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.