Why wear black at funerals?

Sombre,mournful and depressing: why do we continue to wear black at funerals and memorials?

A look at why black has been the colour associated with funerals and mourning, how this is changing and encouragement to have a more positive farewell event.

Wearing black at funerals has much to do with Queen Victoria. Until the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861, black was not the colour associated with funerals, though as the 19th century progressed it was gaining popularity among the upper classes at funerals, taking over from white.

According to dress historian Lou Taylor, "white was the most ancient and widespread funeral colour."  White still is in many cultures where it symbolises purity and innocence.

But the British watched the intense grief of their queen, and copied her behaviour. Victoria wore her black widow’s clothes for the remainder of her life, and hence black was what was worn at funerals and by those in mourning for their late husbands, wives and children. 

As the death of the loved one became more distant, a gradual lightening of colour was accepted by society, as was the message it gave to possible suitors.

The slaughter of the Great War, and the influenza epidemic that followed it, changed people’s views on what to wear in the early part of the 20th century.  Such was the large number of those mourning the death of a loved one that black clothing would have been virtually the only colour worn.  A growing fashion industry and less restrictive social mores meant that while black was still worn at all funerals, it was no longer necessary to have a mourning period that included wearing black.

Interestingly, until Coco Chanel designed the iconic black dress in 1926, a woman wearing black clothing for anything other than funerals and mourning was considered to be in bad taste.

For decades now black has been fashion’s most versatile and popular colour. And it is still the accepted colour to be worn at a funeral as black signifies tradition, grief and solemnity. 

If you want your funeral, or that of a loved one, to have these qualities, then you needn’t do anything as most people attending the event will wear black or dark colours. However, if you want your life to be celebrated in a more modern and positive way, start by requesting people to wear bright and lively colours. This should be one of the requests in your funeral wishes list.

It will reduce the grief, lighten the atmosphere and make the ceremony less mournful. Asking people who are attending your funeral to wear bright clothes sends a certain message to your family and friends...some will disapprove, some will be uncomfortable, but all will take notice of how you want your final event to be remembered.


Tags: Funerals funeral clothes colourful funerals funeral planning funeral wishes Victorian funerals

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