Monday, May 24, 2010

1860s Mourning Dress Etiquette

Some words of wisdom on Mourning Dress according to "The Ladies Book of Etiquette, Fashion and Manual of Politeness" from 1860.

"There is such a variety of opinion upon the subject of mourning, that it is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules upon the subject. Some wear very close black for a long period, for a distand relative; whilst others will wear dressy mourning for a short time in a case of death in the immediate family. There is no rule either for the depth of mourning, or the time when it may be laid aside, and I must confine my remarks to the different degrees of mourning.

For deep mourning, the dress should be of bombazine, Parramatta cloth, delaine, barege, or merino, made up over black lining. The only appropriate trimming is a deep fold, either of the same material or of crape. The shawl or cloak must be of plain black, without border or trimming, unless the fold of crape be put on the cloak; the bonnet should be of crape, made perfectly plain, with crape facings, unless the widow's cap be worn, and a deep crape veil should be thrown over both face and bonnet. Black crape collar and sleeves, and black boots and gloves. The next degree is to wear white collar and sleeves, a bow of crape upon the bonnet, and plain white lace facings, leaving off the crape veil, and substiuting one of plain black net. A little later, black silk without any gloss, trimmed with crape, may be worn, and delaine or bombazine, with a trimming of broad plain ribbon, or a bias fold of silk. The next stage admits a silk bonnet trimmed with crape, and lead color, dark purple, or white figures on the dress. From this the mourning passes into second mourning. Here a straw bonnet, trimmed with black ribbon or crape flowers, or a silk bonnet with black flowers on the outside, and white ones in the face, a black silkdress, and gray shawl or cloak, may be worn. Lead color, purple, lavendar, and white, are all admissible in second mourning, and the dress may be lightened gradually, a white bonnet, shawl, and light purple or lavedar dress, being the dress usually worn last, before the mourning is thrown aside entirely, and colors resumed. It is especially to be recommended to buy always the best materials when making up mourning. Crape and woolen goods of the finest quality are very expensive, but a cheaper article will wear miserably; there is no greater error in economy than purchasing cheap mourning, for no goods are so inferior, or wear out and grow rusty so soon."

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  1. What a fascinating directive on mourning dress. I especially liked the last sentence which warns against buying cheap clothing!
    Do you own this book?

  2. Lindsey,

    Your mother just forwarded this link to me...great primary source.

  3. Awesome! It is so very interesting how precise the instructions were for the mourning period. Today really anything goes. I own a wonderful 1850'ish mourning dress. It is kind of sad by a great historical piece.

    Thanks for all your research and the info.


  4. Ingrid - I own a reproduction/reprint of this book. I've had it for so long, I can't even remember where I picked it up at. Mine looks like an 1860s version would, but a modern version is available on Amazon: