Victorian Mourning Dresses

victorian mourning dress gloomth

When I began Gloomth back in 2007 my primary inspiration came from my obsession with Victorian mourning culture and fashion. The Victorians had a much more intimate relationship to death than we do these days, they took grief to an extreme ritualized degree and it has always fascinated me. I wanted to create clothing that evoked those morbid tendencies and traditions, but was modern enough to be wearable and not look like a period costume.

Our “Victoria” dress is the embodiment of my Victorian-meets-Street-Fashion inspiration. I think of it as “High Gloomth” as it’s a piece that’d be at home in our catalogue at any point during Gloomth’s evolution. It’s also named for Queen Victoria (above) who wore Full Mourning attire for the remainder of her life after Prince Albert died in 1861. She set the standard for mourners and many people adopted Full Mourning attire in solidarity with her. The term “Gloomth” was even used colloquially for these morbid folks!

victorian mourning dress

Victorian mourning rituals pertaining to what one wore after a loss were strictly defined. When someone close to you died- a spouse or immediate family member- “Full Mourning” was adopted usually for about a year (times vary for widows, children, house staff etc). Widows were expected to reduce their socializing almost entirely (and could only return to it after a year had passed) and wore only black for a year (often more than) to display their loss to others. A widow could accept a new engagement and return to wearing colored clothing after a year had passed, and often women were engaged quickly after their Full Mourning ended (keep in mind women couldn’t own property or work so were often financially dependent on men at this time).

Beyond being black Victorian mourning clothing required specific fabrics- crepe (a burnished un-shiny version of silk with a crinkled texture), black trims, and black jet buttons and jewelry. There was even a special kind of high end silk for wealthy widows called “Widow’s Silk” which was truly jet black, rather than a dark navy blue dyed as thoroughly as possible (which was often the case with other fabrics/trims of the time). Wearing Full Mourning could be quite expensive, replacing your entire wardrobe and accessories with one color/fabric type to properly express your sorrow became a status symbol for many Victorians. It was also considered bad luck to keep mourning clothing in the home after the period had passed, so wealthy types would re-purchase all these items the next time someone close to them died. Creating mourning fashions was a very lucrative pursuit during the Victorian era!

victorian mourning dress gloomth

Those less close to the deceased would wear Full Mourning for 6 months or so and then switch to “Half Mourning”. Half Mourning introduced more colors back into the wardrobe, lavenders and grays. Men would often wear a black velvet ribbon or arm band indicating a loss with their usual clothing.

To this day we still often wear black and toned down clothing to funerals. Black symbolized “spiritual darkness” and absence to the Victorians and today it is seen as formal or somber. There is something very beautiful to me about the way Victorians held death close to their every day lives, “memento mori” (remember you will die) was a theme that appeared in art and fashion over and over then. For those of us who are a bit melancholy or morbid at heart these rituals and traditions still inspire our shadowy souls.


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