White, along with black is one of the most important colours of the palette. Laden with significance, both temporal and sacred, white (and its counterpart, black) feature heavily in the Dolce&Gabbana Fall Winter 2013 collection.
White and black are the two most important colours of the spectrum: they represent opposites, light and dark, good and evil and all other maxims. White, however, is historically significant, but especially it bares many overtones when it comes to religion.
Interestingly, white has not always represented virginity and purity, but death and rebirth. White is generally linked to virginity and purity hence white wedding dresses, yet the original colour of purity, piety, faithfulness and virginity was blue, the colour worn by the Virgin Mary in iconographic art. White has become representative of purity through a purely utilitarian reason, being light, if the fabric is tainted, or dirty it’s immediately visible. Also, white for weddings was only introduced late in history. Philippa of England wore the first documented white wedding gown in 1406, while Mary Queen of Scots wore white when she married Francis Dauphin of France. This caused a scandal, as white was customarily the colour of French Queens in mourning. White became universal as a wedding dress choice only after 1840, when Queen Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Coburg, in a white lace gown.
White in many non-western cultures on the other hand still signifies death. In Japan, for instance, traditional wedding garments are white, but they represent the “death” of the bride’s family, thus making her part of her new husband’s kin.
In Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, white is the colour of mourning. In Hinduism, a widow is supposed to wear a scantily decorated white sari to display her status. While in the days following a death in the family, the members will wear white during the mourning period. The relevance of white in these religions however has a dual meaning: white is not only the colour of death, but also of rebirth. Buddists and Hinduists believe in reincarnation, and therefore white also signifies the purest form of the body pre incarnation, Sadhus, Indian holy ascetics, who are believed to have obtained nirvana and won’t reincarnate, wear a plain white loincloth to signify their enlightenment.
In monotheistic religions on the other hand, white tends to represent piety, holiness, and purity. For example, in Islam, the Ihram clothing worn for the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) consists of a variety of plain white garments. This is to signify the purity of the souls that embark on the journey and their readiness to accept the blessing and purifying sanctity of the pilgrimage.
In Christianity, white is the liturgical colour of choice for many of the most important services. Corpus Christi, Trinity Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Christmas and the Epiphany. Here white stands to signify both the purity of the sacraments and the piety of the priest and congregation. White is also used in Requiem masses, although the official mourning colour is purple. The Pope, famously wears only white with trims which stand to represent the different moments of the liturgical calendar.
In Judaism too, white stands to signify purity and is the colour of choice for ceremonial Kittel, the tallit katan worn on high holidays and the gartel, a belt or sash.
White clothing also bears a cultural significance with the two largest areas of working classes being represented by white collar or blue-collar workers. The blue-collar workers are the basic working class labourers who would traditionally wear blue shirts when working in plants, mills and factories. The white-collar workers represented the middle classes, who would wear white shirts for their office jobs.
Written by: Valentina Zannoni