Fundraising Friday: The Widow of Windsor

It's Fundraising Friday! The FIDM Museum is in the final months of a major fundraising campaign to purchase the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, a private collection of 1,200 historic garments and accessories from four centuries assembled by the late Helen Larson, a collector from Whittier, California. Each Friday, this blog will feature an exquisite piece from the collection, with information on how you can make a donation to keep these one-of-a-kind treasures together and housed in a public collection in Larson's native Southern California. 


c. 1897
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

There's no mistaking the distinctive silhouette. Standing just 4' 7" tall, with a 46-inch waist, the elderly, reclusive Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was known as "the widow of Windsor." After her beloved husband Prince Albert died prematurely in 1861, the heartbroken queen went into mourning for the rest of her long life. At the time, black clothing for women was reserved almost exclusively for mourning. Recent widows wore garments of matte black fabrics like crepe, devoid of ornamentation, gradually re-adopting colors and trimmings. This gown of silk faille and crepe–created decades after Albert's death–is only somewhat enlivened by black beads and machine-made lace. A small peplum dates the ensemble to the late 1890s, but it is otherwise typical of the Queen's habitual dress in the second half of her life. 



Perversely, the Queen's refusal to follow fashion set a trend for elaborate mourning; bereaved women throughout Europe and the United States emulated her prolonged and ostentatious display of grief. The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection includes several garments owned by Queen Victoria–including both mourning wear and monogrammed underwear, hats, gloves, and other accessories–plus many more worn by her children and grandchildren. These sartorial relics of the royal family were given as hand-me-downs or mementos to friends, relatives, and servants and treasured by their descendants. Helen Larson's cache of British royal dress–purchased on multiple trips to the United Kingdom in the mid-20th century–would be impossible to replicate today; even if they could be found, modern-day export laws would prevent these historically significant objects from leaving the country. The FIDM Museum's fundraising campaign presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire garments literally fit for a queen.


Helen Larson spent 50 years building her extraordinary collection; now, it is in danger of being dispersed forever or absorbed into another private collection, inaccessible to students, researchers, and the general public. The FIDM Museum needs your help to save the Larson collection. You can make a contribution of any amount online or by mail. Donations are tax deductible; if your company has a matching gift program, your support will go even further. The FIDM Museum has until the end of 2015 to finish raising the necessary funds, so now is the time to join the campaign and help make fashion history.

One response to “Fundraising Friday: The Widow of Windsor

  1. Kristi Leigh Love Whitacre says:

    Thank you for posting this!!

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