Death in the Victorian Era part 2: ‘Widow’s Waeds’
Victorian period clothing worn by women “Women’s Waed’s” (Waed’s being the Old English term for Garment), were generally black in colour, symbolising the lack of light and life in death.
Usually the clothing featured a bonnet made of crape with a veil over the face (the spelling of crape, with an “a” signifies mourning)
A widow would mourn for two and half years.
Widow’s would wear her ‘weeds’, coloured black for a year and a day to signify her loss, after this sections of her crape garment would be removed and sometimes replaced with lace or silk, and trimmings of ribbons might be added to their clothing.
In the final six months of mourning, a widow would then begin to wear subdued colours other than black, blues and greys being the most common. These changes would happen very gradually, but signify her end of mourning come soon.
Eventually, right near the end of mourning, the widow may stop wearing black entirely, but still wear subdued colours, which small trims of colours could be added too via ornamentation of her clothing through ribbons, bows, rosettes and buttons. These ‘ornamental’ aspects of her clothing could include much richer colours than the blacks and subdued colours from previous months, including purples and creams.
A widower on the other hand would mourn for a year. A widowers clothing including a black suit, black gloves and necktie, some gentlemen would also include black cuff links, black silk lined hats, scarfs and kerchiefs.
The Gentleman’s Weeds ornamentation's vary depending on the relationship of the male to the person who has died. He will only wear his ‘weeds’ as long as the females of his household wear them.
A child in mourning also wears black clothing, in the vein of the parents.
The importance of mourning weeds grew to become monumental after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Loyal subjects of the royal Family took their inspiration from Queen Victoria who wore her Widows Weeds until her own death in 1901, which in turn began the Edwardian Era.
It was World War One that changed the Victorian Era standard for mourning a death, with so many people dying, it become the norm for almost everyone to be wearing their ‘weeds’. World War two only amplified the change to traditions.
The influence of the Victorian Era, however, is still felt today. It is the social standard in the current age to wear black or dark clothing to a funeral, or to wear the clothing that the deceased loved one admired, such as band shirts etc. It is seen as more important today though, to attend a funeral than to wear the formalities of suits and widows weeds of the past.
Next Week: Death in the Victorian Era part 3: Funeral Customs and Superstitions