The current fashion exhibition at the Met Museum in NYC covers the mourning clothes for (ostensibly rich) women between 1815-1915. It even includes mourning outfits from Queen Victoria [she never did quite got over the death of old Bertie…].
I’m going with some friends to check it out, and it should be rather lovely. From the looks of it the space is all high fashion stark white with the intention of adding drama to the mourning crapes and silks.
There’s nothing like saying to the world “Look at me, filled with all the respectable tristesse, and don’t I look fabulous whilst doing it” [insert veil swish]
A bit of history on the old Victorian mourning traditions [as I have come to understand it]:
- It’s spelt ‘crape’ with a ‘a’ to infer clothes for mourning, though any other time you’d be correct in spelling it ‘crepe’.
- You want your clothes and accessories BLACK, crimped and you want them DULL. No shiny show-off, stuff thank you very much.
- You’re going to stay like that for 2.5 years… if you’re a widow, well for the 1st year at least, then over the period of the final 1.5yrs you were expected to s-l-o-w-l-y transition back into colourful society. BRING ON THE SHINY JET BUTTONS. However, feel free to stick to it for life…
I’ve searched around to see why crepe became the go-to option, but came up empty beyond the Georgian era using crape. If you know write in the comments to let me know! I’m imagining some marketing racket from jobbers who needed to get rid of a boatload and made it fashionable to sell.
As for the fabric itself, crepe gets it’s distinctive texture from how it’s woven. Traditionally made from tightly spun weft yarns wound alternately in an ‘S’ and ‘Z’ formation, when it’s released from the loom the fabric springs back as the yarns attempt to relax. It is this high-tensile structure that creates the spongy texture that is found in crepe. It can also be created by playing around with the warp/weft tension during looming, when released the fabric relaxes and the yarns are pushed out in a bubbled texture (think seersucker). The third style of crepe I know of is using chemical processes, which creates the rippled fabric that reminds me of crepe paper: they take a gauze, cover it in setting liquid, pop it in a cylinder or some kind of embossed template and bake it with a super high heat – much like permanent pleated is still done today.
There is a fourth method I found whilst fact checking the above, but personally it sounds more like boucle, and as I’m the author of this post I’m going to be a nay-sayer and discount it [FYI it’s created with uneven slubbed yarns that are loosely woven to create the texture].
I’m quite partial to a traditional wool crepe, myself. I like the way the texture gives depth to the colour. Unfortunately due to it’s texture I also look like a yeti made of cat hair.
The exhibition runs through the Winter until February 1st 2015.
Update! Christine of Thread Cult podcasts has interviewed co-curator, Jessica Regan, & it’s a fabulous interview that gives context behind the exhibit.