Tuesday, November 27, 2018

DAY 56: Mourning

Victorian women were obliged to go into mourning when a close family member died--and as life expectancy in the nineteenth century was dubious at best, grief and its trappings were a constant. Children died. Parents and spouses died. Mourning was expected for monarchs, as well--as though the Royals were members of one's extended family. 

Queen Victoria is the most famous of mourners, of course, having adopted black at Prince Albert's death and refusing to remove it for the remaining forty years of her life. But when Victoria passed in 1901, the entire nation went into mourning. Her daughter-in-law Princess Alix, about to become Queen Alexandra, was thus in something of a bind. She had to wear exclusively black for at least six months. But as the consort of King Edward VII, she also had to look absolutely stunning. 

Alix's sister, Minnie--the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia--had faced a similar problem when her father-in-law, the Czar, had died. As the new Czarina she was required to wear black--and look every inch the Royal. Here is one of Minnie's dinner dresses from that period, at right.

ne of Alix's mourning gowns for evening wear was recently discovered in an attic in Britain--dating from 1908-1910, and constructed by one of her favorite milliners, Barolet of Knightsbridge. It is an utterly magnificent Edwardian creation of silk, velvet, spangles and beads, currently on display at the Fashion Museum of Bath, through April 2019.

But what if you weren't a Royal? What if--like Jennie Churchill in the winter of 1895--you were merely a member of the Marlborough House Set whose husband had recently died?

Day Dress
Afternoon Dress

There were black dresses for every imaginable eventuality. In addition to the Dinner Dress (such as Minnie's, shown above) a lady in grief required Day Dresses, Afternoon Dresses, and Tea Gowns of unremitted black. 

mourning ball gown by House of Worth, 1888-90

And, although those in mourning did not technically dance at balls, evening gowns were appropriate for appearances at the theater and receptions. And a ball gown might be worn when chaperoning a young lady making her debut at a ball....

Ladies were required to wear black from head to toe. Thus, the black mourning hat. And the black hat pin. The black umbrella or parasol, and the black mourning jewelry.

Day Dress
Dinner Dress
Thankfully, however, after six months of wearing deepest mourning, a lady was permitted to adopt half-mourning. Sometimes this meant wearing purple. Or purple and black. But as the nineteenth century wore on, black and white was permissible. Which considerably relieved the burden of grief for ladies of Jennie Churchill's era. 

House of Worth half-mourning ball gown
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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