When a 19th century woman lost a loved one to battle, disease, or any other cause, she donned a Civil War or Victorian mourning bonnet as part of her daily attire to show she was in the full mourning stage of grief. Get details about these bonnets, the customs associated with them, and where to see examples.
Wearing Victorian Mourning Bonnets
Death was a daily part of life during the Victorian era which was most of the 19th century. Besides a high infant mortality rate (one in 20 babies died before their first birthday), the life expectancy for any individual was roughly 40 years. The Civil War broke out during this century, causing even more fatalities for young men who went off to battle.
On the home front, those who lived during this time followed very strict rules of etiquette, which included women wearing specific items of clothing during the mourning period. During this time, depending on who died, a woman would deeply grieve for a period of up to one year and a day. Her wardrobe, which also consisted of mourning dresses and accessories, included two types of bonnets:
- One made of the best silk crape with a long crape veil that was worn at all times
- Another made of waterproof crape that had a long crape veil for wear outdoors during inclement weather
The black bonnet covered her entire head. The bonnet typically tied under the chin and would accompany a dress made of the same fabric. This garment would cover her entire body, sans hands and feet. Black gloves, undergarments, jewelry and shoes were also worn. When a woman moved into the second stage of grieving -- full mourning -- the crape fabric of the bonnet and dress was replaced with silk or satin. The ensemble was still primarily black although the bonnet was trimmed with white fabric, as was the cuffs and collar of her dress. In lieu of this trim in the bonnet, a white mourning cap was also worn. The veil was also shortened. Women in this stage mourned between six months and a year.
After a full two years, however, the all-black bonnet was typically put away and women entered half mourning, which typically lasted for three to six months. The bonnets, although still black in nature, had colorful and decorative highlights and no veil. Some women, especially widows, never left this stage of mourning and continued to wear the black items of clothing including the bonnet for the rest of their lives.
Finding Civil War Mourning Bonnets Today
Vintage clothing collectors would be your best at finding an authentic Victorian or Civil War mourning bonnet. Albeit a bit pricy, you can find one online at:
- eBay or other type of auction site is bound to have a few styles from each stage of mourning from which to choose
- Ruby Lane offers a mourning bonnet
You can find replicas of these bonnets at:
- Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile sells beautiful duplications of original mourning bonnets
- Originals by Kay offers a reproduction pattern for one of these bonnets
The End of an Era
Formal mourning clothing, including hats and dresses, culminated with the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Because she mourned her husband, Prince Albert, during her tenure, all of England and the United States adhered to stricter grieving traditions. However, by the middle of the 20th century, this attire became less traditional and was restricted to more social gatherings outside of the workplace. Today, mourning attire is mainly seen at funerals and memorial services and includes darker dresses and pantsuits. Rarely will you see a woman wear a headpiece during one of these events.