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While the Met's officials maintain that the launch of their latest exhibit—Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire—just before Halloween is pure happenstance, a visit to the moody, melancholy showcase feels especially appropriate right now. Curator Harold Koda assembled a collection of 30 antique bereavement garments, which are arranged chronologically from 1815 to 1915 and show the full spectrum of the mourning process—from beginning (a time when mourners would stick to matte black fabrics) to end (when those who had lost a loved one began to reintroduce color and shine into their wardrobes).
While the subject matter may seem dark, the exhibit serves to push beyond our fear of death. Back in Victorian times, it was a concept so woven into everyday life that people thought nothing of wearing a brooch made of a departed relative's hair, or prominently displaying a portrait of a child who had died of cholera. Which isn't surprising when you remember that Queen Victoria—whose own black silk taffeta dress is spotlighted in the exhibit—was famously committed to colorless clothing after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.
Circling the Anna Wintour Costume Center, we also noticed a black 1820's bereavement bonnet attributed to Lord & Taylor (department stores used to have special widows' sections), an inky tweed jacket with pearl cuffs that looked ripped from Karl Lagerfld's sketchbook, and a several examples of half-mourning attire (like a gray wedding dress a Southern bride wore in remembrance of those lost during the Civil War).
Death Becomes Her—the Costume Institute's first fall exhibit in seven years—will be on display through February 1st. Go now, before Halloween is over, or head over whenever you need an antidote to fall's avalanche of pumpkin picking and latte art Instagrams.
· From Ball Gowns to Mourning: The Met's Next Fashion Exhibit [Racked NY]
· Day at the Musuem [Racked NY]