Why Do People Wear Black to Funerals?

When attending a funeral, especially in the Western world, you’ll be aware of wearing black as a gesture of respect and reverence for the deceased. Have you ever given any thought to the origins of the tradition of dressing in Black when attending a funeral service? Let us take you on a trip down history to answer “Why do people wear black to funerals.”

What Does Wearing Black Mourning Clothing to a Funeral Mean?

Black is a color associated with mourning that conveys feelings of death, grief, and the gloomy nature of the occasion. The event of someone passing away is not pleasant for the loved ones left behind, grieving for their loss.

The Black adds to the atmosphere; others may not agree with the planned emotional tone, yet it is a mark of respect and remembrance.

Where Does the Tradition of Wearing Black at Funerals Come From?

While Black is long associated with mourning in western cultures, this was not always the case. In the past, most people used to wear white as traditional funeral attire. Because White was the most economical fabric color and most people already had it, it was the most popular choice. Before Black became the color of mourning in the West, children wore white to funerals to symbolize purity and innocence.

Westerners who were wealthy and able to purchase the dye would typically wear purple in mourning to stand out from the crowd. The tradition of wearing black mourning attire primarily comes from four sources.

Ancient Romans

You can credit the Roman Empire for being the first civilization to record the wearing of black clothing to grieve the death of a loved one. People wore a darker-colored toga in mourning – known as a toga pulla – instead of the traditional white toga, symbolizing grief.

While this may have served as a model for other countries, the trend didn’t fully take hold until several centuries after this.

Symbol of the Wealthy

In the Middle Ages, wearing black mourning attire was a sign of affluence in Europe. Only the wealthiest people could afford to wear black clothing because it was difficult to obtain it in medieval times. There was a lot of competition among widows to be the most extravagant. They did so by dressing in long trains, hoods, precious “mourning jewelry,” and black veils.

White was the preferred color for funerals in many cultures and countries before the rise of Black as a symbol of mourning. Some of the wealthiest people began wearing black clothing in the late 1800s.

Queen Victoria- The Trendsetter

Queen Victoria popularized the custom of wearing black to funerals in England. She was 18 years old when she succeeded to the throne in 1837, making her the youngest monarch in history. She swiftly rose to prominence as a fashion symbol for ladies throughout England and the rest of the world.

When Queen Victoria’s adored husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, the scene shifted dramatically. After his death, she changed into a Black dress and wore only Black apparel for the remainder of her life.

It was a prestige signal for the British aristocracy to dress like their queen in times of grief. Throughout much of the West during the Victorian era, Black clothes became the norm. There were even restrictions governing how long widows had to wear the Black mourning attire.

Women Mourning her Husband
Women Mourning her Husband

Women who lost their husbands were required to wear full mourning robes for a year after his death and cover their faces whenever they left the house. After that, they could choose to wear more subdued colors like Grey or Purple for an additional year before returning to their usual attire.

Catholic Church

In modern times, the Catholic church reserves all-black vestments traditionally for funerals and other masses of the dead. You can never wear them at Easter or Sunday Mass. Black vestments are used at funeral masses to symbolize the service’s solemn nature and adhere to the Roman Missal, which guided the Roman Catholic Church until 1970. Even though violet and white vestments have found acceptance in the post-1970 Roman Missal, Black continues to be the usual option.

Did the Roman Empire Have a Color for Mourning?

Yes, they did. People marked death by wearing a toga pulla made of dark-colored wool, which Roman magistrates first wore at funeral rites in the 2nd century BC. In ancient Roman poetry, poets would refer to death as the hora nigra, or the dark hour.

Why is Black the Color of Mourning?

People Wearing Black at a Funeral
People Wearing Black at a Funeral

According to the Journal of International Color Association, the color, or rather the perception of color Black, is frequently associated with negative ideas such as death, fear, or despair.

Death may be the greatest mystery of all. In many cultures, the color black symbolizes death because ancient people had no idea what would happen once they died. Additionally, there was the coincidence that death and sleep occur at night when the eyes are closed, and all light is blocked off. The color black has a long association with phenomena that arouse dread and suspicion, such as black magic, black holes, and the black plague, to name just a few.

Is it Disrespectful to Wear White to a Funeral?

Funeral customs differ in different cultures and regions of the world. Although wearing white is not typically linked with funerals in the West, it is the traditional color of mourning in other cultures.

Most people expect to wear black to funerals. Dark hues convey respect for the deceased person and family and sadness at their passing. The colors considered acceptable for memorials are brown, grey, navy blue, and purple.

While Black has traditionally been the hue of mourning in Europe and North America, White has always played a role in the process of grief. People wear white at Buddhist funerals as a sign of respect and sorrow. Buddhists believe that the first three days of mourning should be a time of positivity so that the deceased might smoothly transition from life to death.

White is more important than in the West in other continents. As a sign of reverence and purity, it is the predominant hue worn at Hindu funerals. In several Asian cultures, such as China and Korea, White is the color of mourning.

So, it’s not disrespectful to wear white to a funeral. Plain, neutral colors are acceptable for memorials. However, you should check with the family hosting the event or the funeral services of the funeral home if you are unsure about this.

Final Words – Why Do People Wear Black to Funerals?

Mourning traditions are changing. Now, people want to honor their loved ones by organizing “celebration of life” events instead of sad events. The most important rule to remember when dressed for a funeral is to avoid drawing attention to oneself through your funeral clothing. It’s all about honoring the dead and supporting the family members, so funeral-goers should focus on them.

Also, have you ever wondered what a wake is? Check out the answer!