, but also had information regarding mourning fabrics and accessories which provided a sense of pride among the middle class women.

The magazines and plates also answered most of the questions of the readers. Along with black mourning garments, women were also expected to wear special bonnets or caps for mourning. They had to be black as per the rules of mourning but even the bonnets for mourning became fashionable. The mourning jewellery also had its own significance in that time. The mourning jewellery was usually made from the hair of the deceased. The mourning jewellery was often made of black gemstones or jet, focusing mainly on the blackness of the jewellery.

Taylor highlights that the mourning jewellery also served three crucial purposes. The first one was that it acted as a memento of the departed soul. That jewellery was a reminder that the person who passed away is still in the thoughts of the family members and close friends. The second purpose was that it served as a memento mori which is a Latin theory of mortality. Memento Mori directly translates to ‘remember, you must die’ in latin. The third function of the mourning jewellery was being an indicator of your rank in the society.

Just like the mourning dresses, the mourning jewellery was expensive too. It was all due to the fact that everything worn during mourning had to be black. (2010, P- 224) 10 But the mourning dress was not always seen as a fashion statement or a status symbol. The mourning dress was called Widow’s Weeds’ (weeds was referred to garments). Women not only had to make sure of everything being black in colour but also a list of articles which were considered appropriate for mourning.

Taylor cited an example of this, “The Ladies Field, who well understood their reader’s preoccupations and aspirations, published a list of articles of dress not considered suitable for deep mourning three weeks after the Death of Queen Victoria in 1901: ‘Among articles of dress definitely not deep mourning or may be mentioned the following: sable, chinchilla and ermine, deep collars, cuffs and trimmings of white or cream lace, black net ruffles with touches of gold in their folds, and chiffon and net, hats with white flowers or knots of white tulle and gold gauds, such as gold muff-chains, purses and chatelaines.

Neither velvet, nor panne is strictly mourning material, but for those who are not attached to the Court, they may pass muster, toned down with the dullness of silk or chiffon. “(2010, p-10) 12 Widows of middle class and royalty also had to follow certain rules and regulations in their lifestyles. Mercier argues, “Women were isolated in their homes for specific lengths of time in rooms hung with yards of black cloth. Their bedchambers were entirely covered with it- the floors, ceilings and walls as well as the furniture. 3

Taylor supports Mercier’s argument and adds that widows had to sleep on beds with black sheets and had to receive people who came to pay their condolences, in those special black beds (2010, p. g. -54). 14 In 1910, the whole society went into deep mourning for a few weeks after the death of King Edward VII. But after that, the concept of black mourning dress started to fade. Taylor and Craik both supported the above statement with the example of “Black Ascort”.

Just before the half mourning period for the demise of King Edward VII, Ascort took place and the race goers wore exorbitant high fashion dresses with striking cart-wheel hats, all in black and white. This occasion came to be known as “Black Escort” and it gave the perspective of the mourning dress a new direction (2010, p- 163 and 2009, p-52 respectively). 15 Conclusion As Calefato has quoted, “Black clothes indicate a style in this sense: a system that reformulates and transforms citations and archetypes, that shows how a garment can allude to a whole range of cultural texts and discourses”(2005, pg-110) 16.

It can be concluded that Black is not just a colour. It has various cultural and aesthetic values attached to it some of which are still prevent today. Black is an emotion. And in Europe, black is the indicator of mourning. It was the lifestyle of widows in the Victorian and Edwardian era. Black was not only represented through garments, but bonnets/hats, shoes and jewellery but through beddings, walls and ceilings too and it was mandatory to do so. And yet somehow in the middle of being a mourning colour, black emerged as a fashion statement and has continued to do so even in the twenty first century.