Dancers for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
New Perspectives

Nun or Assassin? Your Guide to Widow Fashion!

This morning, I went to my closet to try and pick out my outfit for the day. First, I looked through my assortment of nun’s habits and other floor-length gowns complete with dark veils and other things that make is very difficult to see. They have to hang on the super-strength hangers as they are heavy and velvety and smell a bit like death. But as I was thumbing through these gorgeous pieces, I wasn’t sure about my clothing choice. Was this the vibe I was going for?

I turned to the other half of my closet, the part where I have all of my lace-up bustiers and leather pants with belt hooks for weapons. Below this wardrobe, which consists of clothing made of tiny scraps of material, are my industrial boots with spike heels. I add the fishnet stockings if I’m feeling chilly.

It was a tough choice for a Saturday, one where I need to run errands and go to a Little League game and then a neighbor’s backyard barbecue. Do I get dressed like a nun or an assassin?

I’m a widow, you see, so these are my options.

Don’t believe me? Try Google. It will show you exactly what it showed me, when Iooked up what a widow should wear. And though there were a few outliers, almost all of the choices centered on one of two looks: nun or assassin.

Some days, it’s just too much to think about my appearance, so I like to go with something that basically obscures all aspects of my skin and body. If, like me, you’re looking more for the nun look, there’s a great BBC article on mourner’s clothing which helpfully focuses on a couple of famous widows. There was Queen Victoria (“history’s most famous mourner”) who wore the nun-like black outfit every day for the rest of her life after her husband died. And she outlived him by forty years. Or there’s the still-chaste but a bit more stylish look of Jackie Kennedy (“the quintessence of elegant widowhood”) who nonetheless wore a black veil that covered the entire top half of her body. And yes, the article tries to give some nuance, but there it is: widows should dress like nuns. Or at least that’s what they’ve always done.

Unless you’re a scary widow. The kind that’s both sexy and dangerous, and thus is obviously an assassin. Sometimes I wake up and think about all the revenge I’m going to take out on others and all the buildings I’m going to scale in my quest to avenge my late husband’s death. On those days, I turn towards my favorite goth-brand Widow (yes, it’s a real brand of clothing!) and make sure to include a lot of dark eye makeup and deep red lipstick, because that’s all part of the look. In fact, Widow (the brand) describes itself in the following way: “all black everything with special details such as lace and original dark prints, Widow clothing offers an assortment of bold pieces for the magical dark souls.” Magical dark souls! Perfect. Fits with the assassin vibe.

It’s not like I don’t have choices! I have two very unique ones. I can be chaste and sad and quiet OR I can be loud and dangerous and full of sex appeal. See? Don’t say widows are limited. These options seem quite limitless!

My children sometimes say it’s “so embarrassing” to be seen with a mom who is dressed like I am. But really, what else do they expect? I’m a widow, remember?

So what if they cringe when I cheer at the soccer game dressed in a choker necklace and a red-lace slip? Or if they think I “don’t fit in” when I’m chatting with other moms at elementary school pickup in my floor-length black veil? Kids always think their parents are uncool!

And so today, when I went to pick out my outfit, I didn’t pause. I knew exactly what look I wanted. Not sure what it was? Well, I guess you’ll just have to come to my neighborhood in DC to find out.

I don’t think it will be tough to spot me.


  • Melissa

    Jackie Kennedy became a widow when I was a junior in high school. I watched JFK’s funeral procession on live television. Even with the heavy veil, you could see her eyes were swollen from crying. I read a few years ago that she had chosen to wear that black beret over her veil because that is what she had in her own wardrobe and, given the circumstances, she was more concerned with the details of her husband’s funeral. However, she didn’t continue to wear “widow’s weeds.” On the contrary, she was excoriated by many when “just” 5 years later she wed Aristotle Onassis. People wanted her to keep the legend of Camelot alive and couldn’t accept anyone who didn’t live up to that ideal. From The Washington Post: “Her legion of admirers kept her like a butterfly in amber and never wanted her to do anything that would change their adoration of a brave, bereaved woman who was dedicated to her children.”

      • Melissa

        I found the book (Jackie,The Clothes of Camelot, by Jay Mulvaney) where I read about her funeral attire. It says she borrowed the beret from her sister, Lee Radziwill. She asked her secretary for “a long veil that’s worn over the face” and the White House seamstress made it for her. It’s important, I think, to remember it had only been about 4 months since the loss of her 3rd child, Patrick, who was born prematurely. According to Mulvaney: “When Patrick had died that summer, JFK told her “We must not create an atmosphere of sadness in the White House because this would not be good for anyone, not for the country and not for the work we have to do.” Her mother recalled this made a profound impression on her, and her behavior those four days—impeccable in every sense of the word—bears the stamp of both his feelings and her extraordinary strength of character.”