In much of the western world, funerals are somber events attended by traditionally dressed people in black attire. Over the years, it has become an unwritten rule that anyone who attends a funeral must be dressed in black, especially in the U.S. and other western countries.
Why is black so heavily associated with death and mourning? Historians trace this tradition back to the Roman Empire when people would wear a dark-colored toga called a toga pulla when attending funerals. The dark color choice was to show that they were mourning the passing of their loved one.
This funeral tradition soon spread to England during the medieval periods. In fact, during the Victorian era, women whose husbands had passed were even expected to wear black attire for an entire year to express their grief. For a period of three years after that, they were allowed to wear gray and purple clothing – color choices to show that they were in “half-mourning”. Queen Victoria was also known to wear black when she attended funerals as a sign of mourning and respect for the deceased.
During the Industrial Revolution, this practice became more widespread when the working classes started wearing black at funerals. Soon, the color black's association with death and funerals spread to other western countries such as the U.S. and Canada.
Do other cultures wear black at funerals also?
Considering its history, wearing black at funerals is a practice that is closely associated with Christianity and Roman Catholicism. It is not a universal color that represents death and mourning, despite its popularity in the west.
Many cultures in different parts of the world, especially those of Buddhist and Hindu faith, instead wear white to funerals. For them, the color white represents innocence and purity.
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