Planning what to wear to a funeral can be tricky, especially when you’re not sure if the deceased observed a particular religion, culture or spiritual practice. While black is a solid default wardrobe choice, it’s important to be aware of other mourning colours that are observed around the globe.
Fashion aside, if you’re wondering what different mourning colours represent, you’re in the right place! Let’s get this colour wheel turning.
In the Western world, black is often worn to funerals… although there are some exceptions. For example, specific religious practices may consider another colour (like white) to be more appropriate, or others may choose to observe ancient family mourning practices at funerals and during the mourning period.
While mourning colours are not always based on the location in which the deceased lived or died, some countries do observe official mourning colours. For example, due to its large Catholic population, black continues to be the official colour of mourning in Italy today. The same applies to other European countries, too.
In the Western world, white is the colour most commonly worn by brides. But up until the 16th century, white was worn by widows as a colour of mourning. In fact, it still is today in some cultures and religions (like in the Sikh religion, where women in mourning may wear white or black).
Today, white is also the colour of mourning in eastern regions of Asia, as it symbolises purity, rebirth and death. As the colour of purity, white is often worn to Hindu funerals. In China, where a large population are practising Buddhists, white is connected to inauspicious chi energy and death. For this reason, it is often worn to Buddhist funerals, too.
Depending on where you are in the world, the colour red has different meanings. In some Eastern cultures, red represents luck and good fortune. In China, red is a symbol of happiness and should never be worn to funerals. You may see some brides wear red on their wedding day, too, as it’s believed to bring them good fortune in their marriage.
However, in South Africa, red is the colour of mourning – as it represents the Apartheid era of bloodshed. And for a Ghanaian funeral, while it’s traditional for community members to wear black and white, the immediate family will wear red and black.
Purple and grey
The colour purple has long been associated with spirituality and royalty. But in many countries, purple is considered to be a colour of mourning or deep sorrow (like in Thailand, where widows traditionally wear purple). According to Catholic traditions, purple is the colour of spirituality and represents the suffering and sorrow of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Because of this, in Brazil – (a country with a large Catholic population) – purple is usually paired with black. Additionally, purple robes are often donned by Catholics during Easter celebrations to commemorate this pain and suffering.
In the Georgian and Victorian eras, widows observed different stages known as ‘full mourning’, ‘half mourning’ and similar. For half mourning, muted colours like lilac, grey and lavender could be introduced into the wardrobe. Today, grey continues to be a mourning colour in Papua New Guinea, where widows apply a grey, stone-coloured clay to their skin after the death of their husbands.
While different cultures, religions and parts of the world have their own respective mourning colours, we live in a rapidly changing, adaptable world. Today, families have much more freedom in what they can wear to a loved one’s funeral and in some instances, can ask guests to wear certain colours or adhere to a less rigid dress code (like at a celebration of life service, for example, where guests may be asked to wear something bright, or the deceased’s favourite colour).
The bottom line is, if you’re attending a funeral and you’re not sure what’s appropriate (or you’d just like to be prepared) – your best bet is to ask the family about the dress code respectfully. When in doubt, though, check the death notice, as the family may have left instructions or guidelines to follow. When all else fails, black or dark colours are (usually) a good default to stick to.
Don’t let your guests show up to your funeral with serious fashion faux pas. Start writing your Will online today and make your dress code wishes known, so everyone knows what colour to wear when the time comes.