The one piece of inherited antique fashion in my family's possession is a dress that belonged to my great-grandmother, typically Victorian in the wrenlike teeniness of the bodice and its color, ink black.
Why are so many surviving Victorian pieces of this hue? Simple: the wearers were so often in mourning. Most frequently, and poignantly, of a child.
Under certain circumstances, however, death released a woman who had known a lifetime of subordination (to father and then husband) into what must have been a giddy kind of freedom. The merry widow could not, of course, be seen flaunting her new status in unsanctioned color, but convention did afford her the opportunity to splash out on accessories. Shawls rich with embroidery and fringe, fans edged with black lace (less to veil than to provoke), and wonderfully over-the-top, face-framing collars of jet beadwork, feathers, even monkey fur. Widows' weeds--with all the term's connotation of poverty and suffering--these were affirmatively not.
Keyword in "mourning" and "Victorian" onto eBay, and see how Death Became Her.