In January this year I was fortunate enough to head out to New York to immerse myself in a world of art and culture for the week. I caught the tail end of the ‘Death Becomes Her’ exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Since Leah wrote on Monday about how to handle character deaths in LRP, I thought this was a good time to post an insight into this wonderful exhibition of mourning dress.
Character death happens in LRP – it’s a part of many games. Some people just move on, whereas others prefer to express grief for that character as somebody might in real life. Grief can be expressed through many different methods and mourning dress was a common custom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Expressing grief through costume at a LARP game would be an interesting and perhaps appropriate way to grieve in game for another character, without you having to bear the burden all the time through your roleplay (although, you might want to do that too, but you might also not find that fun).
These are the outfits that I picked out as I walked around the exhibition as being particularly interesting. I hope you enjoy this look into what is mostly American culture as much as I did!
In history there have often been socially prescribed periods for wearing mourning dress. The duration would usually vary depending on the relationship between the mourning and the deceased. Usually these periods of mourning had various phases, often starting with wearing black fabrics, followed by black and white, or shades of grey and mauve.
The change from sombre to increasingly brighter colour would coincide with the slow easing of grief. Patterns also played their part; delicate white stripes, checks, or dots on black fabric have often been popular too.
Black became popular in the second half of the nineteenth century due to the introduction of chemical dyes in the 1860s that allowed a true black colour to be created easily. At this time black was still considered as appropriate for a widow to wear and this dress blurs the line between mourning and fashion (it’s purpose remains unknown, but it would have been suitable for third-stage mourning).
Princess seams and a tight, smooth fit are characteristic of late 1870s fashions in America.
This dress is made from black silk crepe that is tucked into curved lines starting from the central floral applique. Tucks in intricate patterns were a popular way to decorate fashionable garments in the early twentieth century, as they favoured the light fabrics that were favoured at this time.
Decorative tucks were considered suitable for mourning wear since they offered an understated way of embellishing garments. The previous strictness of mourning was beginning to loosen at this time, and the retailers and fashion columnists, who continued to discuss mourning and mourning dress, regularly focussed on the attractiveness of contemporary mourning dress.
Finally, a British piece! This is a Walking suit by the House of Lucile, although the label indicates that it was sold in New York. It’s believed to have been worn by Mrs. Frederick H. Prince, a prominent member of New York society. Prince lost her mother in 1915 and her son the following year who died in World War I from injuries sustained as an aviator.
The war helped with the abandonment of strict mourning etiquette, particularly in Britain and the US. The high numbers of casualties of war, and women’s changing roles in society, prompted a shake-up of elaborate mourning rituals. Periods of seclusion and traditional mourning dress became redundant for many as women joined the workforce. After the way coverage of mourning fashion diminished which led to more personal freedom as to how people exhibited personal grief.
(NB. The hat is actually French, ca. 1915)
It is a coincidence that this week we decided to cover topics relating to character death here at LARP Guide and nothing to do with the atrocities committed in Paris over the weekend.
I made the personal decision to go ahead with the planned posts, believing that acts of terror should not be allowed to change the way that we live our lives. L’amour vaincra.