Wear Black? Thank Victorian England

Currently, it seems there is an obsession with death and all things that go bump in the night, but this state of concern with death has its roots in a darker, shadowed time: Victorian England.

Victorian England’s culture has a large impact on American culture today. Many developments from the Victorian Era have shaped  customs in America. Learning about the Victorian Era can provide context for seemingly strange cultural phenomena.

The Victorian Era spanned from 1837 to 1901 in the United Kingdom. The name comes from Queen Victoria who reigned for 64 years. During her reign, mechanization led to population growth and urbanization. In cities people faced sickness, disease, and unsanitary living conditions. Because of this many families were in a constant state of mourning.

These conditions lead to a morbid obsession with death, leading to the rise of gothic literature like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the works of Edgar Allen Poe. This rising gothic style was largely due to a change in how people mourned.

This change arose from the widespread practice of wearing dark clothes in major cities because pollution from factories would stain other colors. Queen Victoria herself contributed to this trend by toting  mourning wear for forty years after her husband's death.

The modern obsession with the undead also stems from this time. Some would put metal cages around the grave to prevent them from escaping. Many myths and theories about vampires circulated the country. Vampire hunting kits were very popular gifts to receive and to give. Wide spread fear and popularity of vampires during this lead to today's vampire obsession in pop culture.

Be it vampires or gothic buildings, the impression of this era is embedded in everyday life.

Gothic style church and graveyard displays the downcast stlye of the time.  Photo by author.

Gothic style church and graveyard displays the downcast stlye of the time. Photo by author.