I Went to the Death Becomes Her Exhibit at the Met

Death Becomes Her, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Sunday was Marathon Day here in NYC. I, like many New Yorkers, live right near the route. While I love the marathon, sometimes the crowds can get a little rough. This year I cheered on some of the runners earlier in the day and then left the neighborhood to do something I never do. Dear Reader, I went to the Met on a Sunday and took a boatload of photographs.

Normally the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a mess on the weekends (even more so when it's raining). I try to avoid it as much as possible, but I was determined to see the museum's new exhibit Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. Victorian fashion? Death? Mourning? This is pretty much right in my wheelhouse, so off I went to a delightfully empty Met thanks to all of the crowds being diverted to the marathon.

Arriving so early, I had the gallery mostly to myself which was an incredible experience. The exhibit is small but incredibly details and representative of several trends in mourning attire. The curator's notes addressed some major themes:

  • Women bore the brunt of the responsibility¬†when it came to mourning. Rules for men were much more flexible, but women were strictly regulated in what they could wear and when as well as the social activities they could partake in while in mourning.
  • The stages of mourning and the way that fabrics mirrored the gradual coming out of mourning. The exhibit discusses the use of crepe as well as the incorporation of more¬†lustrous fabrics like silk moire and taffeta in the later stages. Color also comes into play.
  • The tension between fashion and grief. Especially in the later examples of the dresses, the curator's notes emphasizes that the wearer, despite being in a deep state of mourning, was still at the cutting edge of fashion when it came to silhouette.

And speaking of silhouette, I was delighted to see that the exhibit shows the progression of the Grecian-inspired dresses of the 1810s-1820s through the bell-shaped crinolines of the 1850s all the way to the princess cut dresses of the lat 1870s to early 1880s and then into the very late Victorian period (there's even an Edwardian dress or two in there). Oh! And one of Queen Victoria's dresses is on display (which I sadly did not photograph because I was overwhelmed by seeing one of Her Majesty's dresses in the flesh)!

 

 

If you have the chance to see this wonderful exhibit, definitely do. Sadly there is no museum catalog for Death Becomes Her, and photographs do not do these works of art justice (all of the detailing gets lost on black fabric, and these are rich with details).

Death Becomes Her is on until February 1, 2015.