Clear 29° Good Morning
Clear 29° Good Morning

'Death Becomes Her': Exploring mourning fashions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the depths of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Anna Wintour Costume Center takes on a funereal-like atmosphere for "Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire," a new exhibition that explores the fashions and traditions dictated by American and European society from 1815 to 1915.

While a somber requiem fills the windowless space, haunting shadows pass over projected excerpts of women's fashion magazines, letters and diary entries from 19th century women.

These excerpts, which provide details of the etiquette enforced upon women, complement the 30 ensembles on display.

The gowns featured belonged to everyday and aristocratic women, as well as historical figures such as Queen Alexandra and Queen Victoria, who famously spent 40 years mourning the untimely death of her husband, Prince Albert, wearing billowing "widow's weeds" (as the attire was known at the time).

The exhibition also showcases accessories, including hats and jewelry, made for mourning.

These ensembles, which were often exquisitely intricate, allowed a woman to express her grief, though their oppressive nature is evident -- and indicative of the time, when widows in particular were forced to endure extensive mourning periods.

Not to be missed is the Charles Dana Gibson series, "A Widow and Her Friends," published in LIFE magazine between 1900 and 1901, which satirizes the frustrating life of a young lady in mourning.

News photos & videos