Garters of Funereal Black: 1909

1910 french mourning catalog merry widow

A very merry widow from a 1910 catalogue of mourning goods.

A wife, pretty enough to warrant her desire for decorative garments, wasn’t appreciated by her grouchy husband. He was kicking hard at a batch of lingerie which she was trying to make him pay attention to. She appeared before him in a film of lace.

“What do you call that?” he growled; “it looks to me like a fishnet that has caught a mermaid.”

“I’ll swear solemnly that only one idea was in my mind when I had this sent home on approval,” she sobbed. “I said to myself, how proud it’ll make my husband to see me in it—in case of a fire.”

That plea won. The man bade her keep the garment. A pair of jeweled black garters were next to be offered for his scrutiny. Their price was $10.

‘I can see why those Rhinestone diamonds catch your eye,” he grunted, “But why, oh, tell me why, have jet-black garters on flesh-tint silk stockings?”

She took to weeping to get an idea. Her gasps and moans broke him all up, and he asked what she was crying about.

“If I must tell,” she slowly said, ‘twixt sobs, “I will, though I meant to keep the secret locked within my own breast. My dear brother, who died only a few weeks ago, was a stickler for all the conventional usages of mourning, while you disapprove strongly of wearing black in token of grief. Well, there I was in a dilemma. My dear brother would want me to put on black for him, but my dear alive husband would be offended by it. I hit on a way to honor bruddy’s memory without disregarding hubby’s desire. I wouldn’t change any of my garments to the hue of mourning, but, quite unknown to all save you, me and the spirit of my departed brother, I would wear these garters of funereal black. I was caught and rended between love and duty, and I fondly hoped I had solved a complex problem sentimentally. However, if you object, then—“

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 April 1909: p. 40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only admire the lady’s talent for improvisation and her patience with that growling husband….

Calls for mourning reform from those who believed it to be unwholesome and over-costly echo down the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the husband above objected principally to the cost, although his ghost would have been greatly offended if his wife did not put on full mourning after his passing. Here is an eloquent plea for the mourning band:

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming;

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

For more on the nuances and curiosities of Victorian mourning, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

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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