The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has officially announced that their next exhibition will focus on the tradition of mourning clothes. If you are thinking that that will make for a very somber Met Ball, don't worry. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire (Not to be confused with the 1992 Robert Zemeckis film Death Becomes Her about the quest for eternal youth starring Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep) will open on October 21, well before the next gala. Since the opening of the newly renovated Anna Wintour Costume Center earluier this year, the Costume Institiute will once again be mounting two shows a year, and this one will be the museums first fall show since 2007. You can be sure that when the next gala rolls around, the theme will be somewhat more festive.
And speaking of the show, don't presume that it will necessarily be a downer. Curated by Harold Koda, the Institute's Curator in Charge along with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan, Death Becomes Her will chronicle 100 years of mourning dress from 1815 to 1915 allowing it to easily cover, among several other periods, the death-obsessed Victorian Era. The show will be designed to offer more than just sociological insight, and there's a lot more than weeping involved. “The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes,” says Koda, “The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order."
Like the current Charles James show, the upcoming exhibition will allow for greater display of the museum's costume collection than in the past few years, and will include mourning gowns worn by both Queen Victoria and her daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra, who, as royals, had a great influence on the mourning traditions of their times. So don't expect just a dour parade of dreary dresses. This Fall, the Costume Institute will use a little death to tell us more about life.