Downton Abbey's Bransons and Crawleys in mourning at a christening
Mourning at a christening, wearing black and half-mourning-appropriate lavenders.

We know we're still not over the loss of Downton Abbey's "sweetest spirit." But how long will the Crawleys officially wear black? And just what is “half-mourning”? Tara Austen Weaver explains the traditions of mourning:

Downton is a dark place these days—tempers fraying, stiff upper lips (I’m looking at you, Carson), and lots and lots of black. The house is in mourning, upstairs and down.

English mourning traditions were codified over the 1800s, influenced by that most mournful of monarchs, Queen Victoria, who wore nothing but black for forty years. By the time poor Sybil passed there were clear and delineated rules regarding how death was observed—with an abundance of black.

For the loss of a sibling, mourning would last six months: no color of any kind would be worn. Parents would mourn for as long as they felt disposed (Cora may be dressing in black for years to come). Servants would wear black armbands, and no one would attend balls.

James would have been relieved of his clock-winding duties. Timepieces would be stopped at time of death.

The later stages included a transition to “half-mourning,” where grey, lavender, and white could be worn. In five months, Mary and Edith will be able to break out some pale purple.

It’s going to be a long, dreary time of it when it comes to fashion at Downton. I can’t see how that is going to make missing Sybil any easier.

Now, where is that armband? I’m still feeling a bit battered by it all myself.


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As a costume designer, I would like to point out some inaccuracies. In general, men would not be required to wear more than a black armband. Widows were expected to wear full mourning (full black, caped dresses) for a year and a day (and could last up to four years, or in cases like Queen Victoria - for the rest of her life). Siblings would wear full morning for 6 months and mother's could wear mourning for as long as they felt was necessary. After full morning, a second mourning (called half mourning) would occur. During this time people would start to re-immerse themselves in society and would wear black clothing often trimmed with white, gold, or dark purple. NEVER have I seen a mourning dress in a light lavender (or with nearly that much color in general). Though, depending on the relation, half mourning would be worn for different durations of time (usually not exceeding 21 months). Also, people generally worn different degrees of mourning depending on the relation to the deceased. (Friends, acquaintances, and employees would probably never be seen in anything more than half mourning.)


I suspect the Downton costume department couldn't stand the idea of everyone in black and decided to scrap the historical accuracy. They already have enough black below stairs!


What a silly post. "No color of any kind would be worn [for six months]." And "Cora may be dressing in black for years to come."

Yet, here we have a picture of the family at little Sybil's christening. A few months at most after her mother's death. None of the ladies except the Dowager is dressed in black. Certainly not Cora.


Yes, we have a picture of the women wearing shades of lavender, depicting "Half-mourning."


Thanks for the information. Looks as if the Downton ladies cut short the one year period of full mourning in black. The baby is far from a year old. Perhaps Queen Victoria satisfied the long mourning in black for her subjects for years to come; thus they were able to reduce their black period. ;)

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