Mourning as an Aid to Household Economy: 1893

Need to economise? Put the entire family into mourning!

Need to economise? Put the entire family into mourning!

A curious ruse de guerre, which is said to have been actually perpetrated in the fashionable world not long since, is recorded by a writer in the Tribune.

It seems that a certain business man found it suddenly necessary to curtail his very large family expenses, and, at the same time, he was particularly anxious, for financial reasons, that there should be no appearance of retrenchment. Unfortunately, it so happened that his wife had just issued invitations for a large and expensive ball, to be followed by a series of dinners; moreover, she had a younger daughter to bring out. The head of the house groaned in spirit as he mentally calculated the cost of a winter’s round of gayety for his womankind. His wife, however, was a woman of resource; on being made acquainted with his dilemma, she promptly rose to the occasion. “I tell you what we will do,” she exclaimed; “we will go into mourning.”

“Into what?” gasped her astonished husband.

“Mourning, I said.” continued his spouse, complacently; “I think it is the only thing we can do; as my people are Western, we can easily manage it, and no one will be the wiser. I will send out cards and countermand my invitations. I will buy a black gown, and the girls shall wear black and white all winter and go only to the smallest entertainments, and. I daresay, they will have a much better time than when struggling for partners at the big balls. As for me, I shall enjoy it beyond everything.”

Now, after all, it is only a fib that harms nobody and does us a lot of good,” concluded this fin-de-siecle dame, who successfully carried her point, put her family into mourning, and withdrew gracefully from society and its requirements for the time being.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 23 January 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is on her feet applauding the sturdy (and uncommon) common-sense of this resourceful help-meet. Society was a demanding mistress: rounds of calls, the proper clothes, balls and banquets, an army of servants, several residences in the correct neighbourhoods, trips to fashionable watering-places, &c., &c., &c.  One wonders how many people used the same device when their domestic coffers ran low?

See the “Mourning” category for Mrs Daffodil’s other posts on mourning costumes and customs.  See also The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a collection of mourning ephemera and oddities, or, as Mrs Woodyard alliterates on the back cover: Coffins, Corpses, and Crape.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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