Exhibit of the Week: Victorian mourning gown

Display of costumes for christening, marriage and mourning currently on display at Beck Isle Museum, Pickering.
Display of costumes for christening, marriage and mourning currently on display at Beck Isle Museum, Pickering.
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A temporary display of costumes for christening, marriage and mourning can be seen at the Beck Isle Museum, Pickering, until November 26. Amongst the costumes on display is a Victorian mourning gown dating from 1860.

The customs and rules relating to the period of mourning following death were strict and pronounced in the Victorian period especially regarding clothing. Mourning clothes could be hired from undertakers or from Friendly and Burial societies, which hired out clothing to those who were not able to afford to buy them.

During the first year of mourning, ‘full mourning’, a woman would have worn heavy black clothes known as widow’s weeds. This black silk gown is made out of bombazine which was popular for mourning clothing as it was hard wearing and would last for the whole mourning period. Mourning periods differed depending on the relationship to the deceased. A husband or wife was mourned for two years, a child for one year, grandparents and siblings for six months and aunts and uncles were mourned for two months.

The sleeves and bodice of the gown are decorated with fine cord in a style known as ‘frogging’ and a crinoline would have been worn under the dress to give the skirt fullness.

Around the waste is a chatelaine, a set of short chains on a belt used to hold items such as keys, thimble or scissors.

The mourning gown would have been worn along with a mourning cap for indoors or a black bonnet with a veil for outdoors. This bonnet is made of black silk with decorative lace, silk bows and ribbons.