As the year wanes in fits of rain, fog, and dramatic gray skies, an apropos exhibition to catch is the The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” (October 21, 2014 – February 1, 2015). A slight but atmospheric show, this is the first fall exhibition in seven years at the Met Costume Institute, which recently reopened in May as the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Taking its cues from this fashion legend, “Death Becomes Her” is a meticulously staged, dramatically lit show that pays particular attention to details. Mourning dress in the 19th and early 20th century, as it turns out, was all about the details. The exhibition, which tracks the aesthetic and cultural evolution of mourning attire over the century, highlights the ways in which mourning clothes bore social and political cues in Chantilly lace and satin folds.
The shifting from deep black to glossy black to browns and grays indicated that the woman was coming out of mourning, and in an age when marriage was inextricably tied to money, eligible again. In the 19th century, a woman in mourning was a dangerous woman–in other words, a desirable woman. A widow, who has sexual experience, no marital restraints, and potentially an independent fortune, was indeed becoming at a time when the questions of death, money, and sex echoed even louder than they do now.