The Victorian Era - in tandem with the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria - lasted throughout most of the 19th century. The Victorian period isn't exactly known for its go-with-the-flow attitude about social convention, and it's probably no surprise that death and mourning were not exempt from a set of strict rules of decorum. During this time period, elaborate mourning rituals became the norm, to the point of socially shaming those who didn't follow these highly regimented grief practices. Some of these rituals, such as having meals after funerals and surrounding the body of the dead with flowers, are still practiced today; while other of the death practices, some quite odd indeed, faded away after the end of the era.
Jewelry Was Made From The Hair Of The Dead
When it came to memorializing the dead, the Victorians were not afraid to do things that would be considered a little... unconventional by today's standards. Commemorating the dead was so popular during the Victorian Era, in fact, that portions of the deceased's hair would be clipped off and turned into brooches, lockets and wreaths. If a family wasn't particularly crafty or were too sad to create these things themselves, they could send the hair off to an artisan who would do it for them. And, in the end, human hair brooches aren't really that strange considering that this was a society that made fans out of preserved birds, contorted taxidermied cats into human poses for photographs, unwrapped mummies for fun, and made public visits to the morgue.
People Sent Out Fancy Funeral Invitations
Just like today, death notices and obituaries were published in newspapers during the Victorian Era. However, the Victorians didn't just stop there. In some cases, funeral invitations were sent out to close friends and family. This was usually done if those loved ones lived out of town and did not see the notice in the paper. The invitations were written on black-bordered stationary and sent in matching envelopes. At one point, people even petitioned the U.S. postal service to create a special "mourning stamp" for these purposes, as the usual stamps were printed in cheerful colors.
Widows Had To Be In Mourning For 2-3 Years
For the morally upright and respectable Victorian widow, there existed three distinct mourning stages, which all had to be observed before a widow could move on with her life. The first, called "deep mourning," required a widow to wear a black dress and veil (known as widow's weeds) for a year and a day after her husband's death. The next period, called "second mourning," lasted for 9-12 additional months. During this time, she could take off the veil, but still had to primarily wear black. The third and final stage, "half mourning," lasted for six months. Women in this period of mourning could wear colored clothing with black accents, but nothing too gaudy.
The Living Posed For Pictures With The Dead
Photography was developed during the mid-1800s, so it was still relatively expensive during the Victorian period. In many cases, people could not afford happy family portraits like they can today. So, when the opportunity for a photograph arose, you had to make the most of it by creating a lasting image of something truly significant in your life. One method of maximizing a photo op was to save it to take a picture with a deceased loved one to commemorate them forever. When a loved one died, family members would come up with the money have a picture taken with the deceased. This would often be the only photo that existed of their now fractured family.