Grief, Glamor and the Ubiquitous Black Dress; A New Exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Traces the Ritual of Women's Mourning Attire from the Early 19th Century through World War I

By Ziv, Stav | Newsweek, November 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

Grief, Glamor and the Ubiquitous Black Dress; A New Exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Traces the Ritual of Women's Mourning Attire from the Early 19th Century through World War I


Ziv, Stav, Newsweek


Byline: Stav Ziv

Before finding comfort in therapy became a common practice, many grieving women found comfort in black dresses.

Clothing themselves in deep black for a year following the death of their husbands was, for many widows in 19th century America, an important expression of grief and respect, as well as a sign of taste, class, and propriety.

A new exhibit by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in Manhattan, which opened Tuesday in the Anna Wintour Costume Center, traces the rituals of mourning attire from 1815 to 1915. Titled "Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire," the exhibit explores the intersection of high fashion and bereavement at its peak. It runs through February 1, 2015.

"For one woman [mourning attire] might seem especially meaningful. For another it was simply a social obligation, a way of confirming one's respectability as well as honoring the loss," Jessica Regan, assistant curator for the exhibition, tells Newsweek. It was a "fine line to balance conforming to these standards and respecting the deceased but not going so far as to seem insincere or inappropriately ostentatious."

After walking through the lobby and past the museum's walls of ancient Egyptian art, visitors are presented with a stark white stairway leading to the Costume Institute exhibit, decorated with tall weeping willows, painted pitch black. The willows, the exhibit downstairs reveals, were one of several symbols traditionally depicted on mourning jewelry in the 19th century, along with urns, tombstones and clouds.

Inside the Anna Wintour Costume Center, named for the influential and longtime editor-in-chief of fashion bible American Vogue, mannequins stand on a raised white dais with large wigs swept up in intricate hairstyles, carefully posed with nuanced hand gestures and downward gazes.

The mannequins are dressed in elaborate attire made primarily of muted black fabrics. Some incorporate more illustrious black fabrics and the gray and mauve that were considered appropriate for "half mourning," which followed the initial period in black.

Projected quotes appear in bright white letters on the shadowy walls and then fade slowly away as Gabriel Faure's 1893 Requiem plays softly in the background.

One quote, from Edith Wharton's New Year's Day (The Seventies), reads:

She was beginning to find that everyone had an air of remoteness; she seemed to see people and life through the confusing blur of the long crape veil in which it was a widow's duty to shroud her affliction.

Another, from the 1881 Gems of Deportment and Hints on Etiquette by M.L. Rayne, reads:

Her deportment should be grave and discreet, particularly in the presence of gentlemen, who will seek her society; as there is a charm and fascination in the manner and conversation of a widow which is known and appreciated by the other sex.

Semi-sheer white curtains hang from above to separate the mannequins into chronological order, illustrating the evolution of the fashion silhouette throughout the 19th century and the impact of fashion ideals on rituals of mourning.

The period in question--1815 through 1915--saw the tradition of mourning attire sweep through society, says Regan. Industrialization and mechanization of the textile industry starting at the end of the 18th century allowed for mass production and made more fabrics available to the middle class, while chemical dyes introduced in the 1860s made black fabrics more affordable. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Grief, Glamor and the Ubiquitous Black Dress; A New Exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art Traces the Ritual of Women's Mourning Attire from the Early 19th Century through World War I
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.