Mourning bonnet

Victorian mourning bonnet

family mourning dyed every weeka?? a cheaper way of meeting the strict rules of mourning on a budget

The ‘rules’ about the wear and colour of mourning clothing were rigid and especially so for widows. Mourning clothing for widows was initially unrelieved black but as time passed this was changed to subdued colours such as grey and lavender. Some widows like Queen Victoria wore mourning (in her case black) for the rest of her life after her consort Prince Albert died.

Besides clothing there was a whole series of other mourning accessories - mourning jewellery was popular often made of jet and could feature a lock of hair of the deceased. This jewellery might be brooches, bracelets, pendants or rings.

Stationery and mourning cards were popular too all with black banding to the edges- including the envelope.

Local businesses advertised their services. For the wealthier mourner,  Charles Rogers of High Street Southampton, linen draper 'would advise he sells every requisite for family mourning in great variety’. For the less well off J Carter, silk, cotton and line dyer advertised ‘family mourning dyed every week’ a cheaper way of meeting the strict rules of mourning on a budget.

This bonnet is actually black, but has been especially lit in the image to highlight the detail.

Quick Facts

  • Date made Late Victorian
  • Accession number 1983.13
  • Made of Black muslin laid over wire frame and padding. Black satin ribbons and trim. Black satin and white muslin lining.
  • Dimensions Length 200mm, Width 190mm Height 64mm, Trailing ribbons length 538mm


  • In Victorian times, there were degrees of mourning. Full mourning for a husband by a widow was the strictest. For a year and a day she wore a black dress and mantle of bombazine, a mixture of silk and wool. The dress had to be almost completely covered with crape (aka crepe). Crape was a silk fabric that had been treated so that it was totally without lustre. There could be no hint of shine in anything worn by the widow. There were no trimmings allowed at all. No shiny buttons, no buckles on her shoes, no jewellery except her wedding ring and mourning jewellery made of jet. The widow had to wear a mourning bonnet with a widow's cap and a crape veil. She wrote all her letters on black bordered paper.
  • After 12 months and one day, the widow could replace her crape covered dress with a black silk one, trimmed with crape. After about another half year of mourning, the crape could be left off and plain black worn. Two years after her husband's death, the widow could go into half‐mourning. The colours allowed were grey, lavender, mauve, violet or black, grey and white stripes. She could wear half‐mourning jewellery ‐ pearls and amethysts.
  • Some widows never went into half mourning and wore black for the rest of their lives.
  • During the first year of mourning, the widow had no social life. She could not go to parties, dinners or the theatre and it was considered bad taste to even be seen in public.
  • After one year, the widow could resume her social life, but she had to do so very gradually. The power of public opinion was strong and a widow who was thought to not show proper respect to the memory of her dead husband faced being socially ostracized.


Did you know?

Mourning for men was much simpler. They wore a black mourning band on the sleeve of their coats for about 6 months and could take part in social occasions much sooner than could a widow.

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