My Wonderful Life

Funeral Attire: Then and Now

posted on 8/23/11 by Staff

In medieval Europe it was tradition for royal funerals to be carried out in white, rather than black. The custom of wearing black during periods of mourning can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire, when toga pullas (dark togas) were worn in times of bereavement when someone passed away.

Rules were especially strict for widows, who were expected to wear clothes that reflected her state of mourning for as long as four years after the death of her husband. Anything less was considered an act of promiscuity. Some women even wore such clothes for the rest of their lives. It wasn’t until black was adopted as a fashionable color that families ended the tradition of wearing mourning clothes for extended periods of time.

Traditions surrounding death are rooted deep within the cultures of many countries and religions. MWL will take you on a trip around the globe, through traditions formed long ago and how they have been shaped today.


The Japanese term for “mourning dress” is mofuku (喪服). This term can refer to traditional clothing worn at funerals or Buddhist memorial services, or to Western-style formal wear. Other colors, specifically bright reds or other shades, are considered inappropriate for funeral wear. This can be attributed to the fact that red signifies happiness in Japanese culture.

Image Source: Japan


In Thailand, widows wear purple when in mourning of the death of their spouse. Purple, alongside black, is customarily the mourning color in both Thailand and Brazil. When purple was worn outside of funeral services or memorials it was considered disrespectful. Purple also has the same meaning in some aspects of Catholicism.

Image Source: Thailand


In a country where 80 percent of the population practices Hinduism, religion plays a large role in the funeral rites of their people. The color white has huge significance in the mourning process, as it symbolizes purity and innocence. Excessive mourning is prohibited in Hinduism, as this could hinder the passage of the deceased’s soul from moving on. Teravih, or a period of mourning, begins after the body has been cremated and ends on the morning of the thirteenth day. Funerals emphasize bright flowers, fruits, and vegetation as a means to mourn.

Image Source: India


The increasing population of Ghanaians in New York City has drawn attention to their festive funeral celebrations. The New York Times recently wrote an article explaining that "weddings, christenings and birthdays are all celebrated heartily in Ghanaian circles, but few match the scale and decibel level of the memorial service." Months of planning go into these events, which serve as large fundraisers for the family in mourning and as a means to fly the body back home. You need not know the deceased directly, but are expected to donate $50 to $100 to the bereaved, also know as "chief mourners." Coffins are as extravagant as floats in parades, and parties can go into the wee hours of the morning.

Image Source: Ghanaian Funeral

Ghanaian FuneralA funeral party for Gertrude Manye Ikol, a 65-year-old nurse from Ghana, in the Bronx. Members of the Christian Mothers Association greeted the family of Mrs. Ikol. Red and black are the traditional colors of mourning.

Your Funeral, Your Choice

In the United States, it's especially traditional to wear black for funerals. As time goes on, more and more people seek to plan a "life celebration" in addition to or in place of funerals. Rules surrounding appropriate attire have become more relaxed and colorful themes are embraced during times of deep sorrow and mourning. It's up to you to decide how you want your last celebration to happen. All you have to do is leave behind your wishes in My Wonderful Life's online book that's designed for exactly this purpose - letting your love ones know how you want to be remembered!

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