A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814
Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.“
One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in