Is it OK for a guest to wear black to a wedding?

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant  © (01/09/2023)
Categories: | Wedding Attire |  Wedding Traditions
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On the left of the picture a fashionable
                    young woman wearing a little black dress. She has
                    long hair and a round handbag hanging off her
                    shoulder. On the right an elderly Queen Victoria,
                    dressed in mourning.Let's unpack the common belief that guests (female guests, that is, men get a pass on this one) should never wear black to a wedding. Stated as a bald fact. Usually without a "why", but occasionally qualified by the claim "it's bad luck". Though how it is bad luck and who exactly it is bad luck for is also never discussed.

So where did this belief come from?

Like the customs we associate with traditional weddings - bride wearing white, multiple bridesmaids, guests NOT wearing white, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and so oni, it all goes back to Queen Victoria!

How Queen Victoria set the standard for mourning customs


When Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died, she went into mourning, wearing black and locking herself away. In doing so she set the standard for behaviour and dress after the death in the family.

Society followed suit, observing a specified “mourning period” during which women were expected to wear mourning clothes and to curtail social activities, while men could continue to go about their daily activities, adding a black armband and/or band of black fabric to their hat.

The length of each stage of mourning depended on type of loss: the more distant the
relative, the shorter the mourning period.

Women were expected to wear clothing classified as heavy or deep mourning, full mourning, and
half mourning with distinct differences between each one. Deep and full mourning required being dressed in black from head to foot, the fabrics used had to be completely matte - no shine or sheen was acceptable, and the only acceptable Jewellery was made of jet, a deep black
gemstone, with locks of the deceased's hair incorporated in some types of pieces. The rules covered accessories like umbrellas, fans, and purses, and even stationery.

The  only social activity allowed was attending church. Attending parties, weddings, or other social
affairs while in heavy mourning was totally disapproved.

Logical conclusion - wearing black to a wedding was to break the rules of mourning.

Bad luck - a belief with a profit motive

Supplying mourning clothes was a profitable business, with many retails and manufacturers specialising inthese lines. It was these businesses that perpetuatedthe myth that keeping your mourning clothes after the period of mourning was ended, was unlucky, and the way to avoid bad luck was to discard all of them, which meant buying a whole new mourning wardrobe the next time there was a death in the family.

Australia was always different

In Australia, funerals were always less extravagant and mourning rituals less strict than in Britain - especially in rural areas. As reported in the etiquette go-to handbook, Australian Etiquette People's Publishing Co., Melbourne, 1886.
The people of Australia have settled upon no prescribed periods for the wearing of mourning. Some wear them long after their hearts have ceased to mourn. Where there is profound grief, no rules are needed, but where the sorrow is not so great, there is need of observance of fixed periods for wearing mourning. 

Is black now OK?

Nowadays, we routinely wear coloured clothing to funerals, we have no clothing related social customs about mourning periods, dressing the bridesmaids in black is an increasingly popular choice, and brides can and do wear black, it is largely OK to wear black as a wedding guest.

However, broader customs still prevail - don't upstage the bride, avoid wearing the same colour as the bridesmaids, and observe cultural customs (which may preclude wearing certain colours) - so you may want to make some discreet enquiries before you haul out your best LBD for the occasion.

Even if none of the above apply you might want to hedge your bets by adding coloured accessories to your LBD. Word to the wise, it has to be more than shoes, and whatever you accessorise with should be something that you continue to wear for the reception as well.

While brightly coloured shoes and a brightly coloured wrap, jacket, hat, or fascinator might feel like enough when you're standing in front of a mirror, if everything except the shoes come off for the reception, you're back to wearing black again!

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Thanks for reading!
Jenny xxx Let's talk
                        soon about how you can have the best ceremony
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