After her beloved Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria dressed in black for the rest of her 40-year reign. It sparked a mourning fashion for women, many of whom would refer to journals or household manuals such as The Queen and Cassell’s for advice on what to wear.
The dress code was dictated by different mourning stages, which for a widow would last at least two years. In the first stage – full mourning – a widow would wear head-to-toe black, including a scratchy crape veil. Depending on the household income, her dress might be made of paramatta silk, cashmere or a cheaper fabric like bombazine.
After a year and one day, the widow moved into ‘second mourning’. At this stage – which lasted nine months – she could wear her veil lifted back over her head and also allow herself a little ornamentation, perhaps some fabric trim added to her dress or a piece of mourning jewellery.
The last stage was three to six months of ‘half mourning’ during which time widows could gradually move to a less sombre way of dressing. They could dispense with their black mourning dresses – known as ‘widow’s weeds’ – and wear their normal clothes, albeit in respectful colours such as grey, purple, violet and mauve. For this final mourning stage, the fashion became less formal and stiff, with the introduction of fabrics like velvet and silk along with lace, fringe and ribbons.
In the Victorian era, men didn’t apply such a strict fashion code. While a widower would mourn for two years, he’d simply wear his usual dark suit with black gloves, a cravat and hatband.
Wearing mourning clothes became less fashionable in the Edwardian era and its popularity dwindled further after the first and second wars. Today, many people reserve dressing in black just for the deceased’s funeral, though there’s no formal dress code for wearing black or a dark colour to a service. In fact, any colour goes so long as it’s in keeping with the wishes of the deceased or their family.
If you’re arranging a funeral, it’s useful to let attendees know any special clothes requirements. Your loved one might have talked about wanting their funeral to be a sea of bright colours or there may be a favourite colour the deceased always wore. They could perhaps have been known for their spotty scarves or mismatching socks, which you could ask people to wear at the service. These personal touches can help to reflect your loved one’s personality and strengthen people’s memories of them.
* If you need help planning a funeral, please call us on 01438 316623