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Mourning clothes were elaborate and expensive

Most of the cultures in the world today wear either black or white for mourning. Conservative cultures adopt wearing white as the absence of colour signify a sort of renunciation in memory of the dead. Those who wear black, however, propagate a culture that has a rich history and significance.

Black clothes originated during the Industrial Revolution as working with soot, steam, and coal often stained clothes irreparably. Darker shades allowed for a much cleaner outlook, and were preferred by the working class. But to buy these clothes was difficult because black dye which was extracted from the darker substances was expensive, and only the wealthy could afford to clothe their slaves in it.


Black is also a colour associated with celibacy, clergy, and religion. Catholic priests and nuns of certain orders always wore black cassocks and habits. Their lifestyle was symbolic of religion and commitment to social causes.

When the tradition of funerals began, widows and those mourning had to wear clothes absent of any joyful sentiment. A Greek funeral where black is the colour associated with mourning Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the tradition of funerals began, widows and those mourning had to wear clothes absent of any joyful sentiment. They preferred wearing black, dull grey, or brown colours, which represented sadness. But even in this case, black was reserved for the upper class, owing to how expensive it was. As times changes, and coal became more available, black slowly became something easily accessible. Technological advances changed the way dyes were created, and so even the lower classes were able to afford it. They began to emulate the wealthy and the practice of wearing black clothes during mourning began.

In societies where black is considered unholy, and is associated with dark arts, white is preferred as the mourning garment. It symbolises chastity and purity. Those who wear it unofficially adopt a lifestyle of renunciation, and isolate themselves from social entertainments. They do not wear jewellery and shave their head.

Widows in India have to wear white and live in isolation from society Image credit: Wikimedia commons

Monarch could not afford to forego their jewellery as it was a sign of their status even when presenting themselves in foreign company. To keep with the tradition of mourning, they devised the creation of black jewellery, or jewellery made from the jet stone, to suit their outfits. A lock of the deceased's hair was tied to the pendant of the neck piece. Today, this kind of jewellery is worn out of context in a gothic setting, while non-goths wear regular jewellery with their black clothes.

To keep with the tradition of mourning, they devised the creation of black jewellery, or jewellery made from the jet stone, to suit their outfits. Monarch often wore jewellery made f black jet stone while mourning Image credit: wikimedia commons

Modern day mourners do not keep with the older traditions. Mourning periods have also been reduced due to various political, legal, and economic reasons. The only time the mourners wear these garments is on the day of the funeral, and perhaps to other funerals. Other than that, colours are quickly worn to remove the aura of sadness in the house of the deceased.

Keywords: Black, White, Mourning, Culture, Class, Tradition


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Maria Wirth

By-Maria Wirth


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