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Mourning Costumes -- English And French Styles - 1889

Mourning Costumes -- English And French Styles - 1889

The regulation of mourning for a widow differs little from previous seasons. The dress for mid-summer or mid-winter is Henrietta cloth or bombazine trimmed with deep folds of crape or made with an entire skirt of crape.

The simple bonnet of crape is covered with a veil which is three yards in length before it is hemmed and is finished with a quarter-yard hem in front and a half-yard hem at the back. This veil is draped over the bonnet to fall two-thirds at the back and one-third over the face.

As crape is considered by many unwholesome to wear over the face, the crape veil is now often thrown back even before the first six months have passed and a black veil of a fine-meshed net is worn over the face.

The widow’s cap is worn one year when worn at all. It is often omitted from the mourning dress of refined women, because it is strikingly conspicuous and seems to call special attention to the wearer.

For one year all neck-wear should be of black crepe lisse in the form of a collar or ruches. No jewelry is allowable in the deepest mourning, and during this period the wearer does not accept any invitation or appear at any place of public resort. English fashions prevail in deep mourning in this country.

Thus a widow usually wears crape (for one year or often longer, as suits her feelings), she lightens her somber black first by white collars and cuffs and then by gowns of black and white, or wears dull silk, or silk and wool.

It is becoming the custom to adopt French fashions in lightening the mourning. These are in marked contrast to severe English styles.

The French milliners’ bonnets are decked in jet and even ostrich tips are used. While these fashions would seem in the worst taste for regular mourning dress, they may be introduced to lighten mourning with excellent effect.

There is no fixed fashion of making a mourning dress; any severe, simple style of the prevailing fashion may be chosen. It is essential that all elaboration in cut and drapery should be avoided.

The most appropriate map is a long coat of lusterless cloth or camel’s hair made perfectly plain and fastened with crape-covered buttons.

Short jackets are also worn of bombazine or Henrietta cloth heavily trimmed, or in some cases entirely covered with crape.

It is considered perfectly allowable in the very deepest mourning to wear mourning house dresses of white nainsook or linen cambric, finished with ruffles of hemstitching and simple drawn work. Elaborate needlework would be in bad taste.

Simple Mourning Gowns

While Henrietta cloth remains the regulation dress for street wear, there are many beautiful and suitable dull black woolen fabric which are made up for deep mourning.

The deepest mourning is necessarily a widow’s (The deepest mourning is that worn by a widow for her husband), and all reference to the deepest mourning refers to a widow’s dress.

It is in poor taste to wear such mourning on any other occasion. Thus a daughter wears much simpler mourning, and it would be ostentatious for her to adopt the dress suitable for her mother.

Her gown may be of dull black cashmere, camel’s hair, Melrose cloth, Henrietta, or any soft silk-warped or pure wool cloth, and unless she is advanced in years, very slight trimmings of crape are considered in the best taste.

Her bonnet is simple, and her veil of crape or nuns’ veiling merely reaches to her waist and is worn over the face but a few weeks. A widow usually wears a long veil of nuns’ veiling for ordinary occasions to save her crape veil.

Nuns’ veiling with a wide, plain selvedge, which comes in such exquisitely fine qualities and is so sheer it must be made over India silk, makes a cool, pleasant material for summer afternoon gowns.

There are also black-lawn sewing-silk grenadines and Tamise cloths which are used in a daughter's or mother’s mourning. It is in bad taste to continue wearing diamonds or any gems during the period that crape is worn.

This seems self-evident to any person of taste, but this rule about wearing diamonds or gems is so continually violated in this country that it is necessary to repeat this. Well-meaning women, who do not intend to break the canon of refined taste, sometimes wear solitaire diamonds with a widow’s cap.

A widow may wear a simple bar pin of black enameled gold, or of onyx, but these are so plain as hardly to be classed as jewelry. Simple kerchiefs and fichus of white crepe or India mull hemstitched on the border or embroidered in clots, or some such simple pattern, are worn by young ladies.

Linen collar and cuffs are suitable to wear in any mourning where crape is not, but black ruches of crépe-lisse or some sheer material are only appropriate with crape. Plain black foulard silk makes a simple, light afternoon dress for a lady who has taken off crape.

Moreover, there are many fine-striped black-and-white foulards, and delicately, figured foulards suitable for this purpose, and for mourning gowns, or white foulard dotted with black.

Children seldom wear mourning in this country, although in some families even the servants are expected to wear a black dress while the family is in crape.

While many people now do not wear mourning, and the custom is by no means increasing, it is best that all who prefer to adopt the dress during their period of grief should be guided by the simple rules of etiquette which prevail for such occasions.

There is nothing more objectionable than ill-chosen or ostentatious mourning, when the dress, which is a protection to the wearer from all claims of society and an indication of her seclusion, becomes the means of making her vulgarly conspicuous.

Mourning Etiquette

The London code prevails in New York in all these matters. The time during which crape is worn varies with individual feeling, and no rules can be laid down.

It is not, however, considered in good taste for a widow adopting mourning to lay aside her crape and enter society in less time than a year, while it is allowable for a daughter to appear at social gatherings in two or three months.

The stationery used in mourning is finished with a black band, which varies from a quarter of an inch to a mere line on the edge. The extremely wide band, half an inch in depth, is seldom or never used by refined persons.

The quarter-inch band is used only for a few months while the mourner is in crape. Cards are not necessary while in the deepest mourning. A very slight band of black is sometimes used on the visiting card after crape is taken off and the lady enters society for the first time since her seclusion.

It has been an open question about how ladies should suggest to their friends that they are willing to receive and pay visits and ready to enter society.

It is customary to send out cards of thanks for kind inquiries to those who have called or sent inquiries, and when these cards are sent out it is sufficient intimation that the lady will receive calls, or the lady entering society may leave her ordinary visiting card.

It is also an open question in this country whether a widow may retain her husband’s name. In London, a widow uses her name only, but custom has sanctioned the use of the husband’s name in this country should she prefer, and the tradition of refined people creates etiquette.

Rowe, Helena, “Family Fashions and Fancies: Mourning Costumes—English and French Styles,” in Good Housekeeping: A Fortnightly Journal, Springfield, MA: Clark W. Bryan & Co., Publishers, Vol. 9, No. 5, Whole No. 109, 6 July 1889, p. 113.

The illustration is from "Fashions for October: Figure No. 383 G - Ladies' Mourning Costume," in The Delineator: A Journal of Fashion, Culture and Fine Arts, London-New York: Butterick Publishing Co., Limited, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, October 1889, p. 219.

Note: We have edited this text to correct grammatical errors and improve word choice to clarify the article for today’s readers. Changes made are typically minor, and we often left passive text “as is.” Those who need to quote the article directly should verify any changes by reviewing the original material.

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