In the latest installment of our around the world series, we take a look at colors and funeral attire in different cultures. We also share the key milestones in history that led to cultures adopting one style over others. Although we’re moving towards more customized funeral services as a culture, there are still a few things to remember.

Suggested Read: What to Wear to a Funeral

Funeral Attire And Mourning Colors To Wear

Funeral Attire: Wearing Black As A Sign Of Mourning

In the West, we wear black to signify mourning. In the past, this has included all black dresses, suits, and even accessories like armbands, hats, veils and more. Queen Victoria mourned the loss of Prince Edward for 40 years, and this made black dressing a staple funeral attire. Women typically led the mourning and often wore clothes made of black crepe, which was referred to as “mourning crape.” They often mourned with a strict dress code at least for 1-2 years. Men would typically mourn for 3 to 6 months and wear dark clothes.

“Women had to put aside all their ordinary clothes and wear nothing but black, in the appropriate materials and with particular accessories, for the first stages of mourning.” Henry Mayhew, Social Historian, 1865

Mourning had two stages: Initial and final, or “half mourning.” Towards the end, mourners could relax some of the rules.

In the final six months a period called half mourning began.  Ordinary clothes could be worn in acceptable subdued shades of grey, white or purple, violet, pansy, heliotrope, soft mauves and of course black.  Every change was subtle and gradual, beginning firstly with trims of these colours being added to the black dresses. These were the transitional mourning dresses from secondary mourning to the final stage of lesser ordinary half mourning where colours like purple and cream rosettes, bows, belts and streamers along with jet stones or buttons were introduced. (via)

Today, it is appropriate to wear either black or any dark clothing.  From the 1980s, it became common that people would wear black only on the day of the funeral and not for an extended period.

Wearing White As Funeral Attire

Many eastern cultures, including people following Hinduism and Buddhism, wear white as a sign of purity. In India, Hindu widows shifted toward simple living represented by the colorlessness of white. Men also wear white during a funeral event but not for a long time frame.

Today, the funeral service often has people dressed in white, but it doesn’t usually extend beyond the function.

In the West, white mourning was common around the 16th century. This was a custom for the reigning queens of France, which inspired Mary, Queen of Scots choose white as a color of mourning the loss of immediate family members. The funeral for King Leo V of Armenia in 1393 in Paris, featured a procession clad entirely in white.­­ King Baudouin I’s widow, Queen Fabiola wore white in 1993 at his funeral service.

The Significance Of Wearing Purple, Yellow, Or Grey

In Thailand, purple represents the color of mourning and often worn by those attending a service. Brazilian Catholics pair purple with the usual black. Egyptians traditionally used gold or yellow for those who pass away. This was not only a tribute to the Sun God, Ra, but also because gold is non-perishable, symbolizing the afterlife. Grey is a color of mourning in Papua New Guinea. Women who are mourning the loss of their husbands, often wear grey, the color of clay.

Simple Rules for Funeral Attire

Be Culturally Appropriate 

Learn about significant cultural colors. It’s important to be aware of cultural traditions and avoid any offensive colors.

Err on the Side of Simplicity

Most cultures wear simple and understated colors. Garish or loud colors may be disrespectful to the memories of the loved one and seen as aberrations. Funeral attire should not be distracting.

Follow any Requests of the Family 

Some families may choose to celebrate the lives of their loved ones through a specific service. This may mean that they have a theme they’d like to choose. Make sure you’re in touch with the family and respect their wishes about the dress code.

What are some of the rules you follow when choosing what to wear for a funeral service or wake? Do share it with our community here.

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