Have you ever wondered why we wear black at a funeral? How did this tradition come about and what does the colour black represent? Its been long taking for granted that when a close family member or friend passes we wear black to show respect, it is one of the few funeral traditions that has lasted for centuries, even today as the new theme of funerals becomes a celebration of life, it is still very much fashionable to wear black.
The colour black has a number of meanings, in colour psychology, black gives protection from external emotional stress. It creates a barrier between itself and the outside world, providing comfort while protecting its emotions and feelings, and hiding its vulnerabilities, insecurities and lack of self confidence. It absorbs negative energy, it is useful to carry something black with you to protect you from harm and negativity when traveling or when going about your usual daily activities outside your home. In relation to death black is seen as the end, but the end always implies a new beginning. When the light appears, black becomes white, the colour of new beginnings.
Keeping that in mind it makes perfect sense that we would associate black with funerals, with the black attire helping the mourners stay safe from negative energy during a stressful time. The tradition of black mourning clothing dates back to the Romans, when the family of the deceased would wear a dark-coloured toga, called a toga pula.
This tradition persisted in England throughout medieval times, when women were expected to wear black caps and veils when their husbands passed away. After the death of Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, it is said that she wore black for 40 years - this period was seen by many as the start of black becoming part and parcel of a traditional funeral in England and Ireland. Mourning behaviour developed into a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes. Women bore the greatest burden of these customs. They involved wearing heavy, concealing, black clothing, and the use of heavy veils of black crêpe. The entire ensemble was colloquially known as widow's weeds (from the Old English "Waed" meaning "garment").
It became the norm to wear black for a period of four years however after a two year period - known as half - mourning, widows could add a small splash of colour to their garments, the general accepted colour was purple. These rules were adhered to up as far as the mid part of the twentieth century when both Irish and english churches relaxed the rules to a period of one year. While there is no rules as such in existence today, you will find that a lot of mourners, especially widows, will remain in black until after the months mind.
With the ever changing positive attitudes towards funerals today you would think that the colour black would be ditched in favour of a brighter colour to celebrate the life of a loved one, this has not been the case. Modern fashion designs have reinvented the colour black and is now seen as sophisticated, classy and fashionable garment to wear at funerals.The style of mourning attire may have changed over the centuries, various traditions have come and gone - black however has survived and looks like it will be part of funeral traditions for a long time to come.