Girl's mourning coat

Girl’s mourning coat, England, 1921
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Although the 1920s are often seen as an modernising era, the custom of wearing black to express sorrow at the death of a loved one was still traditional in many countries.

In July 1921, Amy Brock’s husband Will, a soldier in the British army serving in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), died of heat stroke in Basra. A skilled seamstress and dressmaker, Amy made a mourning coat and dress for their six-year old daughter Eileen to wear.

The coat is decorated with popular embroidery motifs, including forget-me-nots to represent the child’s memories of her father, and a butterfly which symbolises renewal. At the same time, Eileen made a mourning necklace of black and gold-coloured glass beads for her mother to wear.