The Sad Man of Fashion: 1892

older man top had very tall weed

THE MAN OF FASHION

Mourning Styles for the Society “Gentlemen in Black”

How the Bombazine Band is Worn.

With the death of William Astor one of the first families in the land has retired from social life for a year or more, and it may interest the man of fashion to know how John Jacob Astor, the heir, appears in gentleman’s mourning garb and how the remainder of the family will follow the dictates of society in this regard.

The band of fine bombazine comes within half an inch of the top of Mr. Astor’s high hat, and that, it may be said, is de rigeur. For a year the band will be worn at this height, then it may be worn lower or removed altogether and replaced by the staid black ribbon and bow.

“It is almost impossible in this country,” says an authority, “where there are no hereditary customs, to lay down exact laws, either as to the length of the period during which mourning should be worn or as to the extent to which it should be assumed. There is, however, a certain etiquette of mourning, which, while not as arbitrary as the French code (which declares a widow must don weeds for one year and six weeks exactly), is usually followed in this country, where most of the customs are borrowed from the English. It would be interesting in this connection to know how the arbiter of English fashion, the Prince of Wales, attires himself for the Duke of Clarence. His mourning is, of course, much modified by the exigencies of his position, but it is safe to assert that it is distinguished by that perfection of detail, that faultlessness of selection that shows the perfect gentleman.

“The laws governing the depth of the band on the hat have become mathematically exact, and it is the first article of attire to consider in this connection. For deep mourning for the day of the funeral, for church, for all occasions except business and traveling, the high hat is in style.

“For the widower the band of fine bombazine comes to within one-quarter of an inch from the top. For the father or mother one half an inch from the top. For brother or sister or grown child, three and one-half inches up from the brim, and for an aunt, uncle or collateral relation, three and one-half inches up from the rim.

“The widower, and the man wearing the band for father or mother should wear it unaltered for at least a year; after that period, according to individual taste, it may be lowered.”

The same rule holds good for the band worn for brother or sister, one year being the proper duration of deep mourning. For aunts, uncles, cousins and collateral relations the period varies from three to six months, according got the degree of intimacy and affection existing between the dead and bereaved.

In “complimentary” mourning, a ghastly term used to denote that worn for parents-in-law, the rule is the same as for the closer and truer kinship. The mourning for parents-in-law is, however, purely arbitrary and depends principally upon how much they leave. The bigger the bank account the deeper the mourning, especially for mothers-in-law. Any man, however, who honors his wife will show her deceased parents the same respect he would his own, and nothing could possibly appear in worse taste than to see a woman in all the trappings of woe, while her  husband disregards the custom entirely.

For round topped derbys the band for wife and all the closer kinships must be as high as the shape permits. Fr the other ties of kindred it can be a bout half way to the top. The square topped derbys are regulated exactly as the high hats.

In deep mourning the rough cheviots, and any all black goods, but more particularly the rough woolens, are in good taste. There should be no deviation from the rule of all black for one year; after that the band may be lowered and fancy trouserings in gray and black and goods with a mixture of these colors may be adopted.

Beau Brummel was once asked what was the distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman’s attire and he replied: “Good linen, plenty of it, and country washing;” and good linen, plenty of it, and pure white is essential in mourning. Nothing is so suggestive of a cake walk as a black and white shirt and don’t be deluded into considering it mourning. Handkerchiefs should also be pure white; the black bordered affairs, permissible to women, are abominations when carried by men. They are extremes and extremes are always vulgar. The man of taste is a conservative being and oversteps the boundaries in nothing.

For the first year ties should be all black and nowadays the “man in black” has a range of choice both in material and shape. A few years ago only gros grain silk was admissible, and this after a few wearings looked shiny and greasy; now, the soft crepe de chine, china silks and armures are made up in the ever popular four-in-hand and puff shapes, the former being preferable for deep mourning, requiring no pin.

Jewelry, except what is absolutely necessary, is tabooed. A black silk watch guard is better form than a chain, and it is debatable whether the usual plain gold studs and sleeve buttons are better taste than the black ones, whether of onyx or enamel. For a widower there is something incongruous in the glitter of gold, and the black studs and sleeve buttons seem more consistent; but for heaven’s sake don’t wear a black jet or onyx watch chain, they make the gods weep. And, by the way, a velvet collar on the overcoat is not mourning, nor this garment made of brown and blue chinchilla, however dark; neither are black satin ties, nor a brown derby with a band on it, which last eyesore is not infrequent. It would be impossible in the limits of this article to enumerate the various solecisms of fashion even well informed men commit in wearing mourning. Only a few general rules can be given and you do the rest.

It is, however, in the matter of gloves that men err most frequently. Most men hate a black glove, buy a pair for the funeral, wear them till worn out and then buy their favorite color. They must, however, in wearing the deeper grades of mourning, wear only black gloves for one year, or go bare handed, a mechanic like alternative, but far better than to done pumpkin colored dogskins or even brown ones. As fashion, however, is great, so also is she merciful, and at the ned of the year a very dark tan may be permitted, another instance of those unwritten laws which smooth the way of man.

And now having exhausted deep mourning, let me consider what might be called “mitigated grief.”

Under this head also I may consider collateral sorrow, that for all the less near degrees of kindred. After the first year the band may be lowered, and clothes of various black and gray mixtures be worn. Ties of pure white, black and white and vice versa are permissible, but mourning must be left off gradually, so that the re-adoption of colors be most imperceptible. Lavender, heliotrope and gray are allowed in scarfs, though a man’s individual taste may be followed in this respect. What is said of second or half mourning is applicable to “complimentary” mourning—a despicable term, but I know no other. In deep mourning, for three months at the very least, men should attend no theaters, banquets or festivities requiring a dress suit. After that time he may, if he cares to, and should, wear a black tie of dull silk. Satin is never mourning. His jewelry in full dress should be the white enamel so generally worn. Here is something absolutely ghastly in seeing a man arrayed for a function with such grave-like suggestions as black jewelry about him.

The simple and beautifully pathetic mourning of the soldier and sailor, the black band on the coat sleeve, has something infinitely touching about it, and appeals to one’s sense of the fitting more perhaps than the trailing weeds that women wear or the crow like attire of men, but we have not as yet arrived at any such simple solution of the problem of black, and as the etiquette of mourning now stands it should be respected. It is, after all, a matter of sentiment, above all a matter of good feeling. Precise rules are impossible to formulate, and its depth and direction must depend on individual taste. Above all, no man should be judged harshly for any deviation from the custom, even though he might show better taste by conforming to it. Many a sad heart throbs beneath a gay mantle and many a happy one has crape, so to speak, on its door bell; like the pathetic emblem waving at many a door, while the “wakers” make merry within.

Repository [Canton, OH] 30 July 1892: p 12

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Inconsolable Grief Department – Shopping for Mourning Goods

 

mourning for families Jay's warehouse 1880s
1888 advertisement for Jay’s General Mourning Warehouse, London

FASHIONABLE MOURNING. THE HABILIMENTS OF GRIEF,

FROM A COMMERCIAL POINT OF VIEW.

On the occasion of a recent visit to London, whilst I was debating with myself over the breakfast things as to how I should spend the day, I received by the post a letter deeply bordered with black, evidently a messenger of affliction. I tore the white weeping willow upon a black background which formed the device upon the seal, and read the contents. It proved to be an intimation from a relative of the sudden death of her brother-in-law, and a request that, under the circumstances of the sudden bereavement of the widow, I should undertake certain sad commissions relative to the articles of mourning required by the family. I at once set out upon my sad errand.

I had no difficulty in finding the maison de deuil to which I had been referred. It met me in the sad habiliments of woe; no vulgar colors glared from the shop windows, no gildings amazed with its festive brightness. The name of the firm scarce presumed to make itself seen in letters of the saddest gray upon a black ground. Here and there heads of white set off the general gloom of the house-front, like the crape piping of a widow’s cap. The very metal window frames and plates had gone into a decorous morning–zinc having taken the place of what we feel, under the circumstances, would have been quite out of the character: brass.

On pushing the plate glass door, it gave way with a hushed and muffled sound, and I was met by a gentlemen of sad expression, who, in the most sympathetic voice, inquired the nature of my want, and, on my explaining myself, directed me to the Inconsolable Grief Department. The interior of the establishment answered exactly to the appearance without. The long passage I had to traverse was paneled in white and black borderings, like so many mourning cards placed on end; and I was rapidly becoming impressed with the deep solemnity of the place, when I caught sight of a neat little figure rolling up some ribbon, who on my inquiring if I had arrived at the Inconsolable Grief Department, replied almost in a tone of gaiety, that that was the half-mourning counter, and that I must proceed further on until I had passed the repository for widowsilk.

Following her directions, I at last reached my destination–a large room draped in black with a hushed atmosphere about it as though somebody was lying invisible there in state. An attendant in sable habiliments, picked out with the inevitable white tie, and with an undertakerish eye and manner, awaited my commands, I produced my written directions. Scanning it critically, he said: “Permit me to inquire, sir, if it is a deceased partner?” I nodded assent. “We take the liberty of asking this distressing question,” he continued, “as we are extremely anxious to keep up the character of our establishment by matching, as it were, the exact shade of affliction. Our paramatta and crapes give satisfaction to the deepest woe. Permit me to show you a new texture of surprising beauty and elegance manufactured specially for this house, and which we call the inconsolable. Quite a novelty in the trade, I do assure you, sir.”

With this he placed a pasteboard box before me full of mourning fabrics.

“Is this it?” I inquired, lifting a lugubrious piece of draping.

“Oh, no!” he replied, “the one you have in your hand was manufactured for last year’s affliction, and was termed, ‘The Stunning Blow Shade.’ It makes up well, however, with our sudden bereavement silk- a leading article–and our distraction trimmings.”

“I fear,” said I, “my commission says nothing about these novelties.”

“Ladies in the country,” he blandly replied, “don’t know of the perfection to which the art of mourning genteelly has been brought! But I will see that your commission is attended to to the letter.”

Giving another glance over the list, he observed; “Oh! I perceive a widow’s cap is mentioned here, I must trouble you, sir, to proceed to the Weeds Department for that article–the first turning to the left.”

Proceeding, as directed, I came to a recess fitted up with a solid phalanx of widow’s caps. I perceived at a glance that they exhausted the whole gamut of grief, from the deepest shade to that tone which is expressive of a pleasing melancholy. The foremost row confronted me with the sad liveries of crapen folds, whilst those behind gradually faded off into light, ethereal tarleton, and one or two of the outsiders were even breaking out into worldly features and flaunting weepers. Forgetting the proprieties of the moment, I inquired of the grave attendant if one of the latter would be suitable.

“Oh! no, sir,” she replied with a slight shade of severity in the tone of her voice; “You may gradually work up to that in a year or two. But any of these,” pointing to the first row of widows’ weeds- -are suitable for the first burst of grief.”

Acquiescing in the propriety of this sliding scale of sorrow, I selected some weeds expressive of the deepest dejections I could find, and having completed my commission, inquired where I could procure for myself some lavender gloves.

“Oh! for those things, sir,” she said, in the voice of Tragedy speaking to Comedy, “you must turn to your right, and you will come to the Complimentary Mourning counter.”

Turning to the right, accordingly, I was surprised, and not a little shocked, to find myself amongst worldly colors. Tender lavender, I had expected; but violet, mauve, and even absolute red, stared me in the face. Thinking I had made a mistake, I was about to retire, when a young lady, in a cheerful tone of voice, inquired if I wanted anything in her department.

“I was looking for the Complimentary Mourning counter,” I replied, “for some gloves; but I fear I am wrong.”

“You are quite right, sir,” she observed. “This is it.”

She saw my eye glance at the cheerful colored silks, and with the instinctive tact of a woman guessed my thoughts in a moment. “Mauve, sir, is very appropriate for the lighter sorrows.”

“But absolute red!” I retorted, pointing to some velvet of that color.

“Is quite admissible when you mourn the departure of a distant relative. But allow me to show you some gloves?” and, suiting the action to the word, she lifted the cover from a tasteful glove box, and displayed a perfect picture of delicate half-tones, indicative of a struggle between the cheerful and the sad. “There is a pleasing melancholy in this shade of gray,” she remarked, indenting slightly each outer knuckle with the soft elastic kid as she measured my hand.

“Can you find lavender?”

“Oh, yes! but the sorrow tint is very slight in that; however, it wears admirably.”

Thus, by degrees, the grief of the establishment died out in tenderest lavender, and I took my departure deeply impressed with the charming improvements which Parisian taste has effected in the plain, old-fashioned style of English mourning.

The Christian Recorder 19 September 1863

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For more about the Byzantine conventions of Victorian mourning see Mourning Becomes Elective. For a look at a strange garden party at the London home of the Duke of Sutherland, promoting funeral reform and wicker-work coffins, see Wicker Man. The story “Crape” in the neo-Edwardian collection A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales , tells of the revenge exacted from beyond the grave by an aunt determined to be “mourned relentlessly.” For further reading, see Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History, by Lou Taylor.

The piece above appears in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Bold Crape Buyer: 1817

Oil painting on canvas, The Apotheosis of Princess Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1796-1817) by Henry Howard RA (London 1769 ¿ Oxford 1847), 1818.The princess, holding her still-born baby, rises to the sky attended by two angels. Below is a lady with upraised hands and another is prostrate. Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of George IV (1762-1830) and Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816. She died in childbirth the following year and the national grief caused by her death may have encouraged Howard to paint this subject. National Trust Collections

Among linen-drapers’ assistants who have risen from the ranks and become eminently successful the following is a remarkable instance:—

A lout of a lad came up from Norfolk, and somehow contrived to obtain employment about an establishment in the city, at that time of little note. He began humbly, as a kind of porter, his work at the outset being to carry parcels, and assist in taking down and putting up the heavy shutters on the windows mornings and evenings. He was a raw, uncouth fellow—tall, thin, and ungainly from rapid growth—his drab corduroys scarcely reaching to his ankles. But he had a clear head on his shoulders, and he had willing hands; and the coarse ill-cultured hobbledehoy wrought his way on perseveringly till he was placed by his observant master among the salesmen. This vantage ground once gained, his greatest difficulty was surmounted, and he took his place among his fellows and maintained it; and, having acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employer, he was, after a time, occasionally trusted to make a run down to the manufacturing districts to buy. This had been the height of his ambition. To be a buyer! To attain this lofty eminence was the culminating point of his earthly desires; and, when he attained it, his satisfaction was without bounds—it was supreme.

He started by coach from the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane, one morning in the beginning of November in the year 1817 to make some purchases. On arriving at the place of his destination late in the evening, he found some other buyers from the city in the hotel; but being little known to them, he kept as much as possible apart. He had his reasons for wishing to avoid coming in contact with them. From information which he had received previous to starting on his journey, and which he had thought carefully over on his way down, he had a game to play, and he meant to play it well, thoroughly, out and out. It is said that he was secretly, but busily engaged all the following day, among the manufacturers, buying up right and left, but keeping down all suspicion of his motives as much as possible, the entire stock in the market of one article. News did not then travel so rapidly as they do now by rail and telegraph, and it was not till the coaches arrived that night or next morning, that the astounding intelligence was brought of the unexpected death of the Princess Charlotte. The London buyers of goods were instantly agog for the interest of their respective employers; but, to their extreme mortification, they found that, except trifling morsels, every packet of mourning crape in the town and neighbourhood had been bought up. Our Norfolk youth, now metamorphosed into a buyer, had secured it all.

Having done his work, he set off home, and communicated to his master what he had done. The master was a plain-sailing man; he had saved his money rather than made it, and he was uneasy. It was a speculation beyond the range of his ideas to buy up the whole of any commodity whatever, and, most of all, of the whole manufactured black crape in the country. He did not like it. The longer he thought over the transaction, the more the temerity of his buyer alarmed him. And, when van after van began to arrive at the warehouse, setting down absolute mountains of the rather bulky commodity, the poor man wrung his hands—he was in despair. Every corner of the warehouse was filled with crape; every hole and cranny was stuffed with it; pile upon pile rose in vast pyramids before the eyes of the bewildered man, shutting out of sight the other portions of the stock, and making a passage through the premises nearly impracticable. Crape, crape, nothing but crape was visible on floor, and shelf, and counter; the horrid article was everywhere, to the exclusion of everything else, above or below.

The unfortunate linen-draper in the anguish of his heart cursed the Norfolk lad, bitterly lamenting the hour in which he had unluckily permitted his imprudent assistant to go out unrestricted as to the extent of his purchases. Ruin was manifestly staring him in the face, and he insensibly began to calculate how much might be saved from the wreck wherewith to compound with his creditors. Not so the worker of all the mischief. He had faith in himself. He did his best to console and soothe his employer by assuring him of what he felt confident would turn out to be the fact—that the whole retail trade of the United Kingdom would require to come to them for their supplies, and that they would obtain any prices they pleased.

The lamentation for the death of the Princess Charlotte was so sincere and so universal, that the mourning worn at her decease, out of sympathy for her untimely end, was much more general than is usual on the demise of members of the royal family, and, consequently, the demand for black crape for mourning was in proportion unprecedented. The vast stock rapidly disappeared, and the general trade of the concern was thereby greatly improved; the foundation of a princely fortune was laid, and in due time a partnership, and after that, the hand of his master’s daughter, rewarded the services of the bold crape buyer.

MacMillan’s Magazine, Vol. 7, David Masson, editor, 1863, p. 35-36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The mourning for the death of Princess Charlotte was quite unprecedented. The British public had hoped to put the madness of King George III and the mad extravagances and follies of the Regent behind them with this romping girl. But, alas, it was not to be: she died giving birth to a still-born son 6 November, 1817, setting off the Great Marriage Stakes among the sons of George III, all of whom had large families with their mistresses.

Much as we may applaud the winning form of the Norfolk lad, mourning for the late Princess went far beyond crape. Many mourning artifacts survive, such as this pendant.

And this ring.

And images of her tomb in wax, prints of her funeral, and an image of her apotheosis, complete with royal infant ascending to the Heavens.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Charming Widow Worked the Mourning Racket: 1885

Womens mourning ensemble 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 29 August 2021, <https://ma.as/75188&gt;

THE CHARMING WIDOW
How She Worked the Mourning Racket on the Dry Goods Manager.

Burlington Hawkeye

She was pretty and sweet, so much so that the several clerks nearly broke their necks in struggling to see who would be the one to wait on her, but she ignored them all, and, sitting down on a stool, drew from her pocket a handkerchief which she held in readiness for application to her eyes, and sent for the manager. He soon came up to the lady, who, with the handkerchief to one eye, flashed the other brilliant or at his and told her story thusly:


“Mr. B___, Charley, my husband (sob), is dead, and I have no suitable (sniffle) mourning. I came down to see (gulp) if you would trust me for a (sob) mourning outfit” (sniffle). Here the other eye was hid behind the handkerchief, while a kind of cold chill shudder passed over her.

“But, my dear madam, I don’t know you. I would be rather departing from our rules to comply with your request,” replied Mr. B___, politely. “How much of a bill did you wish to buy?”
“I want (sob) everything as nice (sniffle) as I can get (sob)—about two (another sniffle) two hundred dollars, I (sob) guess.”

“I am sorry, but as you are a stranger to me I shall have to decline unless you can furnish security or come recommended by someone know to us.”
“Do you (sob) know Mr. (two sobs) Mr. Richfellow?” (Two sniffles.)

“Yes, madam, I know him. Do you think he would guarantee the payment of the bill?”
“I don’t (sob) want (sniffle)—want you to (sniffle) ask him (sniffle), because I am going (two sniffles) to marry him (sob) when my (sob) mourning has expired.” (Sob.)

“Well, in a case of that kind, of course we will trust you; we can present the bill to him after your marriage.”

“Oh thank you (brightening up), thank you; indeed that will be all right. Now I want a box of black gloves, number six and a half; fourteen yards of cashmere, thirty yards of crape cloth, twelve yards of veiling, two boxes of black silk hose (number eight), and the necessary trimmings. Please fix it up nice. Don’t you think I will look nice in mourning?”
Mr. B___ looked into her eyes, his heart began to jump, and, thinking discretion the better part of valor, he assured her that her order would be filled, and the lady departed smiling. Mr. B__, after the lash of the pretty widow’s eyes, would have filled a thousand dollar order and paid it out of his own pocket. He is bald-headed.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 May 1885: p. 11

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Sufficient Degree of Grief: 1854

A Weeping Widow c. 1897
A Weeping Widow c. 1897

ETIQUETTE FOR WIDOWS .— The following humorous hit is from a late novel by Alphonse Karr. We will not answer for its truth; but we will for its humor:

“Those who shall scrupulously observe certain simple and easy practices shall be considered to experience a sufficient degree of grief. Thus it is proper for a widow to mourn her husband a year and six weeks (a man only mourns his wife six months); that is to say, the widow, on the morning of the four hundred and seventy-first day, and the widower on the dawn of the one hundred and eighty-first, awakes in a gay and cheerful mood.

“Grief divides itself into several periods in the case of widows.

“1st period— Despair, six weeks.— This period is known by a black paramatta dress, crape collar and cuffs, and the disappearance of the hair beneath the widow’ s cap.

“2d period— Profound grief. Despondency, six weeks. Profound grief is recognized by the dress, which still continues to be of paramatta, and the despondency which succeeds to despair is symbolized by the white crape collar and cuffs.

“3d period— Grief softened by the consolation of friends, and the hope soon to join the regretted object of her affections in a better world. These melancholy sentiments last six months; they are expressed by a black silk dress; the widow’s cap is still worn.

“4th period— Time heals the wounds of the heart. Providence tempers the east wind to the shorn lamb. Violent attacks of grief only come on at rare intervals. Sometimes the widow seems as though she had forgotten her loss; but all at once a circumstance, apparently indifferent, recalls it, and falls back into grief. Yet she dwells from time to time upon the faults of the beloved; but it is only to contrast them with his dazzling virtues. This period would be tiresome enough for the world at large; therefore it has been decided to express it simply by half mourning.

“5th period.— There is now only a softened melancholy, which will last all her life— i.e. six weeks. This touching and graceful sentiment shows itself by a quiet gray silk dress; the sufferer less feels the loss than the actual deprivation of a husband.

“When the lady loses her husband, it is requisite either to pay her a visit of condolence, or address a letter to her. It is customary in these cases to make use of such language as admits the probability of the greatest possible grief— that of Artemisia, for example. Fontenelle, however, thought proper to send a blank letter to a young friend of his who had lost an old husband, saying he would fill it up three months afterwards. When he did so, he began, ‘Madam, I congratulate you.’ But this is quite contrary to custom. Therefore, when a widow loses an old, avaricious husband, from whom she inherits a large fortune, you ought not the less to entreat her not to give herself up to despair; and take care to look as though you believed it was law and custom alone which prevented her from burying herself with him.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] September 1854

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Paramatta [also spelt Parramatta] was a light-weight mixture of wool and silk or cotton. Alphonse Karr was a French novelist, critic, and editor of Le Figaro. He also founded a satirical journal called Les Guêpes (The Wasps) and coined that useful epigram, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The French set the standard for strictly codified conventions of mourning with their list of requirements for the bereaved and the notion of funeral “classes,” as if death were a railway ticket office. The witty Fontenelle was Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, 18th-century French essayist, poet, and member of the Academy.

The grief of Queen Artemisia, who so desperately mourned her husband King Mausolus, was proverbial. She built an elaborate tomb for him (hence the term “mausoleum”) and supposedly drank her wine mingled with his ashes. In the face of such violent regret, untacking the crape from one’s gowns and ordering a violet mantle for half-mourning seem frivolously inadequate.

See the “Mourning” category for Mrs Daffodil’s frequent other posts on mourning costumes and customs.  Look also for The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a book on the popular culture of Victorian mourning and death, telling of subjects such as widow humour; the uses and abuses of crape; edifying deathbeds; and unusual products for correct mourning, as well as stories of ghosts,  strange deaths, and grave errors. Mrs Daffodil fears that the author “wants to make your flesh crape.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Shroud for a Night-dress: 1902

woman's shroud karen augusta
Woman’s burial bodice, https://augusta-auction.com/search-past-sales?view=lot&id=18163&auction_file_id=48

Shroud for a Robe de Nuit

Out in Anaconda, Mont., a rosy, healthy, buxom girl, fresh from her father’s ranch, was making some purposes for her approaching wedding. In company with her mother, she entered one of the principal stores of the city. Neither she nor her mother made any secret of the coming wedding or the object of their shopping tour. It was a great event in their lives, and they took the salesman in the general store quite into their confidence.

“Now,” said mamma, when they had bought a bill that was going to cost papa many a fat steer, “now we want to look at some nightgowns. We want the very nicest thing you’ve got.” The faithful salesman began to pull down the stock. He exhibited all the prettiest things he could find, but nothing suited—the garments were all too plain and unornamental to suit the demands of the mother and bride-to-be. There are limitations to a cow town general store stock, but there are resources as well. The clerk was a man of resources, and when almost at his wits’ end one of his bright ideas came to him. Excusing himself for a moment, he went to another part of the store, rummaged among the boxes and came back with a gorgeous thing of lace and insertion and filmy fabric.

“The very thing,” declared mamma. “Why didn’t you show us that in the first place?”

“Well, you see, ma’am,” said he, “I forgot we had them in stock. We’ve only got two of them, though. Do you think they will do?”

“Do!” exclaimed the girl. “of course they will do. They are just what we wanted.”

So the clerk calmly added 200 per cent to the cost price he found on them, packed the garments in a box and sent the mother and daughter on their way rejoicing.

“Say,” said the salesman to the proprietor, when that gentleman came in half an hour later, “I sold them funeral shrouds that you got stuck with. Sold ‘em to a bride for her trousseau.”

But the bride never knew.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 23 January 1902: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is not at all surprised by the story above. There is a strange element of sensuality in writings about burial fashions. Women’s burial robes, with their embellishments of lace and embroidery, are lovingly described in the same language used in the fashion magazines for wedding gowns or for tea gowns, so essential to afternoon seductions. It was as if defunct ladies were dressed to seduce Death Himself.

For example:

Scores of boxes, just such as those which New York modistes send home ball dresses announced next day in “Society” columns as a creation by Worth—were uncovered to show examples of the present prevailing styles in shrouds. This is a ghastly name by no means suited to the tasteful burial robes displayed. There was not a hint of winding sheet or cerement in their style. They seemed, indeed, like a la mode demi-toilettes…One of these, which the reporter saw, folded in its box, was of fine cream tinted cashmere, made like a matinee or tea gown, the front traversed by diagonal folds of satin the same shade and ruchings, quillings of the same extended from shoulders to knees, below which were plaited flounces. The sleeves were fully trimmed, and the robe was entirely ready for wear with fine full crepe lisse ruchings at throat and wrists. A carelessly knotted sash of ribbon confined the robe. This cost only $25. Another, of handsome black cashmere, had a front with black satin revers quillings and pipings as heading for falls of black Spanish lace, the skirts ending in flat kilted flounces. A sash of broad brocaded ribbon fell in long lops on one side. White crepe lisse was added inside the lace at neck and hands. The price of this was $50…A woman’s white cashmere robe here was trimmed with satin in Grecian folds, and down the front accurately laid puffs were bordered by machine embroidery, a tiny flower resting in each scallop. The edge of the skirt was composed of broad alternate side kilting of satin and cashmere headed by the embroidery. The New York Herald 11 May 1884: p. 8

Then there was this ingenious lady, who saw the street-wear potential of a garment for the grave:

STOLE A SHROUD TO WEAR

An Atchison Woman Trimmed a Burial Robe and Used It.

Atchison [Kansas] Dispatch to Chicago Tribune.

Burial robes for street dresses is the latest fad, as introduced by an Atchison woman. J.A. Harouff, a local undertaker, missed a woman’s burial robe the other day. Yesterday afternoon he saw a woman on Commercial street wearing the robe. She had adorned with a few fancy frills and trimmings, but there was no doubt as to the identity of the robe, and Mr. Harouff says the dress was a “mighty stylish looking gown.” The undertaker was so astonished that he has decided not to ask for the return of his property. “A woman with that much nerve and ingenuity deserves a reward, no punishment,” he said today. The Washington [DC] Post 17 August 1914: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil has written about the “death drawers,” containing a complete trousseau of death-wear and many other stories on the material culture of mourning. See the “mourning” category for more of this funereal subject. Mrs Daffodil can also recommend the “mourning” posts over at Haunted Ohio (including one on the girl shroud-makers of New York) and in the associated book: The Victorian Book of the Dead, which also has its own “Face-book” page, updated daily.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Plague Shawl: 1878

Did the gift of a shawl bring the plague to Russia?
Did the gift of a shawl bring the plague to Russia?

Mrs Daffodil must once again beg the indulgence of her readers. Something has gone wrong with the pneumatic tubes that deliver Mrs Daffodil’s work to the public, so she has asked that scribbling person over at the Haunted Ohio blog for the loan of a post to fill the gap. Here, then, without further ado, is “The Plague Shawl.”

Today’s post returns to one of my favorite themes: deadly clothing. We have covered the perils of poisoned stockings and noxious hairpieces. The history of disease is filled with cases of contagion spread by textiles:

In 1665 at Eyam, in Derbyshire, a tailor received a flea-infested shipment of cloth from London. He was dead of the plague within a week. Heroically, the villagers voluntarily quarantined themselves to keep the disease from spreading—at a fearful cost: at least half of Eyam’s inhabitants died.

At Fort Pitt, in 1763, two Native American chiefs were given blankets and a handkerchief from smallpox victims, possibly causing an outbreak of the disease and extensive casualties among the Indians.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1838 story, “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle” tells of a richly embroidered cloak believed to have brought the smallpox to Boston. The story is fiction, but Hawthorne’s readers’ belief in an infected cloak causing an epidemic was not.

In 1872, Ipswich was hit by an outbreak of smallpox, blamed again on textile infection:

During Christmas week two imported cases occurred…a young man brought a bundle of infected linen with him from London, and had it washed in Ipswich. Twelve days after, the servant who washed the linen showed symptoms of small-pox. In another case, a woman, who had been at Highgate Hospital, brought with her a shawl which she had worn during convalescence, but had not been disinfected; and in fourteen days her sister, who washed the shawl, was attacked, and a boy also in a house to which the sister went before the rash appeared upon her. This case might also have been caused by the infected shawl. The disease shortly afterwards broke out in Harwich and was very fatal, as 24 per cent. of the cases admitted died in the hospital. The Sanitary Record, Vol. 8, 1878

In a very recent case, in September of 2012, a young girl contracted the plague from her sweatshirt which had been laid by a decomposing (and flea-ridden) squirrel.

Then there is this story from 1895 illustrating the improbably long shelf-life of smallpox:

TENACITY OF GERMS

How an Old Lady and Her Little Shawl Carried Death With Them.

The tenacity and virility of smallpox germs are to the medical fraternity one of the wonders of contagion, and were never made apparent so startlingly as a few years ago in the little village of Hector, this state, says the New York Sun. This is an isolated place, being at the time of the smallpox epidemic there twenty miles from any railroad, and its people rarely traveled far from home, and few strangers were visitors there. Early in the fall smallpox broke out in the village. The disease was not known to be anywhere in the vicinity. How it happened to appear there was a mystery that remained unsolved for months, but was at last cleared up through the investigation and inquiry of Dr. Purdy of Elmira.

Dr. Purdy learned that one day in the winter preceding the breaking out of smallpox in Hector a passenger on an Erie railway train was taken violently ill just after leaving Salamanca, and a physician who was on board the train discovered that the passenger had the smallpox. When this became known the other passengers in the car hurriedly left it for another one. The car containing the smallpox victim was placed on a siding when the train reached Hornellsville, where it was quarantined.

Among the passengers who left the car when the case was made known was an old lady who had a ticket for Elmira. Her seat had been the one behind the one where the man with the small-pox sat. She had with her a small shoulder shawl, which had hung on the back of the seat ahead of her. When she left the train at Elmira she placed the shawl in her hand satchel. At Elmira she took a Northern Central train for Watkins, the nearest station to Hector, to which place she was going on a visit to her son’s family. She remained there until the following fall when she was driven by her son to visit another son some miles distant. The day was extremely cold, and her son’s ears being in danger of freezing she took the shoulder shawl from her satchel, where it had been ever since she put it away on leaving the Erie train at Elmira the previous winter, and wrapped it about his head.

A few days after the son returned home to Hector he became violently ill. Before it was known what his ailment was he was visited by various neighbors. Then his disease was pronounced smallpox, and it was such a malignant case that he died within a few days. The disease became epidemic and was not eradicated until the following summer. Every family in the village and immediate vicinity lost at least one member by the disease. That the first case originated from the germs collected by the shawl in the railroad car near Salamanca months before there can be no doubt. Idaho Register [Idaho Falls, ID] 15 February 1895: p. 6

I say “improbably long shelf-life” of smallpox, but the virus is capable of prolonged survival. Excavators in the crypt of Christ Church, Spitalfields, 1984-86, for example, took special precautions, not only against the lead dust from the coffins, but against potentially viable smallpox from dead victims of the disease buried there. And in 2011, an 1860s smallpox scab was seized by the CDC from an exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society.

In Russia, the Plague of 1878-79 was reported to have had its origins in a lethal sweetheart’s souvenir.

A COSSACK FROM THE WAR Brings to His Lady Love

A Costly Shawl Which She Wore Two Days,

Then Sickened and Died, and in this

Lies the Origin of the Present Russian Plague.

London, Feb. 3. The origin of the plague in Russia is thus given: A Cossack, returning from the war to Wetlisuka, brought his lady love a shawl which she wore two days and then sickened with all the symptoms of the plague and died. The following four days other members of her family died. The disease spread rapidly, the local authorities not paying any attention to it till half the inhabitants had died and the remainder were unable to bury them. Then, when the epidemic had assumed serious dimensions energetic means were taken for preventing its spreading, and strict quarantines were established: firstly in towns and villages, shutting off streets where the plague reigns from the rest of the place and secondly by surrounding the villages with troops, so that nobody is allowed to pass in or out.

The panic in Russia is almost incredible. Every class and station in life have petitioned for the entire cessation of all intercourse even postal communication between the rest of Russia and the Volga. Letters from Astrachan and Zaritzin are not received by persons to whom they are addressed. Some people even refuse to take money, fearing the germ of infection might be communicated through it. It is almost impossible to describe the terror which has taken possession of the people.

The Russian Sanitary Commission has proposed to shut off the Volga line from all intercourse with Western Russia and permit communication only under quarantine. Russian railway cars are not admitted to German territory. The export of grain from Poland will suffered severely from this restriction. The Roumanian government are discussing the expediency of prohibiting the transit of Russian provisions sent to victual the Balkan army.

(This appears to be a paraphrase of a New York Times article of 2 February 1879. It appeared in the Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 3 February 1879: p. 1)

The Russian plague caused panic throughout Europe, which feared the spread of an epidemic on the scale of the Black Death. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica observed that the Russian wave of the disease killed about 362 victims out of a population of about 1700.

It is, of course, impossible to tell if the story of the deadly shawl is more than a fanciful legend, although the story is repeated in a scholarly article: “The Russian Plague of 1878-79,” Hans Heilbronner, Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 89-112 in the note on pp. 91-92.

A story was bandied about in 1879 that a Cossack, returning to Vetlianka from Turkish Armenia, brought a scarf to his fiancée as a present. She supposedly wore it for a few days, then developed fearful symptoms of an undiagnosed nature, and died within a few days. The members of her family contracted the same disease and so did some neighbors. Refugees from the village reportedly carried the affliction to other Volga towns and villages.

Strangely, the story is also the subject of a poem by Ohio poet Sarah Piatt

THE STORY OF A SHAWL

[1879.]

My child, is it so strange, indeed,

This tale of the Plague in the East, you read?

This tale of how a soldier found

A gleaming shawl of silk, close-wound,

(And stained, perhaps, with two-fold red)

About a dead man’s careless head

He took the treasure on his breast

To one he loved. We know the rest.

If Russia shudders near and far,

From peasant’s hut to throne of Czar

If Germany bids an armed guard

By sun and moon keep watch and ward

Along her line, that they who fly

From death, ah me ! shall surely die.

This trouble for the world was all

Wrapped in that soldier’s sweetheart’s shawl.

Pray God no other lovers bring

Some gift as dread in rose or ring.

Poems, Vol. II, Sarah Piatt (London: Longmans, Green and Co.) 1894

If you have an interest in the historical aspects of Russian shawl production, please see http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1563&context=tsaconf for “Luxury Textiles from Feudal Workshops: 19th Century Russian Tapestry-Woven Shawls” by Arlene C. Cooper of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Trouble Arising from a Doll’s Funeral: 1899

http://www.liveauctioneers.com
http://www.liveauctioneers.com

HOW THE VILLAGE WAS UPSET

CONSEQUENCES OF A DOLL’S FUNERAL

In front of the Stoners’ house two little girls, children of a neighbour, were playing with their dolls, when suddenly the younger of them said,

“I’ll tell you what—let’s play funeral.”

“How?” “Well, we can play that my Josephine Maude dolly died, and that we buried her.”

“That will be splendid! Let’s have her die at once.”

Immediately after the death of Josephine Maude her grief-stricken mother said:

“Now, Katie, we must put crape on the door-knob to let folks know about it. You run over to our house and get the long black veil mamma wore when she was in mourning for grandpa.”

Katie went away, and soon returned with a long black mourning veil. It was quickly tied to Mrs. Stoner’s front door bell; then the bereft Dorothy’s grief broke out afresh, and she wailed and wept so vigorously that Mrs. Stoner put her head out of an upper window and said:

“You little girls are making too much noise down there. Mr. Stoner’s ill, and you disturb him. I think you’d better run home and play now. My husband wants to sleep.”

The children gathered up their dolls and playthings and departed, sobbing in their disappointment as they went down the road.

Mary Simmons, who passed them a block above, but on the other side of the street, supposing the children to be playing at sorrow, was greatly shocked. She came opposite the house to observe the crape on the door knob.

“Mr. Stoner is dead,” she said to herself. “Poor Sam! I knew he was ill, but I’d no idea that he was at all dangerous. I must stop on my way home and find out about it.”

She would have stopped then if it had not been for her eagerness to carry the news to those who might not have heard it. A little further on she met an acquaintance.

“Ain’t heard ‘bout the trouble up at the Stoners’, have you?” she asked.

“What trouble?” “Sam Stoner is dead. There’s crape on the doorknob. I was in there yesterday, and Sam was up and round the house; but I could see that he was a good deal worse than he or his wife had any idea of, and I ain’t much s’prised.”

“My goodness me! I must find time to call there before night.” Mrs. Simmons stopped at the village post office, ostensibly to look for a letter, but really to impart her information to Dan Wales, the talkative old postmaster.

“Heard ‘bout Sam Stoner?” she asked.

“No. I did hear he was gruntin’ round a little, but—“

“He won’t grunt no more,” said Mrs. Simmons solemnly. “He’s dead.”

“How you talk!”

“It’s right. There’s crape on the door.” “Must have bene dreadful sudden! Mrs. Stoner was in here last evening, an’ she reckoned he’d be out in a day or two.” “I know. But he ain’t been well for a long time. I could see it if others couldn’t.”

“Well, well! I’ll go round to the house soon as Mattie comes home.” The news spread now from another source.

Job Higley, the grocer’s assistant, returned from leaving some things at the house full of indignation.

“That Mrs. Stoner hain’t no more feelin’ than a lamp-post,” said Job, indignantly, to his employer. “There’s crape on the door knob for poor Sam Stoner; an’ when I left the groceries Mrs. Stoner was cookin’ a joint, cool as a cucumber, an’ singing’ “Ridin’ on a Load of Hay,’ loud as she could screech, an’ when I said I was sorry about Sam, she just laughed an’ said she thought Sam was all right, an’ then if she didn’t go to jokin’ me about my courting Tildy Hopkins!”

Old Mrs. Peavey came home with an equally scandalous tale.

“I went over the Stoners’ soon as I heered ‘bout poor Sam,” she said, “an’ if you’ll believe me, there was Mrs. Stoner hangin’ out clothes in the back yard. I went roun’ to where she was, an’ she says, jest as flippant as ever, “Mercy! Mrs. Peavey, where’d you drop from?’ I felt so s’prised an’ disgusted that I says: ‘Mrs. Stoner, this is a mighty solemn thing,’ an’ if she didn’t jest look at me an’ laugh, with the crape for poor Sam danglin’ from the front door bell-knob, an’ she says, ‘I don’t see nothin’ very solemn ‘bout washin’ an’ hangin’ out some o’ Sam’s old shirts an’ underwear that he’ll never wear agin. I’m goin’ to work ‘em up into carpet rags if they ain’t too far gone for even that.”

“’Mrs. Stoner,’ I says, ‘the neighbours will talk dreadfully if you ain’t more careful,’ an’ she got real angry, an’ said if the neighbours would attend to their business she’d attend to hers. I turned an’ left without even goin’ into the house.”

The “Carbury Weekly Star,” the only paper in the village came out two hours later with this announcement in bold type:–

We stop our press to announce the unexpected death of our highly respected fellow-citizen, Mr. Samuel Stoner, this afternoon. A more extended notice will appear next week.

“Unexpected! I should say so!” said Mr. Samuel Stoner in growing wrath and amazement as he read this announcement in the paper.

“There is the minister coming in at the gate,” interrupted his wife. “Do calm down, Sam! He’s coming to make arrangements for the funeral, I suppose. How ridiculous!”

Mr. Haves the minister was surprised when Mr. Stoner opened the door and said: “Come right in, pastor; come right in. My wife’s busy, but I’ll give you the main points myself if you want to go ahead with the funeral.”

For the first time he saw the crape, and, taking it into the house, he called to his wife for an explanation. Later, they heard Dorothy Dean’s childish voice calling: “Please, Mrs. Stoner, Kate and I left mamma’s old black veil tied to your door-knob when we were playing over here, and I’d like to have it.”

Current Opinion, Vol. 17 1895

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In this era where black is more likely to be worn by bridesmaids than those attending a funeral, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the shock and dismay occasioned by the appearance of a crape streamer on the front door. It is difficult to think of a modern example of a similarly alarming object: an ambulance at a neighbour’s, or a parking ticket on the wind-screen only approximate the horrifying effect of crape on the door and the assumptions it generated.

Mrs Daffodil told of another crape contretemps involving a hungry goat in “The Goat Ate the Crape.”  And that crepuscular person over at the Haunted Ohio blog told of a terrifying example of how crape hung on the door could be a threat, in “The Thornley Crape Threat.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

You may read of other funeral contretemps, as well as stories of corpses, crypts, and crape in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Heartless Wife: 1850

Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly another gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8
Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly a previously-made gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8

Going Into Mourning

A few weeks ago, our friend Clark was lying sick with the bilious fever. The attack was severe, and he believed death was near. One morning he awoke from a short sleep, to hear a hurried and smothered conversation in the adjoining room, in which his wife took part. The first words that Clark caught were uttered by his better-half.

“On that ground,” said she, “I object to mourning!”

“Yes,” replied another, “but the world looks for it—it is fashionable, and one might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.”

“Here,” thought Clark, “is a nice wife. She thinks I am about to die—to be planted, if I may use the expression, in the cold earth, and yet she refuses to go in mourning for me. Ah, me!”

“Now that I am here, perhaps I had better take your measure.”

“The unfeeling wretch!” exclaimed Clark, “to think of sending for a dressmaker before I am dead! But I’ll cheat her yet! I’ll live in spite!”

“Well,” mused the wife, “I believe you may measure me. I will let you buy the trimming, and let it be as gay as possible.”

“What heartlessness,” groaned Clark. “Woman-like, though. One husband is no sooner dead than they set about entrapping another. I can scarcely credit it.”

“Of course you will have a flounce?”

“Two of them; and as the body is to be plain, I wish you to get wide gimp to trim it.”

“How will you have the sleeves trimmed?”

“With buttons and fringe.”

“Well—well—this beats all,” sighed poor Clark.

“When do you want the dress?” inquired the mantua-maker.

“I must have it in three days. My husband will then be off my hands, and I shall be able to get out!”

“Oh, horrible—horrible!” ejaculated the sick man; “I am only half dead, but this blow will kill me.”

His wife heard him speak, and ran quickly to his bedside. “Did you speak, my dear?” said she, with the voice of an angel.

“I heard it all, madam,” replied Clark.

“All what, my dear?”

“The mourning—gay dresses—fringe—every thing. Oh! Maria—Maria!”

“You rave!”

“Do you take me for a fool?”

“Certainly not, my dear.”

“You expect me to be out of the way in three days, do you?”

“Yes, love; the doctor said you would be well in that time.”

“What means the dress?”

“It is the one you bought me before you were taken sick.”

“But you were speaking of mourning!”

“We were talking of Mrs. Taperly.”

“Oh, is that it?”

“Yes, love. You know she is poor, and her family is large, and it must inconvenience her very much to find mourning for them all. On this ground alone, I oppose it.”

“So—so—that’s it, is it? I thought you were speaking of me, and it distressed me. Let me beg of you to be more careful for the future.”

Clark was out in three days, and he now laughs at the matter, which then appeared so horrible.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 7 May 1850: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One quite understands the gentleman’s distress. Taken in the context of a dying husband, the lady’s remarks would have seemed the height of social depravity, although, to judge from the many jocularities surrounding “Merry Widows” in the papers, such things were not uncommon. And fringe, although popular on early 1850s gowns, was certainly not approved for mourning.

Of course, there was also merit to Mrs Clark’s opposition to the wearing of mourning, although she seems to regard it as the purview of those fortunate enough to be able to afford it. It is true that the practice weighed most heavily on the poor as this Spiritualist publication wrote:

 How sadly out of place, then, are the milliner and the dressmaker, the trying on of dresses and the trimming of bonnets. There is something profane in exciting the vanity of a young girl by fitting a waist, or trying on a hat, when the corpse of a father is lying in an adjoining room. It is a sacrilege to drag the widow forth from her grief to be fitted for a gown, or to select a veil. It is often terribly oppressive to the poor. The widow, left desolate with a half dozen little children, the family means already reduced by the long sickness of the father, must draw on her scanty purse to buy a new wardrobe throughout for herself and her children, throwing away the goodly stock of garments already prepared, when she most likely knows not where she is to get bread for those little ones. Truly may fashion be called a tyrant, when it robs a widow of her last dollar. Surely your sorrow will not be questioned, even if you should not call in the milliner to help display it. Do not in your affliction help uphold a custom which will turn the afflictions of your poorer neighbour to deeper poverty, as well as sorrow. The Spiritual Magazine, Vol. 5, January 1870: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil has previously posted about the sartorial excesses of enthusiastic widows in “The Mourner a la Mode,” “The Mourning Boudoir,” and a cutting dialogue between pieces of mourning stationary over their mistress’s grief or lack thereof.  The latter two pieces and similar stories of the happily bereaved, as well as widow jokes and discussions of funerary excess may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Mourning Clothes as a Source of Infection: 1877

birmingham mourning warehouse 1877

MOURNING CLOTHES AS A SOURCE OF INFECTION.

BY HENRY R. HATHERLY. Medical Officer of Health, Lenton.

I should not presume to call the attention of your readers to the possibility, not to say probability, of infection being disseminated by the use of hired mourning clothes, if it were not that this possible source of infection appears to have been altogether overlooked by sanitarians and health officers.

My attention was first called to this subject some time since. I was visiting a poor person’s child suffering from scarlet fever; the case was an isolated one in the midst of a densely populated neighbourhood and my efforts were at once directed to the discovery of the source of infection. On investigation I could only find one likely source of infection, viz., that an aunt of the child had been to the funeral of a scarlet-fever patient, had returned home with the mourning clothes on, and had taken the child on her knees to nurse it. The aunt unhesitatingly attributed the infection to having neglected to exchange her mourning for her every day clothes. In fact the original idea that mourning clothes could convey infection was hers not mine. I am not inclined to place much reliance upon the opinions of the working classes on sanitary matters, especially when such opinions are the results of attempts to reason, but, when such people do not reason or attempt to reason, a sort of natural instinct will often lead them to very accurate conclusions. I have no doubt that in this particular instance the woman was right; knowledge of the social customs of her own class led her to detect a source of danger which I had not until then suspected. By a few questions I elicited the fact that the practice of hiring mourning clothes for funerals was common amongst the working classes in my district.

By subsequent inquiries I ascertained the following facts:

  1. That palls, scarves, hoods, and other mourning finery are hired from the undertakers.
  2. That certain shopkeepers hire out mourning dresses and suits.
  3. That the practice of borrowing clothes from one another prevails largely amongst the poorer classes.

I can vouch for these three practices being common in my district, and have little doubt that similar customs will be found to exist in other poor districts, by anyone sufficiently interested to inquire.

If a modern Asmodeus could follow the travels of some of these hired garments, he might introduce us to some strange scenes and to some strange people, we might see some of the darkest phases of human misery, some of the most grotesque forms of expressing sorrow for the dead, and some of the most unwholesome social customs; the sanitarian might have many strange facts disclosed bearing more or less upon public health.

Amongst the very poor, comforts and even necessaries during life have to make way for the requirements of a decent burial. I have frequently been surprised at the inconsistent display of pomp at the funeral of a pauper, who had died in the workhouse, but whose relatives shrank from the last disgrace of a pauper funeral. How to reconcile the so-called ‘ decent burial’ to very limited means is a social problem which has been solved by the mutual kindly feeling of the poor towards each other in times of trouble, and by the practice of hiring instead of buying mourning. To the initiated a good funeral need cost but a very small sum.

It is not my wish to expatiate upon the desirability of simple and inexpensive funerals, especially for the very poor, but rather to show that many mysterious outbreaks of infectious disease may be accounted for by the practices alluded to above.

Such a train of circumstances as the following are far from infrequent in my district: one or more members of the same family are afflicted with scarlet fever, measles, or some other infectious disease, a bed is made up in the ordinary day room for convenience of the mother who has other duties besides those of nurse to perform. One child dies and arrangements are made for a funeral. The guests assemble clothed in hired or borrowed mourning in the very room where another living child is still a centre of infection. The funeral over, the mourning is returned to the owners and lenders without disinfection. This is not a fanciful case, and I could multiply examples if there were any advantage in so doing.

Having now pointed out a possible, and in my opinion a very probable and frequent source of infection, I will briefly refer to the practical question which more immediately concerns the medical officer of health, viz., how to guard against the danger. This question is not so easily answered as might at first sight appear. The 126th clause of the Public Health Act gives ample legal powers, but legal proceedings should be the last resource of preventive medicine.

In some districts hospitals exist to which infectious cases can be removed, and means of disinfection are provided at the public expense, but a vast number of sanitary authorities have not hitherto taken any steps in either direction.

Assuming that means of isolation and disinfection are both provided, the next difficulty, probably the greatest, is to prevail upon the poorer classes who are most concerned to avail themselves of them. A singular affection is often developed by illness towards those who in health may have been sadly

neglected; parents refuse positively to allow their children to be removed from their care, and cannot be persuaded to part with them for a time, however much it may be for their own good. This circumstance I frequently observed during the last small-pox epidemic. About two years since I was required to visit a woman who had just been delivered, and I had the greatest possible difficulty in procuring the removal of a child suffering from malignant scarlet fever, who was actually in the same bed.

Again, as regards disinfection, there seems to be a want of faith in its efficacy, perhaps, with too good reason in many instances. Poor people will run any risk of infection rather than sacrifice useful garments. They are fully alive to the value of clothing, but are sceptical as to the value of disinfection. It seems to me, therefore, that whatever system of disinfection is adopted, the materials submitted must be neither injured nor destroyed.

If compulsory powers as regards isolation and disinfection were exercised, especially at the very inopportune time of a funeral, they would be met by concealment and a secret stubborn resistance. A woman who candidly admitted to me that her son’s trousers had been out at funerals for a fortnight, would not have made such an admission had I previously explained to her the possible penalties which might have been incurred under the 126th section of the Public Health Act. I believe that one or two successful prosecutions would render it almost impossible in a district to obtain the necessary evidence for future ones.

I hold strongly that the first steps towards stamping out the spread of any infectious disease should be taken by the sanitary authority. Means for isolation and systematic thorough disinfection ought to exist in every district and combination of small districts. Then undertakers and second-hand clothes dealers ought to be cautioned against lending or selling any clothing likely to have become infected, and prosecuted if wilfully careless. The private lending system amongst neighbours and friends would be still a difficulty; free disinfection (without injury to the garments) might be urged by handbills or other means. I trust that these few remarks, however crude and imperfect, may suffice to direct the attention of other health officers to the subject of mourning clothes as a source of infection, and I think it more than probable that in addition to ordinary zymotic disease, some forms of skin and parasitic disease, and even venereal disease, may be traced to funeral customs amongst the lower classes.

The Sanitary Record, Vol. 6, 1877 pp. 67-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil dislikes contradicting a district Medical Officer, but fears that Dr Hatherly’s education has been neglected if he believes it likely that venereal diseases may be acquired from hired garments. Nothing is impossible in this world, (and Mrs Daffodil can, regrettably, envision a person with inadequate undergarments donning hired trousers) but although small-pox and the plague have been passed via textiles, the likelihood of catching the pox from a mourning veil is so slight as to be non-existent.  Dr Hatherly, with his contempt for the reasoning powers of the lower classes, seems to have a bee in his (mourning) bonnet.

Even the “lower classes” felt pressure to conform to the rituals of “upper-class mourning.” Households often went into debt to furnish themselves with proper mourning costume and there was much clucking from the philanthropic classes over mourning excesses committed in the name of propriety. However, some widows were bullied into compliance, as in this example:

A superior servant, a mere girl, married a house-painter. Within a year of the event the husband fell from a ladder and was killed. The poor little widow bought a cheap black dress and a very simple black straw hat to wear at the funeral. Her former employer, who had much commended this modest outlay, met the girl a few days later swathed in crape, her poor little face only half visible under the hideous widow’s bonnet complete with streamers and a veil… She explained that her neighbours and relations had made her life unbearable because she did not want to wear widow’s weeds and at last she had to give in. “They said that if I would not wear a bonnet, it proved we were never married,” she sobbed.  Funeral Customs, their Origin and Development, Bertram S. Puckle, (London: T. Warner Laurie, 1926)

Mourning warehouses and hired clothing were not the only ways to aquire mourning dress. Lou Taylor, in her admirable book, Mourning Dress, A Costume and Social History, tells of a simple black wool dress, shawl and bonnet, which the Dockers Union, London, loaned out to members’ widows from 1880 to 1914.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

For more about mourning costume, ritual, and oddities see  The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape. Various excerpts from the book may be found on this site under the topic of “mourning.”