Period Fashion: Mourning Dress

In watching Downton Abbey, I was struck by the fact that the family members would have to wear their mourning clothes after their relatives had been lost on the Titanic. In this day and age, we wear black for a brief time to show respect but in Victorian times, the period of mourning was much longer and so would require a substantial wardrobe. By the Edwardian era, the length of mourning and the rules had eased up.

(On right: shown in the film "The Young Victoria", Victoria is in mourning after death of her uncle King William IV)

[Source] "In 19th century England, a widow was expected to remain in mourning for over two years. The rules were slightly less rigid for American women.

These stages of mourning were observed by women:
Full mourning, a period of a year and one day, was represented with dull black clothing without ornament. The most recognizable portion of this stage was the weeping veil of black crepe. If a women had no means of income and small children to support, marriage was allowed after this period. There are cases of women returning to black clothing on the day after marrying again.
Second mourning, a period of nine months, allowed for minor ornamentation by implementing fabric trim and mourning jewelry. The main dress was still made from a lusterless cloth. The veil was lifted and worn back over the head. Elderly widows frequently remained in mourning for the rest of their lives.
Half mourning lasted from three to six months and was represented by more elaborate fabrics used as trim. Gradually easing back into color was expected coming out of half mourning. All manor of jewelry could be worn.

The standard mourning time for a widower was two years but it was up to his discretion when to end his single stage. Men could go about their daily lives and continue to work. Typically young unmarried men stayed in mourning for as long as the women in the household did."

Many thanks to Evangeline of Edwardian Promenade for answering my inquiry of how mourning practices changed during the Edwardian era. She explains:
"Comparing two different editions of “Manners and Rules of Good Society”—one published in 1888 and the other in 1913—a widow in 1888 always wore mourning for two years; a widow in 1913 could wear mourning for two years, but she also had the option of only doing so for eighteen months. Crepe was also optional, with more widows choosing not to wear it by 1913. In 1888, jewelry was forbidden until eight months had past, whereas in 1913, barring gold, diamonds, could be worn after three months. Other periods of mourning (in-laws, cousins, etc) were drastically reduced in 1913 (i.e. Daughter-in-law or Son-in-law: 12 months in 1888, six months in 1913)."

Pics source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, Abiti Antichi

~ Period fashion of mourning dress over the years ~


  1. This is so interesting! I don't think I'd ever really read up on the rules of mourning. Wasn't it in one of the Cranford films that the ladies comment on a widow staying in mourning too long and not adopting mauve at the appropriate time? Come to think of it in the first Cranford miniseries wasn't Dr. Harrison's giving Mr. Rose (his housekeeper) a pair of mauve gloves taken as a sign that he wanted her to come out of mourning and marry him?
    I wonder what the rules were for other family members such as parent and siblings?
    Though all of the dresses are lovely I definitely like the shapes of the late Victorian era (fuller skirts & sleeves and then moving to the bustles) over the Edwardian period (early 1900's).
    Thanks for posting about this!

  2. Hi Cheryl, great photos and fascinating post. As a fan of antique jewelry, it never ceases to amaze me how much mourning jewelry from the Victorian period is still floating around out there. Icky jewelry too with lots of hair of the dead person woven into rings and lockets. Some of the jet jewelry is pretty, but some of this mourning jewelry,no one but the mourner could ever wear again! I guess Queen Victoria herself was the ultimate mourner, poor dear. Now I think I may have to watch Mrs. Brown again. Love love looove Judi Dench.

  3. Laurie, there's an article here which mentions mourning for various family members.

    And I forgot about that scene in Cranford! I'll have to pay closer attention next time I watch it. Thanks for mentioning that!

    That does sound morbid! It does seem that with Victoria's death, that the rest of society changed its manner of mourning too.
    I've been meaning to rewatch Mrs. Brown for a while now! I meant to watch it right after seeing Young Victoria but haven't got round to that yet!

    To be honest, I don't really need many new period dramas when classics like Cranford and Mrs. Brown are waiting for me!

  4. I just discovered your charming site today and I'd like to suggest some titles for your film list which are "musts" not currently there, but I don't wish to use the "e-mail function" in place at this blog.

    How may I do so? There was no "comment" function following "the list.

    Thank you.....Carla

  5. Carla,
    you could comment here if you like!

  6. Hello! I just discovered your site today (thanks to Carla!) and instantly fell in love. Such a beautiful blog and you've given me so many ideas for films to watch in the future.
    I was recently given the "Stylish Blog Award" and I am passing it along to you. I don't know how to insert links into a comment, but you can go to my blog (today's post) to see it and pass it along if you'd like :)

  7. Thank you for the link at which I left a number of titles for you to consider. After submission, I realized that a couple are on some of your other lists, but the rest of them are not on any of the lists.

    Also, you may wish to share with your readers that "Downton Abbey" currently may be viewed at the Masterpiece Theater site:


  8. "Downton Abbey" recently got a mention on the Rodgers and Hammerstain Organization's Facebook page - apparently a tune played on the piano in one episode was a little-known Irving Berlin song.

    The thing that came to mind when I read this post on morning was a line in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan - when Wendy says that their mother must be in half mourning by this time. When you know the definition, it doesn't mean she's almost given up hope of their return, it gives you an idea of how long they've been gone!



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