Mourning on display


          Mum didn’t have a funeral ceremony, she was cremated privately, according to her wishes. Instead, our family and friends gathered together at the house we shared, about a month after she died, to remember and celebrate her life. Throughout the event and to this day Mum presided over the dining area ensconced in her little navy blue bowls bag which was re-purposed to hold her last remains…

While arranging this celebration we, her remaining family, deliberately encouraged people to wear brightly coloured or pastel clothing, as these were the tonal values she preferred. We also specifically asked people not to wear traditional mourning, as Mum often commented on how dull and depressing she found the wearing of black. While she and I clearly didn’t go to the same Art School (Mum worked with colour, I work with tone and form); out of respect for my  stylish, life loving mother I managed to find something dressy to wear that wasn’t charcoal, black, or even olive green or dark purple.

A little while after this event I began to slowly cull items from Mum’s wardrobe,  a process that is still occurring today. Simultaneously I began to cull from mine, finding it easier to grapple with the idea of an over all “downsizing” rather giving away tangible associations with my mother.  However the proof that “downsizing” was actually a convenient fiction, became evident when I soon began to desire, buy and wear clothes in shades of Ink, Midnight Blue, Navy and… Indigo.

Apart from jeans, blue hasn’t featured much in my wardrobe in recent times, yet the clothes I began to actively seek out were and are much darker in hue, much more feminine, textually sensual and consciously sexier than any of my jeans. Underclothes and outer.  Lingerie, not sports bras and knickers. Stockings as well as tights. Dresses not just trousers. Trousers not just jeans. And several pairs of boots and shoes…


Although this “deep blue spending spree” was, and is, intimately linked to my own reawakened sexuality, I’m now beginning to see it not only as an outcome of my re-vitalised libido, but also as an essential part of my mourning process. So yes, the sexual energy I find in the moody colour scheme and varied textures of my studio/boudoir at The Oasis (and recently at home) is clearly an important factor. (And then there’s also a half buried memory of a clingy, silken dress I made in my late teens whilst in a mood to connect with the sexual power of sci-fi writer John Jakes’ sorceress, Ariadne). However I’m no longer drawn to my old favorite, black, even though it’s still a customary mourning colour in Western cultures. Perhaps because black seems too severe for my present state: the journey I am on now is a return from Persephone’s Realm, rather than a retreat to, the emotional Underworld. This is, I think largely because I had already done a lot of quiet grieving during the three-year journey with Mum…

Therefore I recently read with considerable interest an article entitled Secular Mourning Clothes: Un-doing connections to the dead (November 14, 2013) by Associate Professor Elizabeth Dori Tunstall of Swinburne University, Melbourne, wherein she writes at some length about the traditional use of mourning clothing. In this article the Associate Professor talks about mourning clothes within the context of their spiritual and social purposes. The colour of such garments, she suggests, often relates to spiritual traditions, while the texture – especially within Victorian mourning customs, is more indicative of social status and as a representation of humility.

Upon reflection, my own experience of wearing and using particular shades of dark blue does have symbolic and perhaps spiritual resonance.  Reading about some of the meanings attributed to deep blue colours such as Indigo, I found the suggestion that these tones assist the processes of deep reflection, insight and providing new and interesting ways to view a problem, which makes perfect sense when coupled with the inner work which is occurring during this blogging/mourning experience.

However the wearing of these colours also seems to work as an emotional and psychological container, capable of holding diverse meanings and emotions together, while visibly highlighting the underlying situation at the same time. By this I mean that my adoption of garments, linens, furnishings (and yes, where ever possible – sex toys); in dark moody blues, was the result of a deeply felt yet largely unconscious desire to hold both my re-emerging sexuality and grief together – life and death if you will; while simultaneously putting it on display for an extended period of time.

In this, I am apparently in step with tradition, for as Elizabeth Tunstall notes in her article, mourning garments were customarily worn for socially proscribed periods of time, and therefore offered a period of extended social display. However, as she also observes,  in the 21st century this is far less evident. Speculating that what may be needed for our times is a “line of contemporary secular mourning clothes”, she proposes that: “Contemporary secular mourning clothes could be the first tangible steps in realigning society’s values more closely to mourner’s experiences”.

It is the notion of extended display which sets my current dress apart socially. Through the act of immersing myself in the same colours all day, day after day, as I am behaving in a somewhat unusual manner compared to fashionable contemporary Western society. Even uniforms are routinely removed and replaced with more individualistic garments during leisure time. (A notable exception to this may be the adoption of Gothic clothing, with its stylistic roots in the Victorian era mourning dress. Yet this is often regarded by outsiders as costume rather than clothing). Therefore while I may receive positive comments about a particular garment in isolation, the continuous wearing of a single colour creates a distinction which in theory sets me apart from this seasons trends – (or, annoyingly, would do, if Navy wasn’t so fashionable in this part of the world, this season!) However my wearing of such clothing is not aimed at embracing the fashionable, but arises from a desire for a radical difference in personal expression, providing a way of  sharing a fundamental shift in life, while expressing my loss and my simultaneous new-found freedom without words.

Finally, on a more subtle level, the clothes I wear are not only selected for their colour but also for variations in texture and cut. For me this has little to do with status, social custom or spirituality, and almost everything to do with memory and sensual pleasure. Mum was a dressmaker, and I spent my childhood playing with scraps of fabric. This was tactile play rather than a visual encounter, and I have a strong connection to the feel of fabrics, whether they are linens, furnishings or clothing. That is why the expensive imported blue crepe dress stays in the wardrobe, and why a similar dress made from a far more sensuous fabric is worn, even though its a little long on my short frame. Wherever possible I have the need to touch, an issue with shopping on-line. Buying objects and wearing clothing I have selected by touch as much as colour and cut, adds a more meaningful dimension to what is now patently an ongoing experience rather than a fleeting fashion style. It enables me to remember particular fabrics, clothing and discussions from my past, and  feel that on some level at least I am still engaged in meaningful conversation with my mother…




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