“Death Becomes Her–A Century of Mourning Attire,” is now on display at The Metropolitan Museum. Running through February 1, 2015, it displays extraordinary mourning costumes, mostly for women, and related accessories, which were in use for the century between 1815 and 1915.
These are mostly high end outfits–courtesy of the Met’s Costume Institute. Many of the mourning dresses are from the Brooklyn Museum’s collections, which were given to the Met several years ago.
There are dresses worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra–as well as high fashion worn by some of the world’s richest women. Much of it is black–which has long been associated with mourning. As Harold Koda, curator in charge of The Costume Institute, who created the exhibition with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan, remarked, “The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes.” But, the exhibition also includes some wonderful relief: spectacular examples of gowns in other colors, introduced late in this era, including mauves and grays.
Jewelry and accessories-a brooch here, a parasol there–complement the gowns to create 30 ensembles–many of which have never been on exhibition before.
According to the assistant curator, Jessica Regan, fashion in mourning clothing was very much a top down situation: “Elaborate standards of mourning set by royalty spread across class lines via fashion magazines and the prescribed clothing was readily available for purchase through mourning ‘warehouses’ that proliferated in European and American cities by mid-century.”
Costumes of both ostentatious ornamentation and restrained simplicity are on display.
The costumes are supplemented by photographs, fashion plates, and more. It is well worth a trip. But wear something colorful!