Monday, October 20, 2014


Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire press preview at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Black ball gowns and bereavement become the focal point of Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, the new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Originally an exploration of the "little black dress," the idea has since evolved to showcase the glorious garb of grief during 19th century Europe and America. Melancholy mannequins in white wigs wear mourning attire, many of which are exhibited for the first time. Quotes relating to the somber subject are projected on the walls around the display. Visit the Anna Wintour Costume Institute at the MET Museum from October 21st to February 1, 2015 to enjoy the ensemblage of death's ritualistic étiquette and fashion. Keep reading for a look inside Monday morning's press preview (Please be patient as the photos load!)...

Introductory wall in the stairwell leading to the exhibit

"Mourning dress served as a visual symbol of grief and of respect for the deceased while simultaneously demonstrating the wearer's status, taste and level of propriety." 
--MET Museum press release

 3 Variations of mourning dress

In somber spirits, mourning dress is traditionally black, emphasizing the wearer's sorrow and evidencing his or her taste and class. Yet beyond symbolizing death and despair, mourning garb projects an acceptance of death and serves as a symbol of remembrance. Undeniably so, mourning dress captures a measure of mystery and glamour. There is elegance, femininity and a hint of sensuality in the long gloves, laced veils and taught corsets of Victorian style dresses.

Mourning Choker 

"My mourning has been quite an inconvenience to me, this summer. I had just spent all the money I coupe afford for my summer clothes, and was forced to spend $30 more for black dresses. The black clothes, however seem to me very idle things, and I shall leave word that no one shall wear them for me."
--Julia Ward Howe

Evening Dress (ca. 1861) front view

Over the years, mourning practices evolved from long periods of seclusion during the Victorian era to shorter stints as mass casualties from World War I made prolonged mourning seem unsustainable and unpatriotic. While black remains the color of choice for grieving, grey and mauve is introduced into the color palette as an individual emerges from his/her sorrow. If you visit, be sure to stop by the adjoining room, where  trinkets and tidbits continue the conversation around grief.  

Evening dress (ca. 1861) back view

 Drawings of bereavement wear 

 Henriette Favre (French) Evening Dress (ca. 1902) commissioned by Queen Alexandra

Long dresses with sleeves and layers

 American Mourning dress (ca. 1867)

Small waist, big sleeves

Photography Album--the carte de visite was popularized in the late 1850s by André Adolphe Eugéne Disdéri

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