Black clothes for Funerals

Why do people wear black at funerals?

When a loved one passed away in the Victorian period which was approximately around 1860s, there was a strict structure in place in regard to mourning and what clothing was appropriate to be worn. 

There was a period of ‘full mourning’ which usually lasted for one year, and not only did you wear all black clothing, and black jewellery, but you also avoided all social gatherings or events that may have a hint of joy about them.  The belief behind this was that attending parties would aid the loss of the loved one – not help with the mourning process.  If you were a widow, then the black garments where referred to as “widow’s weeds”.

After this one-year period of mourning you would then move to a half mourning period of up to 2 years.  During this time, you could start to incorporate soft colours such as lilac, grey and lavender into your attire, and you could start attending social gatherings.

Often a lock of hair of the loved one would be woven into a knot and placed into a cameo or locket to be worn, so as to keep their memory alive.  The introduction of the black armband for men was around the 1770’s in England, it is worn on the left arm as a symbol of being in mourning.

When the mourning time was over the black clothes had to be discarded as it was bad luck to keep them in the home.  Women were permitted to remarry after a six-month mourning period if there was a need eg children to be fed and clothed.

In ‘The Workwoman’s Guide” of the era, the following mourning times where detailed:

Loss of a parent                                  6 months – 1 year

Loss of child over 10                           6 months – 1 year

Loss of child under 10                         6 months

Infants                                                 6 weeks

Siblings                                                6 months – 8 months

Uncles/Aunts                                       3 months – 6 months

Friends                                                3 weeks

It is interesting to see the ‘perceived’ value of relationships from that era according to the mourning time they were allocated.  These mourning periods and dressing rules allowed everyone you met to know immediately that you were in mourning, and to be treated with more care and gentleness.  If these rules still applied to us today – do you think it would make a difference in how people treat families in mourning?  Mourning and grief are different for each of us – some take a longer road to come to terms with death, others seem to demonstrate greater resilience and tend to move on from their grieving process to more of an acceptance and celebration of life.  There are no right or wrongs – just time and healing with memories.

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