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Death Becomes Her at The Anna Wintour Costume Center: remembering style through a century of mourning

“Black has generally been worn for a long time past that it is not always easy to distinguish between those who are in mourning and those who are not. It is an economical dress and imparts an air of refinement where it would otherwise be lacking.”–Arthur’s Home Magazine, 1885

While stumbling around the Met yesterday checking out the Cubism exhibit I by accident walked into the latest showcase at the Anna Wintour Costume Center (Gallery 980-981) that completely caught my eye with the  exquisite entrance display alone (see main image). Death Becomes Her showcases the evolution of mourning styles from 1815-1915: cloaks and lace, veils, corded skirts, etc.

I wear black almost everyday, so I don’t ever really second guess my colorless scheme that literally goes with anything and makes for a pretty convenient wardrobe. But back in the old days, I’m talking 19th century Europe when the life expectancy was only merely 50 years of age having much to do with The Great War, there were frequent long periods of mourning among European women and families. Meaning: women would wear black for long periods of time –sometimes even going years wearing the darker garments that later evolved with splashes of color towards the beginning of the 20th century.


“Mourning garments have this use, that they are a shield to the real mourner, and they are often a curtain of respectability to the person who should be a mourner but is not.” —Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood, Manners and Social Usages, 1887


The exhibit will be on display at the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Met until February 1.

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.