What is Half-Mourning?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Half-mourning is the traditional third part of mourning in the Victorian era. The plain black clothing associated with the first stage of mourning and the black clothing with trims worn in the second period were replaced in half-mourning by garments in shades of purple and gray. White was also acceptable in this late mourning stage.

In nineteenth century England, the first mourning period, or full mourning, lasted one year and one day. The second mourning stage was nine months long and the half-mourning period was three to six months long. The idea of easing into non-mourning was emphasized by going from dark clothing and a veil for widows to a dark dress with decorative trim to new, lighter- colored of clothing.

Victorian widows in full mourning were expected to wear a black crape veil, or a weeping veil. The fabric of the black mourning dress was not supposed to be shiny. The black dress was still worn in the second stage of mourning, but trimming on the dress was allowed as was mourning jewelry. The colors of purple worn in the half-mourning period could be lilac or any shade of purple. Darker grays were often worn then as well, but light gray and white were also acceptable.

Fashionable mourning clothes were designed in Paris and sold in department stores so that women could look fashionable while still wearing the expected colors and styles. These looks were for Victorian women who had the money to buy them. Those women who couldn't afford to buy mourning clothes from department stores often had to buy them from funeral parlors when they arranged for the coffin and the burial.

Sometimes, women dyed their clothing suitable colors for half-mourning. As long as their dresses weren't too low in the neckline and were the appropriate length they would work well for half-mourning when dyed a shade of purple or gray. Women could wear their regular jewelry again in this last stage of mourning, but could not wear jewelry in the first stage of mourning and were only supposed to wear special mourning jewelry in the second stage. .

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Discussion Comments


For the most part, mourning and half mourning traditions are no longer practiced by the majority of modern religions. The Jewish tradition of Shiva is the closest modern equivalent. The first Jewish mourning period lasts seven days and the second period lasts a month. In some special cases the mourning periods can last as long as three months to year. Islam has similar requirements, but only for women where the mourning period after the death of a husband usually lasts four months.


Where are half-mourning rituals still practiced?

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      Woman with hand on her hip