Thanks for having me today, AAR! I have a new release titled Why Do Dukes Fall in Love?. It’s the fourth book in the Dukes Behaving Badly series, and it has an exceedingly intelligent duke who hires a female secretary. (AAR’s review is here.)
One of the biggest reasons I love writing historical romance is that I love the clothes. All of them, from the snug little pelisses, to the crinolines, to the ribbons and wide skirts and half-sleeves and every bit in between.
As I’ve moved into the early Victorian period, writing the clothes has been more of a challenge, because I prefer the simpler Regency clothing. But that just means I have to find what I do like, and I have. I also often have one of my heroines channel my own taste and rail against the enormous sleeves that just (in my opinion) look ridiculous.
But that’s not what I want to talk about, except to say that my interest in clothing is why I went to see an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
It was called Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. It explored “the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
First off, let’s step back and think about that for a moment. It wasn’t enough that a family member or spouse died; you also then had to go shopping and make sure you were wearing clothing that suited the occasion. How weird is that?*
Men got away with wearing darker suits and black armbands after a time. They didn’t have to completely eschew wearing any form of happy print or bright clothing. Because inequity in gender applies to fashion, too.
In order to fit into what Society expected, a woman had to be dressed head-to-toe in black. Now, that doesn’t sound too onerous to me (I’m a New Yorker, after all, black is my base color for most of my clothing), but think about the difficulty of trying to miss someone while also being forced to wear something that might not be attractive on you. Or might cause you to spend money that you don’t have, especially if the dead person was a husband and you have no male children, so his title and fortune goes to someone else.
So not only is your whole life in some sort of wacky precarious balance, you also have to make sure you don’t cause gossip because you’re seen as not outwardly mourning someone enough. Sheesh!
The exhibit, which was phenomenal, also said that widows (note: the heroine of Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? is a widow, but she’s also too poor to get herself a new wardrobe) were seen as prey because their wearing widows’ weeds meant that they were unprotected by a husband, and could be fair game for predatory males. That absolutely stunned me; I thought that wearing black would be a warning for people to keep their distance because the person had suffered a loss, but no, it is merely an invitation for impropriety in the eyes of some unscrupulous gentlemen.
That made me think about how widows would have to maneuver through the world; being approachable enough so that if an honorable gentleman was interested he wouldn’t be rebuffed, but circumspect and proper enough that a cad wouldn’t be able to get the widow in a compromising situation. And we thought being a debutante was difficult!
Widows were accorded more freedom than debutantes, however, although that could mean that they could be more easily lured into something they didn’t want. When I first started thinking about Why Do Dukes Fall in Love?, I knew I couldn’t have my heroine be innocent, since there was no way I could put her into the situation of working as a secretary to a duke if there was a chance she might find herself a husband and not have to