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Why Do People Wear Black to a Funeral?

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Published 15/10/2020
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Even if you know almost nothing about funerals, there’s one thing that everyone will be aware of: in the western world you have to wear black. But have you ever stopped and wondered why that is? In this blog I will explain why it is custom to wear black clothing if you attend a funeral.

Back to Black

The tradition is thought to originate in Roman times. Funeral attendees would wear a dark coloured toga – which was known as a toga pulla – when they were paying their respects to the dead.

As the Roman Empire spread, the tradition spread to Britain, where the upper class in particular took to it. In extreme circumstances, some females would wear black clothing for a full year when their husbands had passed away, an observed a custom called ‘half-mourning’ – defined as “mourning dress lightened by the use of white, grey, or lavender” – for a further three years.

Queen Victoria took this a step further. When her husband Prince Albert died in 1861, the Queen adopted traditional black mourning wear which she wore for the rest of her life, a look which she has that she became very well known for. This in turn boosted the popularity of black as the colour of mourning in the United Kingdom, which was then adopted by the working classes during the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century.

White and Other Colours

But outside of the western world, black is not always the colour of choice for mourning. In Buddhist and Hindu countries – such as China, India and the Middle East – white is seen as a symbol of both purity and innocence, meaning that all-white funerals are customary.

In South Africa, the colour red is typically used for funerals. This is to symbolise the bloodshed suffered during the Apartheid era. At former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wore red in tribute.

Yellow/gold is another colour used in some cultures for funerals. Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico and Myanmar are among the countries, due to its association with the sun, a symbol of everlasting life. This is also the reason why many sarcophagi and mummies from ancient Egyptian times have masks painted in colours of yellow and gold.

Thank you for taking the time to read today’s blog, if you’re interested in reading more about what you can wear to a funeral then you could try the following article:
What do I wear to a funeral?

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