Dec 1, 2013

Black Wasn't Always for Mourning

Despite the current fashion domination of the Little Black Dress, there is a modern tendency to think any black clothing from 'olden times' must have been  intended for mourning purposes. Now there were a lot of mourning clothing. No doubt about it. Infant mortality rates, shorter life spans, little workplace safety, and the state of medical practice meant there was a lot more early death in families to deal with in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. And yes, there were companies that specialized in Victorian mourning wear - advertising their ability to outfit entire households and their servants on a moment's notice. And yes, there was a cult of mourning in the Victorian era, with gradations of accepted mourning wear. Crepe was the fabric of mourning. It said grief clearly. Not the crepe used in dresses in the 30s and 40s, but mourning crepe, a semi sheer, crepe finish silk fabric with a lot of body that was used for veils, trimmings, armbands, hat bands, and even entire dresses. 

That said, black was, just as it still is, a fashion color. It's dramatic. When deployed with discrimination, it is eye catching. It's a great accent, especially in accessories  and jewelry. It gives an edge to pastels, and works with almost every other color. What would white Teens dresses be without a wide black hat?  

So how do you tell if a black hat is a mourning hat? It's very hard to be definitive. Unless it actually has mourning crepe on it, or a decor that states something along the line of In Memoriam, it's very hard to say. So that's why I didn't call this a mourning hat. It has braid and dull chiffon, but it also has a satin rosette and a perky flower. There was a time, well within the era of this hat, that ladies of a certain age shifted to wearing dark colors, whether they were widows or not. So it's my best guess that this c. 1902 -07 hat was a fashion hat.
1900s Edwardian Antique Hat in Black Braid and Chiffon
Currently available at Past Perfect Vintage

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