Have you ever gotten mad at someone for not wearing black at a funeral? Did you know that if you wore black to a Chinese funeral you’d get the same rotten looks? As we have learned, different cultures attach significance to different colors.
Today, we usually associate a group of people huddled in black with a funeral. This history of using the color black in the light of death. In the West, we associate the color of black with mourning, but the significance of the color did not always mean the same thing. Beginning in the Roman Empire, the color black has been associated with evil and mystery. This may be due to death being seen as inherently evil, especially in the context of how many individuals died frightening deaths in the past. The Roman stigma of losing a fight and being rewarded by death was not always seen as heroic. In the light of the renaissance, individuals wore black tags to show their state of mourning, such as black headdresses, jewelry and lockets that held their loved one’s lost hair..
Today, the color black is worn by widows, and in countries like Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Spain, widows wear black for the rest of their lives. Families may even wear black for a couple weeks after a death. (1)
In countries like China, however, the color white is worn at funerals. White is seen as a color of gratitude and is worn in remembrance of the individual. However, the stigma of death is still present in these funerals as the white garments worn to the service are burned afterward. This is to prevent any bad luck associated with death to cling on to the individuals. A black piece of cloth is then worn on the arm of the individual’s children, blue worn by their grandchildren, and green worn by their great-grandchildren.
In Egypt, yellow and gold were used in mourning. Mummies wore gold masks and the color came from the sun and its constant presence. Mexico and Ethiopia attribute yellow as a color of mourning also.
In Korea, blue is used a color for mourning. This counters the western idea that blue is for sadness and depression, as mourning does not just include weeping, but hope.
In Thailand, widows wear purple instead of black. This color is also used in Brazil.
In Papua New Guinea, the widows wear grey. This color comes from a light grey clay that the women cover themselves on the death of their husband.
What did you think of these colors? Just because other cultures may use these colors, does not give you permission to wear them at your own funerals. Though you are free to do so.
- Harrison, Marie. “Features: What Mourning Colors Especially Typify.” Vogue 36.2 (1910): 48.
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