When I had looked through Ms. Conover’s course as I started the Sensible Sundays series I was somewhat surprised to see the section dedicated to the appropriate attire for mourning. I guess I had assumed that by the 1920s rules like wearing all black for years of extended mourning were long gone. At the time I had read through the mourning section, it was not very relevant to my life at the moment.
How fate and timing like to play their little games. As I sit crunched in the back seat of my Subaru, typing this article in the dark on my iPad, mourning has become very fresh and relevant to me. I am on the long ride home (12 hours or more) from attending the funeral of my husband’s dear grandmother.
Grandma Pat was a very sensible and fashionable lady in her time. She and my own grandmother were very alike in their insistence of wearing hats when they went out. It always makes me smile to remember them in their finery. They were both beautiful, dignified, stylish, and sensible women. I mourn the loss of both of them deeply, but other than the day of their funerals, it never occurred to me to alter my every day wardrobe to reflect that internal, deeply personal emotion.
This beautiful black gown is what I typically think of when I think of a Victorian mourning dress. The Victorians had intricate and detailed rules of etiquette when it came to mourning. Pauline Thomas has a very nice explanation of these rules and their reasons on Fashion-Era that you can see here. But with WWI came the need and desire to shed these cumbersome rules. Full dress mourning was very expensive, and let’s be honest, black becomes quite boring after a while.
By 1922 the rules of mourning had loosened considerably. Ms. Conover’s text states that a person can wear mourning attire or not to “their of inclination”. I am guessing that Ms. Conover was of the slightly older generation judging from her undertones of the implied propriety of thoughtful mourning dress. She then goes on to describe the periods of mourning.
A widow wears mourning from one to two years. You will remember that it was only a little while ago when a widow hesitated to take off mourning in the third year, and our grandmothers remember when it was a life-time proposition. Another thing that has changed about mourning is what is called third mourning. This has been entirely dispensed with.
The period of mourning is divided in two. That is, if a person is going to wear deep for a year, the first six months deep mourning is worn and the second six months, second mourning. First mourning is mostly black; second mourning black and white. The old time third mourning, lavender and gray, isn’t necessary now. When a person leaves off black and white, which is second mourning, they may wear any inconspicuous shade they fancy.
In some ways I understand this desire to publicly display ones grief. I know there were times after my grandparents passed that, on days I was especially missing them, I just wanted to shout at happy people “Can’t you see I am mourning here?!”. If mourning dress was still the tradition I wouldn’t have to worry about that because everyone would know my status. More often, though, I prefer to keep my grief quite. In fact I rather prefer to celebrate those I have lost. I guess I grieve through the celebration of their lives rather than dwelling on their absence. I love to wear some of my Grandma’s costume jewelry just to have a part of her close to me. It is colorful and bold and it reminds me of her confidence and spunk.
I will say something for picking proper attire for the proper occasion. I did go shopping specifically for something nice to wear for this recent funeral and Ms. Conover’s words of the past few weeks came quickly back to me while I was shopping. I had found a lovely knee length, short sleeve, knit dress but then I remembered where I was going. The funeral was in Northwestern Minnesota…in late November. A short, knit dress, no matter how becoming is not prudent or practical in that part of Minnesota at this time of year. So I opted for a light weight, full length skirt with leggings underneath and a loose cowl top over a long sleeve, black undershirt. Wise choice! Thank you Ms. Conover, for saving me from freezing to death this weekend 🙂
Makes you cold just looking at it, doesn’t it?!
Grandma Pat, you will be deeply missed but your life will continue to be celebrated. Every time I make a chocolate cake (never as good as yours, but I will try) and every time I see or wear a red hat I will think of you!