Mourning is in the simplest sense synonymous with grief over the death of a friend or relative.
The word is also used to describe a cultural complex of behaviours that the bereaved participate in, or are expected to participate in. In the Western world, these behaviours took their most extreme forms in England during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Victoria herself may have had much to do with the practice, due to her long and conspicuous grief over the death of her husband, Prince Albert. Women bore the greatest burden of these customs. They involved wearing heavy, concealing, black clothing, and the use of heavy veils of black crêpe. The entire ensemble was colloquially known as widow's weeds (from the Old English "Waed" meaning "garment").
Special caps and bonnets, usually in black or other dark colours, went with these clothings. There was even special mourning jewelry
, often made of jet
. The wealthy could also wear cameos or lockets designed to hold a lock of hair or some similar relic
of the deceased.
Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death. To remove the costume earlier was thought disrespectful to the decedent, and if the widow was still young and attractive, sexually promiscuous. Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at different time periods; stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar terms.
Men were expected to dress in dark colours for up to a year after a death in the family.
It is still customary, though not as universal, to indicate mourning through sombre dress, particularly at the funeral and among the family and close friends of the deceased. A few modern customs have evolved, for example the use of sunglasses in order to hide tear-swollen eyes.
Mourning clothes of the style of these times are currently staging a minor comeback and are popular items of vintage clothing.