I received an antique encyclopedia this last holiday season, and there's a chapter entirely on Mourning Etiquette. This is the chapter, keyed in by me, from Collier's Cyclopedia published 1901
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 times comes, for "Who breathes must suffer, and who thinks must mourn," and we have perforce to to turn our minds to the inevitable and share "the common lot of man." In times of mourning it seems doubly hard to arouse ourselves, and allow the question of what to wear? to intrude itself. It is, however, necessary. Custom decrees, if even inclination does not prompt us, to show in some outward degree our respect for the dead by wearing the usual black.
We do not advise people to rush into black for every slight bereavement, nor, on the other hand, to show the utter disregard some do on the death of their relations, and only acknowledge the departure of those near and dear to them, by a band of crepe round the arm. This is the mark of mourning adopted by those in the services who have to wear uniform, but hardly a fitting way of outwardly showing respect to the memory of those who have been called away from us, and whose loss we deplore. A short time since, a lady appeared in a new ruby satin dress, with a band of crape around her arm. The fact of the dress being new, showed that poverty did not cause this incongruity. It is hardly ever those who are styled "the poor," who err so against the accepted ideas of decency and respect. They always, however straitened they may be in circumstances, contrive to wear mourning for their deceased relatives. When black is fashionable, no difficulty is found in wearing it, and you meet all your friend so attired, but when it becomes a question of duty, these objections are raised as to the unnecessary expense, and the inconvenience of so dressing. The majority adhere in this respect to the customs their parents have followed; but the advanced few are those who air such sentiments, talk of the "mourning of the heart, not mere outward woe," and not wearing what is really mourning, go into society on the plea, "Oh! we know that those who are gone would not wish us to grieve for them." This may be all very well, but in the case of husband, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and the nearer-related cousins, decency requires some outward mark of respect to their memory.
It will be as well to consider in succession the different degrees of mourning, and their duration.
The widow's is the deepest mourning of all. That old-fashioned material, bombazine, is now no longer heard of. Melrose is in the most general use for widows. Henrietta is also worn, but the first-named is the more frequently used for the first dresses; but whatever the material, it is trimmed with crape. The skirt, which is generally cut quite plain, and slightly trained, is completely covered with crape, put on quite plainly in one piece; the body and sleeves are also trimmed with crape -- the dress, in fact, presenting the appearance of one of crape. The body can be cut according to the prevailing style. If one wishes to follow the latest mode the most up-to-date dressmaker must be consulted.
The best and most economical crape for all wear is the rainproof crape, an improvement and development of the Albert crape, which is not brought to the greatest perfection of manufacture; it costs about half what ordinary crape does, to begin with, and is very much more durable; its imperviousness to weather being, of course its great feature. The best make of this is quite suitable for widows' mourning. Its appearance equals that of much more expensive ordinary crape. We see no reason ourselves why, especially if economy be an object, the rainproof crape should not be worn for all degrees of mourning. We have no hesitation in advising it. For a second dress it would be a good plan to have some half-worn black dress entirely covered with crape -- the rainproof crape -- this would save the better dress a little; and as widows; first mourning is worn for a year and a day, it would be advisable to start with at least two dresses; the crape on them could be renewed when necessary
Widows' mantle are made either of silk or Henrietta, trimmed deeply with crape, or sometimes of Cyprus crape cloth, or cloth crape trimmed. the Cyprus crape cloth is a sort of crepe material, and wears well, neither dust nor wet affecting it. In shape the widows' mantle is like any other wrap of the cut of the prevailing fashion. For those younger, jackets or capes, crape-trimmed of course, are worn for winter wear, and for summer wraps made entirely of crape. The bonnet for first mourning is all of crape, with white ruche tacked inside it, the small, close fitting shape, with long crape veil hanging at the back; besides this veil, a short one is worn over the face. Hate cannot be work by widows, however young they may be, during the period of their deepest mourning.
The following list would be ample for a widow's outfit. We have given a rather large one because, of course, it can be curtailed as wished.
One best dress of Henrietta trimmed entirely with crape.
One dress, either a costume of Cyprus crape, or an old black dress trimmed with rainproof crape.
One Henrietta mantle lined with silk and deeply trimmed with crape
One warmer jacket of cloth lined, trimmed with crape.
One bonnet of best silk crape, with long veil.
One bonnet of rainproof crape, with crape veil.
Twelve collars and cuffs of muslin or lawn, with deep hems. Several sets much be provided, say six of each kind.
One black stiff petticoat.
Four pair of black hose, either silk, cashmere, or spun silk.
Twelve handkerchiefs with black borders for ordinary use, cambric.
Twelve of finer cambric for better occasions.
Caps, either of lisse, tulle of tarlatan, shape depending very much on the age. Young widows wear chiefly the Marie Stuart shape, but all widows' caps have long streamers. They vary, of course, in price. Tarlatan are the easiest made at home, but we do not fancy home-made widows' caps are an economy, they soil so much more quickly than bought caps. It is a good plan to buy extra streamers and bows for them; these can be made at home for the morning caps, very fine thread and needles being used for the work, which should be very fine, neat, and even. If in summer a parasol should be required, it should be of silk deeply trimmed with crape, almost covered with it, but no lace or fringe for the first year. Afterward mourning fringe may be put on. A muff, if required, would be made of dark fur or of Persian lamb.
The first mourning is worn for twelve months. Second mourning twelve months also; the cap in second mourning is left off, and the crape no longer covers the dresses, but is put on in tucks. Elderly widows frequently remain in mourning for long periods, if not for the remainder of their lives, retaining the widow's cap, collar and cuffs, but leaving off the deep crape the second year, and afterwards entirely discarding crape, but wearing mourning materials such as Victoria cords, Janus cords, cashmere, and so on.
No ornaments are worn in such deep mourning, except jet, for the first year. Jet is, of course, allowable. Rich silk is, of course, admissible in widows' mourning, especially for evening wear, but it must always be deeply trimmed with crape for the first year, and the quantity afterwards gradually lessened. A silk costume is a very expensive item in a widow's mourning; therefore we only allude to it -- do not set it down as a necessity. The best silks for the purpose are rich, heavy silks, such as grosgrain, drap du nord, satin merveilleux. furs are not admissible in widows' first mourning, though very dark sealskin and astrachan can be worn when the dress is changed. In other mournings, furs are now very generally worn -- that is, after the first few months, but only dark furs.
Widow's lingerie, to be always nice, entails a considerable amount of expense. If collars, cuffs and caps are made at home, as we before said, they get soiled directly. As, however, it is not always possible to buy them when they require renewing, the following directions may prove of use: "Widow's cuffs, made in lawn, should be about nine inches long, according to the size of the wrist. They are not intended to overlap, but just to meet, fastened with two buttons and loops, placed near the upper and lower edges. The ordinary depth is five inches, with a wide hem at the top and bottom of an inch and a half depth. The material being merely a straight piece, they are easy to make. For the collar, the straight all-round shape, turning down over the collar of the dress, is the most usual. If any other shape s required, cut it in paper, and make it accordingly with the wide hem of one and a half inch. If the collar is straight, it will be merely necessary to turn it down; if rounded at all, it must be cut to the shape, run to the collar at the edge, and then turned down. Fine cotton and needles and neat work are required."
If an attempt is made to make widows' caps at home, first procure a good cap for a model, and copy it as exactly as possible. It must be made on a "dolly" or wooden block of a head, or it will never sit well.
To preserve widows' caps clean, fresh-looking, and of a good color, when not in use they should be put on cap-holders on a shelf in a cupboard, the long streamers turned up over the cap, and a piece of blue paper (thin) laid over them. So treated, they will with care last a long while, that, is, if there are two or three worn in turn, and they are put away in this manner when not in actual use.
It may be as well to sum up what we have said. Duration of mourning: Widow's first mourning lasts for a year and a day. Second mourning cap left off, less crape and silk for nine months (some curtail it to six), remaining three months of second year plain black without crape, and jet ornaments. At the end of the second year the mourning can be put off entirely; but it is better taste to wear half mourning for at least six months longer; and, as we have before mentioned, many widows never wear colors any more, unless for some solitary event, such as the wedding of a child, when they would probably put it off for the day.
Dresses and Wraps -- Henrietta, Melrose, silk trimmed with silk, Albert of rain-proof crape.
Bonnets and Veils -- Crape
Caps -- Lisse, tulle, lawn.
Collars and Cuffs -- Lawn and muslin.
Petticoats -- Black stuft or silk-quilted.
Pocket Handkerchiefs -- Cambric, black borders.
Hose -- Black Balbriggan, cashmere or silk
Gloves -- Black kid.
The mourning for parents ranks next to that of widows; for children by their parents, and for parents by their children, these being of course identical in degree. It lasts in either case twelve months - six months in crape trimmings, three in plain black, and three in half mourning. It is, however, better case to continue the plain black to the end of the year, and wear half-mourning for three months longer. Materials for first six months, either Henrietta, Melrose, or any of the black corded stufts, such as Janus cord, about thirty-either inches wide; Henrietta cord about same price and width. Such dresses would be trimmed with two deep tucks of crape, either Albert or rainproof, would be made plainly, the body trimmed with crape, and sleeves with deep crape cuffs. Collars and cuffs, to be worn during the first mourning would be made of muslin or lawn, with three or four tiny tucks in distinction to widows' with the wide, deep hem. Pocket handkerchiefs would be bordered with black. Black hose, silk or Balbriggan, would be worn and black kid gloves. For outdoor wear either an outer jacket would be worn or a cape, either of silk or Henrietta, but in either case trimmed with crape. Crape bonnets or hats; if for young children, all crape for bonnets, hats, silk and crape; feathers (black) could be worn, and a jet clasp or arrow in the bonnet, but no other kind of jewelry is admissible but jet - that is, as long as crape is worn. Black furs, such as astrachan, may be worn, or very dark sealskin, or black sealskin cloth, now so fashionable, but no light furs of any sort. Silk dresses can be worn, crape trimmed after the first three months if preferred, and if expensive be no object; the lawn-tucked collars and cuffs would be worn with them. At the end of the six months crape can be put aside, and plain black, such as cashmere, worn, trimmed with silk if liked, but not satin for that is not mourning materials, and is therefore never worn by those who strictly attend to mourning etiquette. With plain black, black gloves and hose would of course be worn, and jet, no gold or silver jewelry for at least nine months after the commencement of mourning; then, if the time expires in the twelve months, gray gloves might be worn, and gray ribbons, lace of plain linen collar and cuffs take the place of the lawn or muslin, and gray feathers may lighten the hate or bonnet, or reversible black and gray strings.
Many persons thnk it is in better taste not to commence half-mourning until after the expiration of a year, except in the case of young children, who are rarely kept in mourning beyond the twelve months.
Black, without crape for one month is suitable in case of death of parents-in-law; after one month of black and white, with lilac, should follow.
For Grandparents, simple black without a touch of crape, worn for three months, is the rule. After that the usual garments, or garments somewhat modified as to color may be worn according to taste.
For Sisters or Brothers, six months' mourning is usually worn. Crape for three, plain black for two, and half mourning for one month; the same sort of stuffs, the crape being put on in keeping with the style of the day; bodice, crape trimmed; jacket of cape, crape trimmed; bonnet of crape with feathers or jet, hat of silk and crape. Veil of hat with crape tuck, hose black silk, Balbriggan or cashmere, handkerchiefs black bordered. Silks can be worn after the first month if trimmed with crape.
For Uncles, Aunts, Nephews, or Nieces, crape is not worn, but plain black, with jet for three months.
For Great Uncles or Aunts, mourning would last for two months without crape.
For Cousins (first), six weeks are considered sufficient, three of which would be in half-mourning, though unusual
For Cousins less closely related, mourning is hardly ever put on unless they have been inmates of the house.
No invitations would be accepted before the funeral of any relatives closely enough related to you to put on mourning for. In the case of brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, society would be given up for at least three months, if not more, and it would be very bad taste to go to a ball or large festive gathering in crape. Widows do not enter society for at least a year - that is, during the period of their deepest mourning. With regard to complimentary mourning-as worn by mothers for the mother of father-in-law of their married children, black would be worn for six weeks or so without crape; by the second wives for the parents of the first wife, for about three weeks, and in a few other cases.
It is better taste to wear mourning in making the first call after a bereavement on friends, but this is not a decided rule, only a graceful method of implying sympathy for those who are suffering affliction. But calls are not made until the cards with "thanks for kind inquiries" have been sent in return for the cards left at the time of decease. Letters of condolence should always be written on slightly black-edged paper, and it would be kind to intimate in the letter that no answer to it will be expected. Few realize the effort it is to those left to sit down and write answers to inquiries and letters, however kind and sympathizing they may have been.
Servants' Mourning. - Servants are not usually put into mourning except for the members of the household in which they are living, not for the relatives of their masters and mistresses, and very frequently only for the heads of the house, not for the junior members.
A best dress of Victoria cord of alpaca, two cotton dresses, black for mourning wear while at work. A cloth jacket, in case of master of mistress, with a slight crape trimming, a silk and crape bonnet, pair of black kid gloves and some yards of black cap ribbon, would be the mourning given to the servants in the house at the time of the death of one of the heads of the establishment, and their mourning would be worn for at least six months, or even a year in some cases.
The following is a list of suitable materials for mourning of those relationships we have named, all of which can be obtained at any good mourning establishment.
Silk crape, Henrietta, Albert crape, Melrose, rainproof crape, silk, Cyprus crape. Janus cord, Victoria cord, Balmoral cloth, Cashmere Francais, Kashgar Cashmere; these last are wide materials from 44 to 47 inches. Crape cloth looks precisely like crape, but is much lighter and cooler.
For summer, wear drap d'ete, a mixture of silk and wool, is suitable; barege for dinner dresses; nun's veiling, etc., etc.
The best all-black washing materials are cotton, satine, foulardine; black and white for slighter mourning, black with tiny white spots or sprigs.
Children should be dressed in these black washing materials --- that is for summer wear, in preference to the thicker materials, as for young children, crape is soon dispensed with. Neither velvet, satin, nor plus can be worn in mourning - that is in strict mourning - for they are not mourning materials. Attempts have been made to bring in some colors, such as red or violet, and we consider them suitable to slight mourning; but the only color really admissible for half-mourning is gray, or the pales lavender, gray gloves sewn with black, gray and black reversible ribbons, gray and black feathers, gray flowers mixed with black, and so on.
Children under fifteen are not expected to wear mourning, nor should any girl under seventeen wear crape.
In all cases of mourning, it is the best plan to write to some well-known house for patterns; good mourning establishments can afford to sell better materials at cheaper rates than inferior houses. Large firms have always a good choice of materials for mourning on hand; and it is really far greater economy to buy good materials when going into mourning , than cheap flimsy stuffs, which give no wear at all; besides, such houses send out books of fashions and prices for making up mourning costumes, which give a good idea of the expense to be incurred, even if it is not found cheaper to purchase and have mourning made up by them.
Mourning has generally to be purchased hurridly, and too often a dressmaker gets carte blanche almost to furnish the mourning. If such is the case, no wonder mourning is considered expensive; for things which are quite unnecessary, such as expensive crape in the place of rainproof kinds, more crape used than the degree of mourning requires, and many extravagancies of a like nature, naturally swell such a bill into one of large proportions, when by a little forethought the necessary black could have been purchased at a far more reasonable rate.
It is not necessary to have very expensive mourning if our means will not allow it; we should learn to suit our requirement to the state of our purses. But we sincerely trust the old custom of wearing decent mourning for those taken away from us, will never be really discontinued in America, for it is one of those proofs of our home affections which can never be done away with without a loss of national respect.