Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year!...but not in 1811, 1818, or 1819 (and 1820 was pretty lousy too)

Happy New Year to all our readers! Regina and I hope that 2015 will be an historic year for all of you (pun fully intended)!

For the House of Hanover, though, which held the British throne for much of the 18th and 19th centuries, several new years in the early 1800s were not very happy: Novembers and Januarys in particular saw the deaths of several prominent members of the royal family.

And of course, the death of a member of the royal family meant that polite society went into mourning as well. While early nineteenth mourning had not become the extreme pastime it would under Victoria, the expectation was that black would be worn by those who could afford it for a few months, followed by a period of half-mourning. Rules for immediate family members were of course different—mourning was prescribed for a year and a day for spouses, a year for parents or children, six moths for siblings, and lesser amounts of time for aunts, uncles, and cousins. This meant some scrambling as the “little black dress” had not yet been invented: you didn't necessarily have much in the way of black clothing, for black was very specifically the color of mourning. While mourning dress was not much of a hardship for men, who already possessed black clothing, for women it meant hurried trips to the dressmaker for new dresses and accessories (imagine how busy the high society modistes and milliners must have been when royals died!) or making over and/or dyeing an older garment for women of more modest means (there are several references to this activity among the letter of Jane Austen.)

Additionally, the rise of fashion periodicals helped popularize the wearing of a special mourning wardrobe. Let’s have a look at what was en vogue in mourning wear in Ackermann’s Repository.

Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George III, died in early November 1810 in her late twenties after a long bout with tuberculosis. It’s thought her death exacerbated her father’s descent into his final illness which led to the Regency. As a daughter of the monarch, she seems to have merited only a month of public mourning as January's prints are back to normal.  Note the decorative urn, often a symbol of mourning, with a coronet and picture of a young woman on it. Interesting to note that our model is wearing white gloves; perhaps full mourning was not prescribed? (Ackermann's, December 1810):

Princess Charlotte of Wales, Prinny’s only daughter, died after a terrible two-day labor in November 1817, probably of childbed fever. National mourning for her was deep and sincere, and public mourning seems to have been decreed for two months, as per the prints from December 1817 and January 1818, all from Ackermann's Repository:

In the prints from January 181 below, note the addition of white and gray to the color palette. This denotes half-mourning, when these plus quiet shades of purple and lavender could be properly worn.

Queen Charlotte followed her beloved grand-daughter almost exactly a year later in November 1818. Her death was not unexpected as she had been ill for some time. It's especially interesting to note here that the styles themselves were in the highest fashion--the enormous bonnets and decorative hems that were such a feature of the year--but just rendered in black.

And into half-mourning, for January 1819:

January 1820 was a bad month indeed, as the Duke of Kent, father of the future Queen Victoria, succumbed to pneumonia only to be followed less than a week later by his father, King George III...and the Prince Regent became King George IV.


Donna Hatch said...

I love seeing fashion prints from that era. So many pretty things. And I can see that the beginnings of a more Victorian style with larger bonnets and larger sizes and amounts of ribbons are already starting to creep into fashion.

Marissa Doyle said...

Some of this foreshadows the extreme fashions of the first half of the 1830s, but by the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the heavily ornamented skirts and crazy sleeves widths had evaporated, and ornamentation was much reduced. The fashion plates I have from the 1840s are downright dull!