Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met's 'Death Becomes Her' Exhibit Totally Schooled Us On Goth's Victorian Roots

If you're anything like us, you've probably noticed that "goth" is having a pretty major moment in the spotlight. Thanks to the '90s revival, it's ~trendy~ again. But it's evolving and mutating, too. "Health goth" is probably the most recent iteration of the all-black-everything fashion movement, which is a trend that seems to be both a parody and retread of street goth and its offshoot ninja goth. This weekend, Lana Del Rey even performed in a cemetery (she joins the likes of Bon Iver, Spoon, and more), which is notable in the sense that a place of rest has now become a venue. What really made us take notice, however, is the Met's latest exhibit: "Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire."

This is notable because A.) we have a soft spot for all things goth-y in general and, B.) it's the first time in seven years that the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is hosting a fall exhibit at the Anna Wintour Costume Center. We heard the news back in July and were lucky enough to see it IRL—here's what we took away from the experience.

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The Met's exhibit consists of 30 outfits, crepe veils, and memento mori jewelry pieces, some of which have never been displayed before. The exhibit attempts to "explore the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries." This is huge, mainly, because the origins of contemporary goth fashion can be found in the Victorian cult of mourning. Where do you think your faves—both old and new—found this inspo? Nothing exists in a vacuum, bbs.

Related Link: The Met Costume Institute Is Going Goth This Fall

Generally speaking, the modern goth aesthetic is darkly romantic with an emphasis on black and strong silhouettes, all of which are found rooted in the Victorian Age. After all, what's more textbook goth than "the widow, dressed in black from head to toe," standing at a grave site, sniffling behind a layered mourning veil. And the biggest mourner of all? That'd be Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria—henceforth known as The Queen Mother of Gothic Dressing—created a worldwide sensation following the passing of her late husband. After Prince Albert's death, Victoria fell into deep depression and wore black for the remainder of her life earning her the nickname "Widow of Windsor." Her Royal Highness' personal state of melancholia affected not only her court but an entire era of dressing. And you thought ghetto-goth dabbler Rihanna's impact was far-reaching...

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At this time, fashion and social norms reflected the Queen's conservative tastes—widows weren't allowed to leave their homes for anything other than church functions and were expected to be in mourning for a good two years after the passing of one of their loved ones. What a woman wore provided an indication into which state of grief she was experiencing and how deep she was in her bereavement. In all, there were three stages: full mourning, second mourning, and half mourning.

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In the first stage of mourning, which lasted a year and a day, one would wear dull black clothing without any frills except for a weeping veil of black crepe. Second mourning, a period of nine months, allowed for minor ornamentation usually in the form of jet-black and memento mori jewelry. However, the widow would still only be allowed to wear a lusterless fabric during that period.

It wasn't until the last stage of "half mourning" (which ranged from three to six months) that a woman would be allowed to introduce color back into her wardrobe—typically deep tones like violets, lavenders, and mauves.

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The Victorians' open relationship with death, which included not only the practice of wearing jewelry that contained either the visage of a loved one or parts of them (usually human hair), post-mortem photography and mourning as an art form echoes itself in contemporary gothic visuals, most of which tend to be tied in with either religiosity or death and decay, whether that's as a coffin-shaped purse, a cross-emblazoned necklace or a drapey black gown.

Related Link: What To Wear To A Séance

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While taken in on a purely superficial level, the exhibit is, in a word, elegant. You really can't go wrong with a room full of black dresses, right? It's, of course, Harold Koda, the Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute who puts it best: "It's the intersection of this really sobering and quite poignant narrative about dealing with grief, and at the same time a really chic fashion story." This intersection created an entire industry dedicated solely to dressing the bereaved and served as a continuing inspiration for those of us who dabble in the dark side.

Death Becomes Her” runs from October 21, 2014 to February 1, 2015, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.


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