A Lady’s Life in Mourning
Mourning dictated that ladies limit, if not eliminate, their social activities. Men and children were also limited to avoiding large social affairs or parties while in mourning, but women were set apart as the idealized example of grief in the family and community. Upon entering mourning, women were expected to cancel all social activities. Callers were received only on a limited basis and other family members were expected to field people paying their respects in the home.
A woman expected to see only her immediate family, closest friends and her minister during this time. (Servants, if she had them, were an exception as they were seen daily and the workings of the household needed to continue, but servants were also expected to enter into mourning with the family at the death of their employer and remain in mourning as long as the family did).
While in “deep” mourning a lady was expected to avoid all public meetings, shopping trips and forbidden to attend teas or parties. It was also bad luck for a lady in “widow’s weeds” to attend a wedding. If necessary, she was expected to set aside her “deep” mourning for the event or be in absentia.
For ladies who carried them, calling cards were available, as was stationery for correspondence. Both the cards and stationery were very plain, white with black borders. The wider the border, the deeper the writer was in her mourning period. Calling cards in pale grey and lavender were also available for those in “light” mourning that wished to make their condition known as well.
As a lady reached the end of her “deep” mourning period she could recognize the change by enlarging her wardrobe and gradually returning to social activities (receiving callers, attending church functions and visiting relatives). Trim and jewelry could be added to an all-black ensemble and the “weeping veil” could be set aside. Eventually, the introduction of deep violets and greys could be used sparingly in the wardrobe, as well as white trims. Over a period of months, lighter shades of grey and purple could be used. “Light” mourning could consist of lavender, grey, white, and bits of black. Finally, other colors could be worn and the mourning garb abandoned.
Upon leaving mourning as a widow, it was acceptable – and somewhat expected – to remarry. If the lady had children, it was also a necessity.
Material sources on Mourning in America:
The After Life – Karen Rae Mehaffey
Hair Jewelry, Locks of Love – Michael J. Bernstein
The Trap Rebaited: Mourning Dress 1860 – 1890” – Anne Buck
The Victorian Celebration of Death – James Steven Curl
A History of Mourning – Richard Davey