As I explore the wonderful vintage shops on Etsy.com (if you haven’t done this, you are missing something wonderful) I’ve run across a fascinating category of adornment: Victorian Mourning Jewelry.
Maybe it’s because I have one dear friend recently widowed, and another dealing with the frightening possibility of the death of a beloved husband, I decided to pause the features on Jewelry Artisans in order to do a little piece on this.
The Victorian age was named for England’s Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 – 1901. Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died of typhoid in 1861. During this period of forty years, the Queen was in mourning. She remained in full mourning for three years and dressed the entire court that way. This launched a fashion trend, which unfortunately, had a way of isolating a widow in her time of need. For the first year, a woman who was in mourning was not allowed to exit her home without full black attire and a weeping veil. Her activities were initially restricted to church services. A widow was expected to remain in mourning for over two years. The rules were slightly less rigid for American women. Mourning attire included black clothing, specifically, a bonnet and veil, a dress of of black crepe and a cloak, cambric handkerchiefs, linen or muslin weeping cuffs (to wipe the nose during fits of crying), and kid gloves. The color black was used to symbolize the absence of light, and in this case, life. It was an instantly recognizable sign to communicate that a loved one had departed this life. It could be that the custom was adopted from the Romans, who believed that mourners could prevent hauntings by cloaking themselves in black.
Jewelry of all manner could be worn, but it was frequently made of Jet,which is a variety of fossilized coal. Some say Jet is a stone of healing. I do not know whether this was an aspect the Victorians embraced, but one can only hope that in the act of wearing the jewelry, some comfort was found. What is certain is that the jewelry often came to be used as a way of keeping a loved one near. Often a lock of hair from the deceased was taken and woven into a knot design for a broach or augmented locket (see photograph here, of an item offered by IfindUseekVintage on Etsy.com) – this became one of the most popular forms of mourning jewelry. Today this art is prized by collectors and those who treasure their family histories and mementos.
Mourning clothing allowed Victorian women to publicly deal with their grief, and forced them to acknowledge the tragedy. It was a sort of romantic cordiality that would now be extinct, if not for the ‘Goths’ in our culture.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the post Jewelry and Feminism.
p.s. Check out an Etsy Treasury I did called ‘The Language of Mourning’ -- you can view under our profile section – posted to our Pinterest ‘Etsy Treasury’ board as well.
You may also want to look at just-listed jewelry including a skull necklace and a necklace and earrings of black Onyx and chain. All in the spirit of a tradition that might be helpful to us today, as we remember to honor those who have died during our too-busy lives, where the custom of a concerted and respectful time of mourning is all but lost.