We live in a day and age where sex tapes make people celebrities, and the thought of one’s mortality makes people uncomfortable. There was once a time when people were aware of the shadow of death and mourned quite publicly. Their sex lives, on the other hand, were never spoken about in public or private.
In the days before funeral parlors, the dead were kept in the home until they were buried. Family and close friends kept the body company and were there to attend to the needs of the bereaved.
Crepe was used to decorate doors or door knobs. This crepe served a purpose. It told any visitors that the household was in mourning and that the door bell should not be rung nor should anyone knock. Anyone who did visit was to remain quiet and respectful at all times.
Before the funeral, only close friends and family members were to call. These were the people who were responsible for arranging the funeral.
You needed an invitation to attend a funeral. It was a bad breach of etiquette to be invited to a funeral and not attend. Interment, however, was private if the immediate family requested it.
Funeral services began in the home and then moved to the church. The casket was closed at home and never opened again. Women were thought too emotional to attend church services and remained at home.
Victorians had a specific dress code for mourning. The rules dictated not only wardrobe, but what hats, gloves and jewelry could be worn.
The amount of time a person spent in mourning was determined by her relationship to the departed. Wives, for example, were expected to wear mourning dress for two years, but a husband only needed to mourn for a year.
Mourning dress was black and people added color back into their wardrobe gradually.
Why black? It was symbolic of sorrow and told the world someone was in sorrow without the individual saying a word. Also, brightness was seen as disrespectful to the dead.
There were rules as to how the bereaved could and could not behave in society. How much or how little depended on the family’s what stage of mourning. Deep mourning was followed by half mourning. In the early days of deep mourning, many people remained in seclusion and didn’t leave for any reason.
Deaths in your spouse’s family were mourned as if they were in your own. Servants wore mourning dress for their employer’s family.
During the mourning period, all cards or stationary sent by mourners contained a black border. It also was common to send memorial cards to friends and relatives who did not hear the loss through a newspaper death notice.
The Victorians also did things we would be familiar with today. Bodies were dressed in the clothing the person wore in life and made to look as peaceful as possible. Flowers were sent to the family.
Victorians used pall bearers, but how they were chosen is different than today. Victorian pall bearers were always close in age to the deceased, even if the deceased was a child.
Mourning rituals during the Edwardian period were similar to those of the Victorian period, but there were some changes.
- Bereaved women were allowed to attend funerals.
- The rules for mourning dress relaxed somewhat, especially for women. A wife could now enter half mourning after 21 months, and during deep mourning the clothing wasn’t as heavy.
- Wives could enter society again after three months, but not a dance until after 12 months.
- Mourning cards were no longer sent.
- Port-mortem photos fell out of fashion.
World War One Changed It All
By World War One, part of the economy was centered on mourning. Articles also were written in fashion magazines instructing women on how they could dress stylishly and still abide by the rules of mourning.
The war, however, brought a quick end to elaborate mourning rituals. Circumstances often prevented the old rituals from continuing, and some people didn’t feel the rituals were appropriate.
Again, women’s mourning dress was simplified. The mourning period for a husband was once more shortened (to 18 months), but the period for brothers, sons and nephews was extended.
As the rules relaxed, people were able to decide, according to individual preference, how intensely they wanted to mourn. Still, into the 1920s, it was customary to wear black for a period of deep mourning.
Were Victorian and Edwardian mourning rituals excessive or just right? Do you think people should mourn more now than they do? Leave your comments below.
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