Is it OK for a guest to
wear black to a wedding?
Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
| Wedding Attire | Wedding
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
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
Logical conclusion - wearing black to a wedding was to
break the rules of mourning.
Bad luck - a belief with a
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
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
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!