THE wearing of black clothing has been a long-accepted funeral tradition intended to show respect for the deceased. Wearing other colours is in fact seen as a major social faux pas, or an out and out slap in the face to mourning family members, regardless of how subdued or otherwise formal the offending clothing is.
By the late 19th century, black clothing had become so associated with the act or process of mourning that any woman who dared wear black when not in mourning was looked down upon and seen as “dangerously eccentric.”
So where did this association come from? What was its original purpose? Why has it been so persistent? Do other cultures allow mourners or funeral-goers more leeway when it comes to the colour of mourning dress?
Colours of Mourning in the West
The easy answer to the first of these questions is to say that we wear black because that’s just the way it’s always been – and for all intents and purposes, for most of us that’s true. The tradition of black mourning clothing in the West dates back to the Roman Empire, when the family of the deceased would wear a dark-coloured toga, called a toga pulla.
This tradition persisted in England throughout medieval times, when women were expected to wear black caps and veils when their husbands passed away.
In much of continental Europe however, widows in the deepest mourning period wore white, a tradition that held on in Spain through most of the 1500s. French queens prior to the Revolution also wore white while in mourning.
Purple and Gray – Colours of “Half Mourning”
Flash forward to England during the Victorian era, where women were expected to dress in mourning for up to four years.
However, once she entered what was known as “half-mourning”, a year after being widowed the bereaved could incorporate purple or grey into her wardrobe.
Today, while these traditions have persisted in the US and Western Europe, other cultures and non-western religions naturally maintain their own rich traditions, many of which incorporate a wide variety of other mourning colours.
Mourning Colors Around the World
We can learn much from looking at the funeral clothing and mourning traditions of other cultures. We could potentially even incorporate some of these beautiful customs into our own funeral celebrations. This would be especially appropriate to celebrate the beautiful life of a loved one who enjoyed travelling, or reading and learning about other cultures.
White has long played a role in the history of mourning. White has been representative of purity through many centuries and in many parts of the world. The presence of youth at a funeral, whether as the deceased, a mourner, or in a participatory capacity, is often distinguished by white as a symbol of innocence and purity.
- The funeral for King Leo V of Armenia featured a procession clad entirely in white. The funeral was held in 1393 in Paris, France, where King Leo V died in exile.
- In 1962, Wilhelmina, who had abdicated the throne of the Netherlands in 1948, was given a white funeral in respect for her spiritual belief that earthly death was the beginning of eternal life. This has become a tradition with the Dutch royal family, exemplified in 2004 when Queen Juliana’s daughters all wore white to her funeral.
- Queen Fabiola wore white in 1993 at the funeral of her husband, King Baudouin I of Belgium.
White is the colour of mourning in Hindu culture as a representation of purity.
Other Colors of Mourning:
In our search for the use and symbolism of colours of mourning, black and white found common threads across cultures. Additionally, yellow has long been a colour of mourning in Egypt as it is associated with both the sun and the gold used with so many mummies and sarcophagi. Red is a common funeral color in Ghana among native cultures. The Catholic Church has introduced the use of purple in mourning in many countries influenced by the religion.
Whatever your wishes for attire on what is in effect your last life event here on earth why not include a dress code for your funeral in your funeral plan?
Golden Leaves are currently running a promotion offering €150 off pre-paid funeral plans, so why not give them a call and get your final wishes in order. It’s the perfect time with Brexit looming to finalise that pesky paperwork for us ex-pats here in Spain.
Thank you for taking the time to read this news article “The colours of mourning”.
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