Mourning is, in the simplest sense, synonymous with grief over the death of someone.
The word is also used to describe a cultural complex of behaviours in which the bereaved participate or are expected to participate. Customs vary between different cultures and evolve over time, though many core behaviors remain constant.
Wearing black clothes is one practice followed in many countries, though other forms of dress are also seen. Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behaviour. People may also follow certain religious traditions for such occasions.
Mourning may also apply to the death of, or anniversary of the death of, an important individual like a local leader, monarch, religious figure etc. State mourning may occur on such an occasion. In recent years some traditions have given way to less strict practices, though many customs and traditions continue to be followed.
The custom of wearing unadorned black clothing for mourning dates back at least to the Roman Empire, when the toga pulla, made of dark-colored wool, was worn during periods of mourning.
Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, distinctive mourning was worn for general as well as personal loss; after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Huguenots in France, Elizabeth I of England and her court are said to have dressed in full mourning to receive the French Ambassador. Women in mourning and widows wore distinctive black caps and veils, generally in a conservative version of the current fashion.
|Victorian practices connected with Egyptian and Greek mourning.|
In areas of Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, widows will wear black for the rest of their lives. The immediate family members of the deceased will wear black for an extended period of time. Since the 1970s some current mourning practices for some cultures, even those who have emigrated to the United States, are to wear black for a period of at least two years, though lifelong black for widows remains in Europe.
Greek women mourning the loss of their men and boys murdered by Communist guerrillas
who came through their Macedonian town .1947
The Dowager Queen Olga of the Hellenes in 1920. She is wearing white mourning and a portrait of her husband around her neck.
Mary, Queen of Scots, in deuil blanc c. 1559 following the deaths of her father-in-law, mother, and first husband Francis II of France.
The color of deepest mourning among medieval European queens was white. In 1393, Parisians were treated to the unusual spectacle of a royal funeral carried out in white, for Leo V, King of Armenia, who died in exile.
This royal tradition survived in Spain until the end of the fifteenth century. In 1993, it was revived by the Spanish-born Queen Fabiola for the funeral of her husband, King Baudouin I of Belgium. Additionally, in 2004, the four daughters of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands all wore white to their mother's funeral. The custom for the Queens of France to wear deuil blanc [white mourning] was the origin of the White Wardrobe created in 1938 by Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). She was required to make a State visit to France while in mourning for her mother.
By the 19th century, mourning behaviour in England had developed into a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes. For women, the customs involved wearing heavy, concealing, black clothing, and the use of heavy veils of black crêpe. The entire ensemble was colloquially known as "widow's weeds" (from the Old English "Waed" meaning "garment").
Special caps and bonnets, usually in black or other dark colors, went with these ensembles.
There was special mourning jewelry, often made of jet and with the hair of the deceased in a locket or brooch.
The wealthy could also wear cameos or lockets designed to hold a lock of the deceased's hair or some similar relic.
Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the decedent and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity.
Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods; such stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar descriptions. At half mourning, gray and lavender could be introduced.
Mourning was worn for six months for a sibling.
Parents would wear mourning for a child for "as long as they feel so disposed". A widow was supposed to wear mourning for two years and was not supposed to enter society for twelve months. No lady or gentleman in mourning was supposed to attend balls. Amongst polite company, the wearing of simply a black arm band was seen as appropriate only for military men (or others compelled to wear uniform in the course of their duties). Wearing a black arm band instead of proper mourning clothes was seen as a degradation of proper etiquette and to be avoided.
Men were expected to wear mourning suits (not to be confused with morning suits) of black frock coats with matching trousers and waistcoats. Later, in the inter-war period, as the frock coat became increasingly rare, the mourning suit consisted of a black morning coat with black trousers and waistcoat, essentially a black version of the morning suit worn to weddings and other occasions, which would normally include colored waistcoats and striped or checked trousers.
Formal mourning culminated during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Victoria may have had much to do with the practice, owing to her long and conspicuous grief over the death of her husband, Prince Albert. The year 1862 was a very good one for merchants of grief. Prince Albert, beloved consort of Queen Victoria, had died the previous December, and his bereft widow declared that the period of public mourning should be "the longest term in modern times." Members of the royal household would not appear in public without their all-black clothes for a year, while she intended to wear her widow weeds for the rest of her life. And except for occasionally donning white lace, ermine, diamonds and pearls for official functions, that is exactly what she did until her own death in 1901.
Victoria's obsessive love for Albert, her pathological reaction to his death and the 40 years she spent commemorating him, sparking a craze for mourning-related memorabilia including fashionable jet jewelry.
1. Queen Victoria with the five surviving children of her daughter, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, dressed in mourning clothing for their mother and their sister Princess Marie in early 1879.
2. The five daughters of Albert, Prince Consort wore black dresses and posed for a portrait with his statue following his death in 1861.
Fashions began to be more functional and less restrictive for the succeeding Edwardians, appropriate dress for men and women, including that for the period of mourning, was still strictly prescribed and rigidly adhered to. The rules were gradually relaxed, and acceptable practice for both sexes became to dress in dark colors for up to a year after a death in the family.
By the late 20th century, this no longer applied. Black had been widely adopted by women in cities as a fashionable color.