Dressing in Mourning

During times of health and happiness, it is perhaps rather trying to be asked to turn our thoughts into doleful channels; but sooner or later in our lives the sad time comes, for “Who breathes must suffer, and who thinks must mourn," and we have perforce to turn our minds the inevitable and share the common lot of man." Colliers – New York 1882

 

When to wear Mourning

  • Mourning customs and clothing varied by country, era and socio-economic status. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries people began to follow these rules more loosely until they fell out of favor following World War I. This guide is an attempt to create uniformity in the interpretation by the Mourning Society of St Louis – if you have questions about the appropriateness of clothing you would like to wear for an event please just reach out to us!
  • At Mourning Society funeral reenactments those playing the part of a family member of the deceased should be in full mourning. Those outside of the family should be in their best church attire. Ladies in either of the first two stages of mourning for someone else were not expected to be out or attending funerals.
  • Some events give us an opportunity to show the different stages of Mourning – If a specific stage is required for your position it will be included in the event information.

First Stage or Deep Mourning for Ladies

  • During the first stage of mourning dresses were simple and made from a dull black fabric (usually a coarse silk like bombazine) and covered entirely in black silk crepe. Dresses in this stage would not include beading, lace or any type of ornamentation (even if they are black). If you see black period clothing with these details it was clothing meant for wear outside of mourning or simply ‘fashion black’. In mourning the only trim that was considered acceptable was ‘black crepe placed in folds upon the dress’
  • Mourning collars and cuffs should be black lawn, crepe or other dull black fabric.
  • Solid black gloves kidskin gloves were worn.
  • Head wear included a simple black silk bonnet with a long black silk crepe veil. After three months the long veil could be thrown back and a short veil may be worn over the face. Crepe was a solid black semitransparent fabric. A mourning veil would not be made of lace or have lace trim. Widows would wear a white widow’s cap under their bonnet.
  • The only ornaments that could be worn should be used to fasten the collar, cuffs or belt. They should be jet or other dull black material.
  • Shawls or mantles for cooler weather should be solid black as well – trimmed in crepe if possible – cashmere or wool.
  • If in summer a parasol should be required, it should be of black silk deeply trimmed with crape, almost covered with it, but no lace or fringe for the first year. 
  • Underclothes would include black hose and a completely black or black trimmed petticoat but would otherwise follow the same rules as usual dress for the era (Please see the guide for the year you are portraying for full underpinning details)

Second Stage or Second Mourning for Ladies

  • In second stage mourning a lady could reduce the amount of crepe to trim rather than completely covering the dress and use finer fabrics with some sheen like silk taffeta. A small amount of lace or ribbon trim was acceptable as well.
  • A white collar and cuffs could be worn during this stage.
  • Solid black gloves kidskin gloves were worn.
  • Head wear included the same a simple black silk bonnet with a short black crepe veil that may be worn over the face.
  • Shawls or mantles for cooler weather should be solid black as well – trimmed in crepe if possible – cashmere or wool.
  • If in summer a parasol should be required, it should be of black silk- lace or fringe trim are allowable
  • Jewelry in second mourning included brooches or pins to fasten your collar and cuffs, belt buckles and rings. Materials opened up a bit to include gold, hair-work jewelry, diamonds as well as the basic black jet – Ladies still refrained from earrings or necklaces.
  • Underclothes would include black hose and a completely black or black trimmed petticoat but would otherwise follow the same rules as usual dress for the era (Please see the guide for the year you are portraying for full underpinning details)

Third Stage or Half Mourning for Ladies

  • Dresses in this stage introduced some color into the ladies wardrobe. Gray, pale lavender, violet, mauve and brown were all considered appropriate. A small amount of lace or ribbon trim was acceptable. Third stages dresses often incorporated some black (for example: either a black dress with violet trim or a violet dress with black trim)
  • Collars and cuffs could be white or black
  • Gloves could be black, grey or brown.
  • Bonnets would be black silk or one of the appropriate colors listed above. A veil is not required although a lace veil can be worn for shade if desired. The bonnet could include flowers or other light trim.
  • All other accessories – fans, parasols, shawls etc. should be black, grey or white. Lace is allowed in moderation.
  • Jewelry in second mourning included brooches or pins to fasten your collar and cuffs, belt buckles and rings.  Gold, hair-work jewelry, diamonds as well as the basic black jet could be worn – Ladies still refrained from earrings or necklaces.
  • Underclothes follow the same rules as usual dress for the era (Please see the guide for the year you are portraying for full underpinning details)

First Stage or Deep Mourning for Gentleman

  • Appropriate attire included a black suit, a white linen shirt, and a dull black necktie.
  • Gentleman in mourning would wear a black top hat with a “weed” or band of black silk crepe. The “weed” or the band of black crepe worn around their hat was the most significant sign that a gentleman was in mourning. Often the width of the band would signify the relationship that he had with the deceased.
  • Men would often wear a black armband during first stage mourning.
  • Gloves should be black
  • Cuff links of gold, jet or black enamel were customary. Hair-work jewelry could also be worn.

Second Stage or Second Mourning for Gentleman

  • This stage incorporated grey suits and gloves into the gentleman’s wardrobe
  • Some men gave off mourning all together after three months but would continue to wear crepe on their hat or a black armband until their expected mourning period was over.

Mourning Attire for Children

  • Children from wealthy families might have dull black mourning clothing. It was also considered appropriate to dress children in simple white clothing with black details.
  • Girls and young boys would wear white dresses with a black belt and black ribbons at the shoulders.
  • Boys old enough to wear trousers would wear a black arm band.

You can find examples of the stages of mourning listed in this guide by checking out our Pinterest Board: Examples of Appropriate Mourning Clothing

Sources: Godey's Magazine, Volume 49, 1854 - Cassell's Household Guide, 1869 - The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style and Propriety, 1870 - Collier's Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information, 1882 - Good Manners, 1888 - Men's Wear, Semi-monthly, Volume 29, 1910

Please do not print or reproduce this material for public distribution. This is an internal training document. Katherine Kozemczak 2017