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Mourning attire: Who should wear black and for how long

Mourning attire: Who should wear black and for how long Should you wear black as a sign of mourning (photo: Getty Images)

The tradition of wearing black clothing or jewelry as a symbol of mourning dates back to the Roman era, when dark woolen togas were worn to signify loss. Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Europe, mourning women and widows adorned themselves with elegant veils and head coverings - adhering to conservative fashion styles. However, the act was more of a tribute to tradition than anything else.

RBC-Ukraine analyzed who should wear a black shawl and dress in mourning, and how long it is necessary to wear dark clothes.

Sources used for this material include advice from Priest Oleksii Filyuk to the readers of "20 khvylyn (News of Ternopil)", the website of the Union of Orthodox Journalists, Almedia, and the website "Traur".

Black for at least one year

In the Middle Ages, in certain countries, relatives of the deceased such as widows were accustomed to wearing black or dark clothing for the remainder of their lives. This practice stemmed from the fact that they were expected to remain in seclusion after the loss of their closest family member, husband, brother, lover, or son.

In Eastern cultures, white is traditionally regarded as a color of mourning. In India, for instance, people put on white attire to bid farewell to their deceased loved ones before embarking on an extended journey.

Additionally, the ancient Slavs associated death with the winter. During this time of year, many plants perish, and the ground becomes blanketed in white, resembling a shroud. The tradition of wearing white wedding gowns stems from the belief that brides symbolically give up their families as they begin a new life with their husbands.

In Arab and African cultures, white represents the oppressive heat and bright light of the sun, which can lead to droughts, and desiccation of flora and fauna. Contrary to common beliefs, the black color of the earth signifies life since it provides coolness as well as nutrients.

While white is the mourning color in Spain, brides often wear red dresses.

Meanwhile, red represents mourning in France while a black ribbon or handkerchief serves as a clear sign of mourning in Ukraine. Black dresses or elongated skirts are preferred during such times with minimal bright details. However, subtle variations may exist. Ideally, it is suggested to wear such an outfit from one year onwards.

If a grandparent dies, a black headscarf should be worn for six months. If it is a more distant relative, it can be worn for three months.

The black handkerchief may only be taken off after one year, following the funeral of a mother, father, spouse, or child. On the anniversary of the deceased loved one's passing, the black headscarf should be worn again as a remembrance.

Additionally, all individuals, including relatives and close friends, should wear black attire during the funeral. Women should not enter the cemetery or the church without a head covering, and they should only bring a black shawl to the funeral. However, the shawl can have a pattern made with either black or silver threads.

God is the God of the living, not the dead.

Priest Oleksii Filyuk believes that this is a personal matter for each individual. In the past, people used to wear white for mourning rather than black.

I believe that the funeral service should be conducted by a priest wearing white vestments and robes, as was common practice among early Christians and can be seen in photos from the 1920s where women donned white headscarves. However, during the Soviet era when churches were closed, black coffins and black funeral attire became the norm, establishing a tradition that has persisted into the twenty-first century. Normally, genuine Christians need not wear mourning since, as a reminder, God is the God of the living, not the dead," says Priest Oleksii.

He emphasizes that many people wear mourning to evade being judged by others.

"I believe people do it just to avoid scrutiny. Some wear it for nine days, some for 40, and some for the remainder of their lives because they buried their spouse or even a child. This is a personal choice." "I cannot alter the color of a woman's headscarf from black to white during a funeral," the priest clarified.

Generally, if a close family member passes away, there is a customary 40-day period of mourning. However, the duration of mourning is ultimately up to the individual's discretion.

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