The Attire of Mourning

There’s been a lot of posts on social media about the mourning attire worn by member of the British Royal Family at Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday. Posts about the dresses and the morning suits and the jewelry.

Mourning Dress of Empress Maria Feodorovna, House of Worth, late 19th century, State Hermitage Museum (ЭРТ-9461)

Mourning and mourning dress was an important part of life in the 19th century. One of the most notable examples of mourning is Queen Victoria. She wore black from the death of Prince Albert in 1861 until her death in 1901 as a show of mourning for her beloved prince. I doubt Queen Elizabeth will follow her great great grandmother’s example but she may wear black for a few months.

Today black isn’t even required for a funeral anymore and the mourning period is a thing of the past. But mourning attire was strictly enforced in the 19th century and a year of mourning was not unheard of for a widow.

When the Breckinridges arrived in Saint Petersburg in November 1894, Tsar Alexander III had just died and the strict rules of mourning were in place. KCB writes in a number of her letters about her lack of mourning attire. I know the Tsar’s death was unexpected but I’ve always thought it odd that KCB didn’t bring along a black dress. Or have one ordered during her shopping in London, Paris and Berlin. Someone was bound to die while they were in Saint Petersburg. Even if is was just another member of Diplomatic Corps.

“On this occasion [the Ceremonies] have issued directions to all the Diplomatic Corps…directing mourning for a year, with slight changes each quarter. Specifying the kind of goods to be worn, the length of the train, the amount of crepe, the shape of the sleeve, the shape of the bonnet and how far back to be worn etc. etc”

– Katherine Carson Breckinridge, Saint Petersburg, November 12, 1894

“I am sorry [Tsar Alexander] is dead for more reasons than one. One of them however which affects me personally is that I must put on black. I never was more surprised than when told this. Not only black but heavy black crepe including a vail (sic)… [I bought] several pretty dresses in London and Paris… unfortunately nothing black or white.”

– Katherine Carson Breckinridge, Saint Petersburg, November 12, 1894

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