Elisa Wynn: The cost of mourning
Framed as a museum exhibit, my project examines Victorian mourning culture focusing on its impact on the lives of women from different social classes. Drawing on evidence from museum collections and stories from Victorian women, I argue that mourning and its associated material culture created both limiting and liberating experiences for women.
After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria set a new standard for mourning during her 40-year display of grief; thereafter, the death of a spouse required women to stay in mourning for approximately two years. The mourning costume, consisting of black clothing and accessories such as jewelry, veils, and parasols, served as a mandatory display of their grief. Women of lower classes often struggled to acquire the necessary garments to participate in mourning and had to dye or borrow clothing, while upper class women typically had easier access to the necessary garments, commonly coming into funds from their spouse.
Though the rules of mourning certainly set some limitations for all women, their social status defined their overall quality of life following the death of a spouse. Having the chance to create an ensemble alongside my research allowed me to truly understand the amount of work and detail put into each garment, even the dresses for women of lower classes. It’s something that you can’t quite grasp until you’re doing it yourself, but it’s such a rewarding process at the end of the day.