Mourning clothes are garments which are worn while someone is in mourning. Depending on the culture in which one lives, mourning clothes may be entirely new clothes specifically selected for this purpose, or they may be older garments which are modified slightly. In many cultures, no modification at all is needed, and people simply wear modest, somber clothes while they are in a period of mourning as a mark of respect for the deceased. Mourning clothes do have a rich and interesting history in many cultures, however, and some very fine examples of mourning clothes can sometimes be seen on display in textile museums.
The concept of mourning clothes probably reached its height in the West in the Victorian Era, when a complex and arcane set of rituals surrounding the mourning process evolved. The fashionablity of mourning was probably related to Queen Victoria, who chose to wear black for the rest of her life after the death of her consort, Prince Albert. Over time, complex rules about mourning began to arise among the British upper classes, where mourning presented an opportunity to be fashionable in the guise of being respectful.
As a general rule, mourning clothes in many cultures share several traits. They tend to be very simple, indicating that the wearer is not concerned with fashion or looking good, and they are typically sewn in somber colors. In the West, mourning clothes are often black, blue, purple, or gray; other colors are predominant in other regions of the world, especially white in Asia.
In some cultures, specific fabrics are used to make mourning clothes. These fabrics are often rough and coarse, while softer luxury fabrics are banned. In the Jewish tradition, mourners who were close to the decedent make small slits in their clothing, in a practice called keriah. Mourners may choose not to wear jewelry during the mourning process, and their general behavior tends to be muted as they process the death of a loved one. Mourners who are not close to the decedent may choose to wear black bands on their garments.
Some people think that it is unlucky to wear mourning clothes after a period of mourning is over. These individuals typically buy special clothes for mourning, and these clothes may be put in storage after a period of mourning is over, in case they are needed again. Mourning clothes may also be ritually burned or discarded in some cultures. In the Victorian Era, the black clothes worn by people in full mourning, the first and most intense stage of mourning, were known as widow's weeds, and they were typically not used again because they were so distinctive.