We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Widow's Weeds?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
BeautyAnswered is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At BeautyAnswered, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Widow's weeds are garments that are worn during a period of mourning. Many people think of the Victorian era in England when they hear the term because this era was marked by very rigid and distinctive mourning practices. In most modern societies, people do not mourn publicly in the same ways that they did historically, and the concept of wearing these garments is a bit of an anachronism.

The term is also used more generally to describe the cultural rituals associated with death, particularly the death of a spouse. Historically, people might say “she's still in widow's weeds” to refer to someone who was still mourning a spouse, whether or not she wore full mourning dress. Most cultures have their own unique rituals that are designed to help people cope with death; most of these mourning rituals are divided into stages which allow people to slowly re-enter the world.

In the Victorian era, the rules for mourning were quite complex, especially for widows. Widows were expected to remain in full mourning for a year and day, after which they would transition through various stages of partial mourning. During the full mourning period, widows wore simple clothing in muted colors, with upper class women wearing black only, transitioning to purples, grays, and blues once they entered the period of half mourning.

The “weeds” in the term comes from the Old English waed, which means “garment.” Widow's weeds have several defining characteristics, including dark or muted colors and simple designs. Classically, women did not wear heavily decorated garments either, removing things like superfluous embroidery and lace. The clothing often included long veils, as well, and in the first year, women wore no jewelry.

The wearing of widow's weeds would have instantly distinguished a widow from those around her, making her state very obvious. It was also a class symbol, as only the very wealthy could afford full mourning, which involved an entirely new wardrobe and a general withdrawal from society. Modern mourning dress is generally worn for only a brief period of time, and it may not necessarily be entirely new; any sort of somber dress is appropriate today in many regions of the world.

In some cultures, the tradition of wearing widow's weeds for extended periods of time persists. In some Catholic countries, for example, widows may choose to wear black for the rest of their lives, especially in very rural, traditional areas. In others, the process of slowly transitioning to more normal garments is an important step in the grieving process, acknowledging the sadness of a death and slowly working through it.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
By anon319728 — On Feb 14, 2013

The mourning process and widow's weeds are meant to be natural. Wearing special clothing is meant to protect the widow by signaling to others to be careful of her grief. It means no one will criticize her for not feeling up to wearing make up or doing her hair.

Wearing normal clothes again after being widowed was also a way to let people know you were now looking to remarry. That's why women generally wore them for a year and a day, but could wear them for longer or shorter amounts of time.

The grief process varies, but a year is the average time an adult generally needs to process through the majority of their grief and a day is added so the transition doesn't happen on the anniversary of the person's death, but instead just following.

It is meant to help the person recognize the passage of time and the need to move forward from their pain.

These days, widow's weeds are uncommon, but then, our culture doesn't make room for anyone to have a period of mourning for a spouse. It is expected that there is a funeral and you can be sad occasionally, but unless you are retired, you must return to normal life, work, and attire in a matter of days.

By literally45 — On Aug 28, 2012

@feruze, @cloudel-- I don't agree with the two of you because I don't think that's the point of widow's weeds.

The purpose of wearing a specific color and type of clothing in mourning is for people to be able to identify you and know that you have just lost a loved one. This is not to punish the person but rather to help them.

How would you feel if you just lost a husband, a mother or a child and no one around you was aware of it? What if they kept asking you about your family and bringing you to tears because they just don't know what's going on?

That's the point of widow's weeds. When people see someone in widow's weeds, they would know to be careful around them and understand that they're going through a sensitive and difficult time.

Do you see what I mean? It's not a bad thing. This kind of representation is actually helpful and beneficial for the mourning person, it's not a punishment.

By bear78 — On Aug 28, 2012

@cloudel-- I completely agree with you!

Widow's weeds reminds me of the mourning rituals in India. Widows in India are also required to follow certain rules after their husbands die. Some people don't follow it these days, but there are still lots of women who do.

One of the requirements is to wear all white, like widow's weeds. They also don't wear jewelry and are expected to be reserved and quiet. Some strict families also have widows cut their hair short and only allow them to eat bland food. And this is not just for a year or two either, but for the rest of their lives.

To me, this sounds like punishment for the widow even though she did nothing wrong. Why is she suffering if her husband died? It's already painful enough to deal with death but to also deal with all these social pressures and rules is horrible.

By donasmrs — On Aug 27, 2012

This is very interesting. I think that mourning rituals are partially good because when one can mourn early on after the loss of a loved one, it's better for that person's psychology. But this time might vary from person to person. So forcing someone to wear black for a year or more sounds a bit too extreme.

If someone is able to grieve their loss in a shorter amount of time and transition to normal life again, then they should be allowed to. I think if I had to wear black and refrain from certain behaviors and actions for a year, it would make my psychology even worse. It might cause me to be more depressed.

By StarJo — On Aug 27, 2012

A lot of clothing back in the days of widow's weeds was rather drab, anyway. I'm surprised that anyone could tell when a lady was mourning, unless she was wealthy and one of the few who owned colorful, beautiful dresses.

Then, the black widow's weeds would identify her status as a mourning widow. It would be sad for a women with a beautiful, varied wardrobe to be reduced to wearing dark garments for over a year, though.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 26, 2012

@cloudel – I do agree that having a set time frame for wearing mourning garments isn't healthy or logical. However, wearing dark or neutral clothing for awhile can be a good way for a woman to express her sadness as she works through her husband's death.

My good friend lost her husband last year, and she just hasn't had the desire to wear bright or cheerful clothing since then. She wore black to the funeral, and she has been wearing mostly uninteresting clothing ever since, though I don't think it was intentional.

Widow's weeds show the world that a woman is sad. I do think that it's perfectly acceptable for her to start wearing more colorful clothing whenever she is ready, though.

By cloudel — On Aug 26, 2012

I think it's terrible that women were forced to wear mourning garments for a whole year. What if they weren't particularly close to their husbands? What if their husbands had been abusive, and they were happy to be free from them?

I think that the mourning process should be natural. Everyone recovers at different speeds, and it isn't healthy for people to continue to be surrounded by things like clothes that remind them of their loss when they are ready to move on with their lives.

By wavy58 — On Aug 25, 2012

It sounds like widow's weeds gave identity to the women that wore them. Imagine being known as the woman who lost her husband simply because of what you wore! I suppose even people from out of town could point out the widows back then.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
BeautyAnswered, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

BeautyAnswered, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.