The Elitist History of Wearing Black to Funerals

Extravagant displays of funerary excess weren’t just unattainable for common people; they were, for centuries, illegal. Beginning around the 1300s, England, and much of Europe, was governed by “sumptuary laws.” The laws made unorthodox fashion literally a crime by dictating the colors and fabrics that one could wear based on rank in society, making one’s social status evident upon first sight. Laborers, for instance, were permitted to wear linens and most lower-quality wools, but were barred from embroidered silk, tinseled satin, finer furs, certain buttons, and threads of gold, purple, and silver.

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