Where’s the funeral? is a question that many Gothic people have been asked while out and about in their Gothic garb. In today’s society much of the population considers the color black to be the color of mourning, with entirely black outfits being viewed as funeral attire. Black clothing as the fashion for mourning is not a modern idea. It is routed in western/European tradition beginning as early as the formation of Rome itself and has continued to evolve into the mourning clothes worn in the present day.
The Roman Empire was known not only for its eccentric and strong leaders, impressive maritime warfare and massive colonial expansion; it was also known for its strict traditions placed on not only the Emperor and the governing class, but also the plebeians (commoners). One such tradition was the wearing of different toga to suit different occasions. The toga worn on a daily basis was called the Toga Virilis, it was white in color and considered a symbol of the wearers status as a Roman citizen. The tradition of wearing darker colors to funerals began with the Romans around 753 BC. During the funeral and the time of mourning the family of the deceased or at times the entire empire were required to wear the Toga Pulla. In stark contrast to the Toga Virilis, the Toga Pulla was made of darkened wool fabric, usually colored a dark purple or grey depending on the station held by the mourner. The tradition of darkened clothing for mourning continued throughout the rise and collapse of the Roman Empire and due to the vast colonization and impact that the Romans and Roman culture had on the rest of the world at the time, traditions such as darkened clothing for mourning were adopted by other peoples.
Ruling at the same time as the later Roman Emperors were the Merovingian Franks also known as Gauls, in what is now modern day France. The style of the Merovingian’s was heavily influenced by the hot and humid climate and resulted in the clothing being worn in such a way that it exposed much of the wearer’s upper body. The Franks soon began to adopt a more Roman style of dress as the Romans were their neighbors and sometimes allies. This group of people were known as the Gallo-Romans, Gauls who dressed in the fashions of Rome. This included adopting the darkened mourning clothes. However because of the Gauls traditions of wearing bright and revealing clothing the mourning clothes were not dyed as dark as the traditional Roman funerary garb.
After the Merovingian’s came the Carolingian Dynasty, who’s mourning garb consisted of high necklines for women and veils covering the hair. Mourning clothing was not required to be a certain color as the widows modesty was considered to be the most important part of the mourning wear.
During the Middle Ages Christianity became popular throughout Europe. The people that once had to hide their religion in Rome were now able to set up churches not only in Rome but in other countries as well. This lead to a spread in Christianity, which due to the strict nature of its teachings began setting rules for dress. Black became the color of mourning through the churches insistence that the mourning family dress in a pious manner after the death of a loved one. Black being the pious choice as it was a color worn by priests and monks.
The Renaissance period saw strict rules put in place in regards to mourning clothing and duration of wear for such clothing. Women were required to wear almost fully black clothing with a cap over the top of a veil. This style of dress was worn for up to two years in accordance with the set mourning period. In some countries however widows would be required to wear full mourning garb for the rest of their lives. These countries include Spain, Italy and some areas of Greece. In Spain up until the Renaissance period white had been the color worn for mourning.
During the Georgian and Victorian Eras many strict rules had been developed for mourning, heavy black clothing was worn, this included a heavy black veil, known as the widow’s weeds. Women were also permitted to wear caps and bonnets over the veil if desired. During the period of mourning the widow was not allowed to wear any of her normal day to day jewelry, instead special all black jewelry was created to be worn for the duration of the mourning period. The period of mourning could last for up to four years. Men wore mourning suits, usually made up of a shirt, waistcoat, trousers and a overcoat, all black of course. These rules continued through the Edwardian Era.
As the world began to approach the 20th century black was no longer only worn for mourning. It became a fashionable color, being viewed as somewhat mysterious. While periods of mourning were still observed black was no longer only a funerary color. Black was still worn for mourning, however there was no set time for how long the family of the deceased must wear black. Gradually black began to be only worn for the funeral and the few days after, until in the 21st century funeral wear changed once again.
The 21st century saw funeral wear change to reflect the deceased persons interests or favorite colors/patterns. While black was still the standard mourning color, a person could request certain outfits or colors to be worn at their funeral. The changed centuries old traditions and lead to funerals being seen more as a celebration of life.
The association of black with mourning was not only a western/European tradition. In Japan the traditional mofuku is worn. It is a black silk kimono worn for both the funeral and the mourning period. Black is also the color of mourning in Thailand, the Philippines and in Tonga.
The color black can also be associated with death itself. In 1346 the Plague, also known as the Black Death hit Europe. This resulted in an estimated loss of 40-60% of the population. The plague was thought to have been carried over to Europe from Asia by black rats. These rats began to infest all of Europe, which was defenseless against the infestation, due to the culling of black cats. This lead to a reduced cat population which could have helped prevent such a catastrophic outbreak of the disease. The Plague was given the name Black Death as a result of not only the color of the rats that had brought the disease to Europe, but also the color of the blemishes that would erupt on the skin only hours after contraction of the disease and the sickly grey color the skin would take after death. This association between the color black and death lead to black being solely associated with death and mourning.
As aforementioned before the Plague many places in Europe began to cull black cats. Black cats were considered to be the familiars/pets of witches at the time and were considered bad luck if you were to encounter one as it was thought that the witch would not be too far away. Due to the witch hunts in the Middle Ages black cats were killed as a away rid the world of what was thought to be unlucky and evil. Through this idea not only black cats but the color black itself became associated with evil and lack of luck.
In modern day black is worn in many different ways, no longer a mourning color, people are free to wear black any time and black cats are free to roam where ever they please even if they do belong to a modern day witch.
From the rise of Rome, to the Middles Ages, to the Victorian Era and to the present day black has been a symbol of death and mourning and will most likely continue as such into the future. Due to the thousands of years that the color black has spent being the color of death and mourning, it is easy to see why there is an association between wearing
black as a Goth and wearing funerary garb.
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Lou Taylor. Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. Routledge, 2009.
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Philip Ziegler. The Black Death. Faber & Faber. 2013.