Lois Leveen


February 10, 2012

When Goth Chicks Wore Hoop Skirts

Today's fascinating fact is more of a fascinating phenom, namely the mid-nineteenth-century obsession with death and mourning. In the antebellum period, death was part of life. Families experienced the death of children. Most people died at home (rather than in hospitals). And then the Civil War brought death on an unprecedented scale.

Even before the war, mourning was a highly ritualized event.

Entire stores, such as Beeson and Son's in Philadelphia, were dedicated solely to selling mourning attire. Yes, Goth chicks, a store where ALL THE CLOTHES were black.

Godey's Ladies' Book, which was sort of the Cosmo magazine of the day, but without all the sex tips, ran articles about what to wear and do in mourning (alas, these did not come in Cosmo-quiz format).

And of course, there was the exceptionally creepy practice of wearing jewelry made out of your dead loved one's hair. And not just a single lock, like some hairy version of the Italian horn. Women wove whole landscapes crafted out of different shades of dead beloveds' hair. I have yet to see the 21st century Goth chicks take that one on.

While you await the 95 more days till *The Secrets of Mary Bowser,* you can bide your time learning more about nineteenth-century-mourning attire here: http://www.librarycompany.org/laurelhill/dressed.htm

And don't worry, I won't be wearing anybody's hair but my own on book tour. Well, maybe some of the cats' but that's pretty much par for the course.
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