Opinion | Pop Culture

Dressed for Death: The History of Funeral Fashion

Looking back to when mourning attire was as heavy and dark as grief itself.
Dressed for Death: The History of Funeral Fashion

Most of the time, a room full of people in New York City dressed head-to-toe in black wouldn't be something to talk about. Unless you find yourself basement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrounded by an exhibition of mourning clothes called "Death Becomes Her."

The Anna Wintour Costume Center, a new wing of the museum named for Vogue’s iconic editor-in-chief, opened in May and currently displays the black gowns worn by mourners between 1815 and 1915, including a gown worn by Queen Victoria. The room is small and dark, and a person could get claustrophobic from staying there for too long. In that sense, it’s a little like the experience of mourning itself.

Mourning and special clothing have long gone together, dating back to biblical times, when the bereft wore sackcloth. We might imagine it as something like burlap, but it was actually made of goat hair. Wearing sackcloth was an outward expression of the inward reality of grief; it is a direct antecedent ...

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