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Silk and Tears: Mourning in the Regency Era

Mourning in the Regency era involved a strict set of rules to adhere by. Following the nuances showed respect for the dearly departed. One stayed within a mourning period laid out depending on the relation, wore certain clothes, and stayed within seclusion.

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Considering mortality and death expectancies, one could see why these rules were set for a society so encumbered with death. Average life expectancies were only at 40 years-old in the Regency era, while 15 percent of infants passed away before reaching their first year.

 

For the passing of a loved one, mourning periods were longer. These periods lessened with the more distance between relations. For example, a spouse mourned for a year, whereas one mourned two weeks for a cousin.

 

During the mourning period, one was required to live in seclusion. One stayed separate from society. For the wealthy and the peerage, this often meant staying at their country estate and away from London. The mourning period was also divided into two parts. There was the full mourning period and the half mourning period.

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It was customary to wear black during the period of full mourning. Wealthier individuals could afford the fashions depicted in the fashion magazines, such as Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle Assemblée, or Lady’s Monthly Museum. Those without money died their everyday clothes black. Those of the middle class, over time, were able to afford premade mourning outfits, rather than resort to dying or altering a wardrobe, because of the emergence of mass production. However, the poorest of the poor rarely owned more than one or two sets of clothes. They couldn’t follow the rules of mourning out of lacking wealth.

 

The next period of mourning, half mourning, saw the shades lighten. One could wear grays, purples, and lavenders. White was also an option, as it was a symbol of mourning in the medieval period. Half mourning helped one transition into the brighter colors acceptable for those not grieving, hence the somewhat vibrant colors. Still, shiny materials and fabrics were frowned upon during this period. During this time, one could also begin to emerge from his or her seclusion.

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However, because of life expectancy rates and mortality rates, mourning periods could overlap. One might go into mourning for a spouse, but have to tack on addition time for the passing of a child, parent, grandparent, or other relation. It could be years before someone finally left their mourning garb in their wardrobe.

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1 thought on “Silk and Tears: Mourning in the Regency Era”

  1. I imagine for some poorer people, these rules would at least be flexible. A baker mourning his wife and with five children to support couldn’t stop serving customers and would probably feel he couldn’t miss out on a profitable market. A servant’s ability to mourn in this way would depend on the master or mistress.

    Equally I suspect many people from the lower middle classes down went to the church servicer and then into the pub. Did it myself yesterday (not a close friend or relative in that case, though).

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