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Black crêpe mourning shawl

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain

  • Date:

    1900s

  • Museum number:

    T.1-2019

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

  • Public access description

    This shawl is a rare example of a nineteenth-century, machine-woven crêpe mourning shawl. Very few examples of mourning crêpe survive due to the fabric’s fragility and the contemporary belief that it was unlucky to keep crêpe in the house after the end of mourning.

    During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) and particularly after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, wearing etiquette-correct mourning dress became an increasingly important signifier of social respectability. Full mourning for a widow lasted a year and consisted of garments made of matte black fabrics without embellishment and worn without jewellery. After a year a widow could add trimmings and simple jewellery. Once in half-mourning, she could introduce grey and subtle shades of purple. Although a variety of mourning fabrics existed, the use of crêpe — a crimped fabric often made from worsted and silk — was particularly prevalent in mourning clothes worn by the middle and upper-classes. Imitating Italian, hand-woven crêpes worn by royalty and the aristocracy, machine woven, embossed crêpe, was produced in great volume for a broad market. Its popularity has been highlighted by Lou Taylor, who notes in her seminal work Mourning Dress (1983), ‘It was mourning crape that above all epitomises the middle-class Victorian widow.’

    It is likely that the shawl was manufactured in Norfolk or Essex. Three firms dominated the production of mourning crêpe in Britain in the nineteenth century, mourning etiquette boosting their business: Hinde; Hardy, Grout and Bayliss; and Samuel Courtauld. All three companies were based in the traditional silk weaving areas of Norfolk and Essex, which is why mourning crêpe of this kind is also termed Norwich crêpe.

  • Physical description

    Black mourning shawl of machine-made crimped crepe. The edges have been hemmed by hand.

  • Dimensions

    Height: 1.35 m, Width: 1.15 m

  • Descriptive line

    Black crêpe mourning shawl, worsted and twisted silk yarns, Britain, 19th century.

  • Collection code

    Textiles and Fashion Collection