Princess Cornflakes

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Wearing Black – Punk, Mourning, and Victorian Manners

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I started a blog where I could complain about men on dating sites, but now I’m off all dating sites, and besides that seemed negative, so I will go back to posting random thoughts.

The combination of “victorian” and “punk” is well accepted. After all there is steampunk, and there is that Fall song about the Victorian Child. I’ll post the video, but I won’t post a picture of steampunk, because there are a million of those.

Lately I was thinking about punk, and goth, and Victorian culture, and modern culture. For one thing, people started wearing a lot of black in the 1980s thanks to punk. The hippies never wore black, nor did the yuppies. It was the punks, and the goths who started that. But you’d never know that today, because most themed movies, web sites, etc describe the 80s as a time of really bright clothes. But for some of us, it was a decade to start wearing black, perhaps as a contrast to all that Miami Vice brightness. I think the the beatniks did the same thing in the 50s.

So goths of the 80s wore black, and beatniks of the 50s. And then after the grunge era of the 90s everyone started wearing black, and of course we all do now.

But was wearing black really so rare before the last few decades of the 20th century? And if so, why? I think it was. I’ve been reading the 2nd edition of Emily Post’s etiquette book, from 1922, and she has an entire chapter on the subject of wearing black. It’s called “Funerals”. That’s when it hit me. Wearing black had a special place up until the mid 20th century. It was reserved for funerals! And I just thought of it as a good basic color that went with everything. But most people did not see it that way in 1922:

 Among those who come to the house there is sure to be a woman friend of the family whose taste and method of expenditure is similar to theirs. She looks through the clothes they have, to see if there is not a black dress or suit that can be used, and makes a list of only the necessary articles which will have to be procured.

Not that many women even had black clothes. They had to have them specially made for the occasion of mourning. Ms. Post continues:

Or the mourning departments of the big stores and specialty shops are always willing to send a selection on approval, so that a choice can be made by the family in the privacy of their own rooms.

A mourning department in a store! I’d never heard of such a thing. Back in 1922 black was probably a really powerful and rare color to wear. It meant death. It was a color you did not mess with. And it was rarely worn. I guess that is why the greasers and the beatniks adopted it in the 1950s, and the punks  and goths in the 1980s. Black was the color people always stayed away from, and countercultural groups wanted that power.

Black also had sexual appeal. In her chapter, The Very Young Widow, Ms. Post acknowledges the desirability of a young woman in black:

The young widow should wear deep crepe for a year and then lighter mourning for six months and second mourning for six months longer. There is nothing more utterly captivating than a sweet young face under a widow’s veil, and it is not to be wondered at that her own loneliness and need of sympathy, combined with all that is appealing to sympathy in a man, results in the healing of her heart. She should, however, never remain in mourning for her first husband after she has decided she can be consoled by a second.

There is no reason why a woman (or a man) should not find such consolation, but she should keep the intruding attraction away from her thoughts until the year of respect is up, after which she is free to put on colors and make happier plans.

I mean that sounds like something Nick Cave himself would write, or Lydia Lunch in a more innocent mood.

Incidentally, Ms. Post, who always advised against drawing attention to oneself,  did not approve of wearing fancy black clothes:

Fancy clothes in mourning are always offenses against good taste, because as the word implies, a person is in mourning. To have the impression of “fashion” dominant is contrary to the purpose of somber dress; it is a costume for the spirit, a covering for the visible body of one whose soul seeks the background. Nothing can be in worse taste than crepe which is gathered and ruched and puffed and pleated and made into waterfalls, and imitation ostrich feathers as a garnishing for a hat. The more absolutely plain, the more appropriate and dignified is the mourning dress. A “long veil” is a shade pulled down—a protection—it should never be a flaunting arrangement to arrest the amazed attention of the passerby.

“A Shade pulled down”. That sums up the serious of wearing black in past times. It had one meaning only, and that was death. Now black is just a practical color that does not get dirty in snow and always looks sharp. Today, it has been stripped of it’s meaning of death and  mourning.

dark_victorian_goth_stock_002_by_froweminahildstock

But what will the punks and goths, who want to connect with the eternal and the power of death, wear now that everyone is wearing black?

How about wearing white?

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Written by nattie

September 14, 2016 at 1:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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