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Press release

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire
October 21, 2014-February 1, 2015


Exhibition Location: Anna Wintour Costume Center
Press Preview: Monday, October 20, 10 a.m.–noon

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, The Costume Institute’s first fall exhibition in seven years, is on view in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center from October 21, 2014, through February 1, 2015. The exhibition explores the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Approximately 30 ensembles, many of which are being exhibited for the first time, reveal the impact of high-fashion standards on the sartorial dictates of bereavement rituals as they evolved over a century.

With the reopening of The Costume Institute space in May as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the department returns to mounting two special exhibitions a year, once again including a fall show, in addition to the major spring exhibition. This is the first fall exhibition The Costume Institute has organized since blog.mode: addressing fashion in 2007.

“The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes,” said Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, who is curating the exhibition with Jessica Regan, Assistant Curator. “The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order.”

Exhibition Overview
The thematic exhibition is organized chronologically and features mourning dress from 1815 to 1915, primarily from The Costume Institute’s collection. The calendar of bereavement’s evolution and cultural implications are illuminated through women’s clothing and accessories, showing the progression of appropriate fabrics from mourning crape to corded silks, and the later introduction of color with shades of gray and mauve.

“Elaborate standards of mourning set by royalty spread across class lines via fashion magazines,” said Ms. Regan, “and the prescribed clothing was readily available for purchase through mourning ‘warehouses’ that proliferated in European and American cities by mid-century.”

The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery orients visitors to the exhibition with fashion plates, jewelry, and accessories. The main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery illustrates the evolution of mourning wear through high fashion silhouettes and includes mourning gowns worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra. Examples of restrained simplicity are shown alongside those with ostentatious ornamentation. The predominantly black clothes are set off within a stark white space amplified with historic photographs and daguerreotypes.

Related Programs
In conjunction with the exhibition, a Halloween event on October 31, 6:30–8:30 p.m., will encourage visitors to chart their own path through the galleries and join drop-in,
interactive experiences with art.  Ms. Regan will give a Friday Focus lecture, Women in Black: Fashioning Mourning in the 19th Century, on Friday, November 21, at 4:00 p.m. Musical programming includes a special pop-up concert featuring Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir on October 17 at 6:00 p.m., and a performance by vocalist Theo Bleckmann on February 7 at 7:00 p.m.

The Museum’s website,, features information on the exhibition and related programs. Follow us on,, and  To join the conversation about the exhibition, use #DeathBecomesHer on Instagram and Twitter.


October 17, 2014

Image Caption: Mourning Ensemble, 1870-1872. Black silk crape, black mousseline. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Martha Woodward Weber, 1930 (2009.300.633a, b). Veil, ca. 1875. Black silk crape. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Roi White, 1984. Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Karin L. Willis.

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