Queen Victoria & Mourning

Following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria retreated from public life and remained in official mourning for forty years until her death. During this time, it became common practice for mourners to wear black for an extended period of time. The amount of black in the outfit indicated the stage of mourning. A full black garment represented full mourning, whereas small amounts of white or purple alongside the black meant half mourning. The rules of mourning dress were outlined in household manuals such as The Queen and Cassell’s. Generally, widowed women were expected to wear mourning clothes for two years, whereas other members of the family, depending on their relationship with the deceased, might only wear mourning clothes for a few weeks.

Although mourning practices have always existed, Queen Victoria had a large effect on how these customs continued to develop and how new customs became more widespread in nineteenth-century England. A new “cult of the dead” developed—a fascination with death illustrated in many aspects of life. For example, many funerals were conducted at home with the body remaining on display for a few days. One new practice that emerged was crafting art from hair. Hair does not decay, leading many women to save strands of hair to use in remembrance of their deceased loved ones. To create this art, Victorians braided hair into intricate designs and then pasted the hair together to secure it. Hair art took many forms, including wall art and wreaths, flower arrangements, and jewelry. Although this is only a single lock of hair from Victoria’s favorite stallion it demonstrates the Victorian desire to keep a memento of a loved one (or loved animal) after they pass.

Ref: Ofek, Galia. Representations of Hair in Victorian Literature and Culture. London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2009.