Daily Archives: 13 May 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Mourning Fabrics, 1860s

From This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Knopf, 2008), Kindle Loc. 2332-2384:

By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child mourned for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through prescribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband. The work of mourning was largely allocated to women….

In the South, where 18 percent of white males of military age perished in the war, death was omnipresent, and fabrics and fashions were scarce…. In the North, where the death rate of men of military age was one-third that in the Confederacy, mourning was less universal, and the goods that made it possible proved more readily available….

At Besson & Son, Mourning Store, at 918 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, one could find in July 1863—just in time for Gettysburg—a veritable taxonomy of mourning fabrics all but unrecognizable by twenty-first-century Americans:

  • Black Crape Grenadines [A thin gauzelike fabric of silk or wool, for women’s wear]
  • Black Balzerines [A light mixed fabric of cotton and wool for women’s dresses, commonly used for summer gowns before the introduction of barege]
  • Black Baryadere Bareges
  • Black Bareges [A sheer fabric woven of silk or cotton and wool, used for women’s apparel]
  • Black Barege Hernani [A grenadine dress fabric woven in small meshes of coarse threads of silk, cotton, or wool, and their intermixtures]
  • Silk Grenadines
  • Challies [a soft fabric of plain weave in wool, cotton, or other staple fiber]
  • Summer Bombazines [A fine twilled fabric of silk and worsted or cotton, often dyed black and used for mourning clothes]
  • Mousseline de Laines [wool] [A fine sheer fabric resembling muslin, originally made in Mosul, Iraq]
  • Tamises [A cloth made for straining liquids]
  • Mourning Silks, Lawns, Chintzes, Alpacas
  • Barege Shawls, Grenadine Veils, English Crapes

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