Collection’s Highlight: Wedding and Moruning Dress
According to family history this is the wedding outfit of Mrs. Rudolph Gross. At the time of her wedding (date unknown), her sister had recently died. So this dress is an interesting combination of two strong traditions: marriage and mourning.
Bodice, 1885-1889, velvet and silk, L: 21 in. The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of George Christman, N0480.1967a.
Skirt, 1885-1889, velvet and silk, L: 44 in. The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of George Christman, N0480.1967a.
Welcome to another exciting episode of FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we’re going to be talking about a fairly obscure piece of fashion history- hair jewelry. That’s right, in times gone by, people would wear human hair around their wrists, hanging from their ears, and wrapped around their fingers. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It was a very common practice, though, and many of the pieces created were extremely elaborate and quite beautiful.
It is a common belief that hair jewelry was created for
mourning. This is not completely inaccurate, but it is far from the whole truth. Hair held strong
significance and symbolism in many cultures across the world. Since hair
takes centuries upon centuries to decompose, it was a common symbol of
the eternal. This is where the tradition of giving a lock of hair to a
loved one stems from. Since hair comes from the head, it also held myth
that the one who held the hair had a sort of influence over the giver.
Though it has become a romance genre trope to see lovers give each other
a lock of hair, in reality, locks were also given to friends, family
members- anyone with a deep, personal connection.
folklore commonly spoke of the power of hair, and thus people in that
region would carry the locks of their loved ones around with them. In
the Early Renaissance Age, the curls of hair would be placed into
lockets, often worn on necklaces or pinned over the heart. Shortly
after, instead of putting the hair inside of jewelery, it became part of
the jewelry itself. Sometimes the hair would be twisted and knotted,
then set into a pendant, or it would be woven like a rope, becoming the
band. These pieces that were woven into bands required much longer locks
of hair, and so they were more commonly made once a love one passed
away, and were worn as mourning jewelry.
While hair jewelery was not uncommon from the Renaissance through the 18th
Century, the style exploded in the Victorian Age. There are a few
reasons for this. At the beginning of the 19th Century, elaborate hair
styles, including men’s wigs, had fallen out of style, as did
ostentatious jewelry. To save their livelihoods, wig-makers and
jewelry-makers paired up to create sentimental pieces. This was the
start of hair jewelry’s rise in popularity. Later in the century, Prince
Albert famously gave Queen Victoria a charm bracelet, with each heart
charm containing a lock of each of their childrens’ hair. When Albert
died at a young age, the entire country went into mourning, bringing
mourning fashion into style. It was at this point that hair jewelry worn
as a mourning piece became extremely popular.
The style faded
out around World War I, when all mourning fashion faded from
popularity. Today, most people see hair jewelry as “creepy,” but it’s
important to remember the amount of emotion that was once attached to
these cherished pieces.
Want to learn more about hair jewelry? Check out these books:
Sentimental Jewellery, by Anne Louise Luthi
Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry, by C. Jeanenne Bell
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