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Mourning Rituals & Etiquette: The Victorians’ Morbid Obsession with Death

In the Victorian Era, when the child mortality rate was high, death was a part of everyday life. That doesn’t mean it was easy, so certain rules and rituals grew into being to help the bereaved properly cope with the loss of a loved one. Following the social rules was easier than making decisions for someone going through the fog of mourning, but some of those Victorian customs seem particularly stifling today, such as the rules demanding black clothing for the family of the deceased.   

A black ribbon was even tied to their undergarments, and only after the first 12 months of the mourning period ended could they start to wear other colours – and even then, it was only violet, lavender or mauve. Widows wore mourning clothes for no less than two years, and children would occasionally be included in the traditions, though they would typically wear white.

With death coming so frequently, mourning clothes were in high demand. In 1841, Jay’s of Regent Street was one of the premiere suppliers of such garments, enjoying a booming business fueled in part by high mortality rates coupled with the belief that keeping mourning clothes after the mourning period had ended was bad luck.

That sounds quite expensive, but it was a way of showing how much you loved the deceased, and variance from the rules could make one a victim of scorn and gossip. Read more about the rituals and etiquette surrounding death in the Victoria Era at Urban Ghosts.

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