Black mourning bands are often seen on the arms of sportspeople, but they are also actually common amongst a range of cultures, professions and religions.
What does the black armband symbolise?
In Western cultures, the black armband signifies that the wearer is mourning or wanting to commemorate a deceased loved one. They’re often worn following the passing of a friend or family member, and then in the years following around the anniversary of their death.
When was the first time a black armband was worn?
The earliest example we can find of someone wearing a black armband is the portrait of the Queen of Bohemia (Don't believe us? Google it!). This portrait was painted in 1614, and it’s speculated that the Queen wore the armband to honour her deceased brother, the Prince of Wales.
While we aren’t sure if this was the very first time a black armband was worn to signify mourning, it is in fact the earliest example we can find.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of the mourning band in different cultures?
Why, of course! We never thought you’d ask.
The history of the mourning band in the UK
Back in the olden days, the cost of mourning clothes was high. In affluent households, servants and workers were provided with black clothes when a member of the household died, but in less affluent households, they were given black crepe armbands instead.
The black armbands then became quite prominent during the Regency and Victorian periods. Maybe this occurred because the armbands were cheaper than a full set of new mourning clothes (fair enough), or maybe they just loved them as a fashion statement. We guess we’ll never know.
The history of the mourning band in Chinese culture
Interestingly, white is the colour that signifies death, funerals and mourning in Chinese culture! This is because black is perceived as a hopeful, optimistic and auspicious colour. In 1908, Chinese military personnel decided to wear a mourning armband to commemorate the death of Empress Tzu Hsi. Instead of wearing a black armband? They wore a white one on their left arms.
The history of the mourning band in Western culture
The notion of wearing a black armband when mourning or commemorating a loved one was passed from the UK to the US. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon of opting for something a little cheaper than a set of new black clothes, and after the Great Depression, finding ways to save money was a priority for most.
Today, you’ll often find men and sportspeople donning the black armband to commemorate loved ones they’ve lost. It’s why you’ll often see entire AFL teams wearing the bands; they’re either mourning the loss of a loved one, a team mate’s loved one, or commemorating the anniversary of a death of one of the above.