In college I noticed something new on the coat of a sartorially-eccentric friend. “What’s with the black armband?” I asked. “Some sort of fascist thing?”
“It’s for my father,” he said simply.
That’s the only time I’ve seen someone wear mourning. And my friend, after one too many encounters with similarly foot-in-mouth undergraduates, stopped wearing the armband because it got too grueling to keep explaining. It no longer served as an outer key to his inner grief; it no longer signified anything at all.“Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 1, explores the long last days of formal mourning in Britain, France, and the United States. The show covers 1815 through 1915: the rise of department stores with “mourning departments” (imagine the Grace Bros. sitcom you could set in one of those!), the death of Prince Albert, and the decline of mourning wear in the face of modern war.