In societies with Jewish and / or Christian traditions, certain types of
ceremonial clothing are associated with particular occasions.
Life cycle celebrations
Many Western religions welcome a new-born child into the congregation
or the community with a special ceremony, such as baptism for Christian
children or a bris for Jewish males. Adult participants wear clothing appropriate
for religious occasions. The child, in the Christian case, often wears a
christening robe. This white dress, worn by both males and females,
is typically extremely long, so that the hem of the dress extends a meter
or more past the infant's feet. The adult holding the child to be christened
arranges the hem so that it falls free. The hem may be lavishly decorated
with lace and embroidery. The christening robe thus serves as a display
of wealth and status. Families may carefully preserve a christening robe
to be used by several generations of infants.
Leaving nursery status
Until the late 19th century, young Western boys and girls often wore
the same attire: a
dress. Unisex infant clothing made changing
easier and simplified the passing of garments from one child to the next.
When a young boy had reached an age at which he could begin to train in
manly pursuits, he would be dressed in pants rather than dresses. Before
the 19th century, his clothing might be simply a miniature edition of adult
wear. During the 19th century, men wore long pants and boys wore short pants.
In current Western societies, even infant clothing may be
marked for gender, and there is no such transition as the
donning of the first pair of pants.
Reaching adult status
Some Christian churches welcome children reaching "the
age of reason" into the congregation as adults in the
ceremony of confirmation. Girls being confirmed typically
wear pristine but modest white dresses; boys may wear suits
or other formal attire.
In 19th century England, coming of age was also marked
by a boy's wearing long pants instead of short ones, and
girl putting up her hair, in a bun or chignon, rather than
wearing it loose down her back or in schoolgirl braids.
In 18th and 19th century England, a well-brought-up girl
was either "out" -- admitted to adult social occasions
-- or "not out". Starting in the 18th century,
it became customary to mark a girl's "coming out"
with a special festivity, such as a ball in her honor. Wealthy
families spent great sums of money on elaborate clothing,
decorations, food and drink, etc. Late in the 19th century,
it became more common for wealthy families to club together
to sponsor a ball or cotillion at which many girls "came
out" together, or made their debut. They were called
ball gowns, of course,
but usually ones of restrained cut and coloring that suggest
a modest girl being introduced to society for the first
Most Western girls are not debutantes; that
is reserved for girls of a certain class
For Latin Americans, however,
the debut is still a major occasion. It
is called the quinceanera and held on the
15th birthday. Even the poorest families
will spend large sums on a lavish dance,
often held in a rented hall. The girl being
honored typically wears a pink ball gown.
Western universities took shape during
the Middle Ages and still retain many vestiges
of medieval custom. One of those vestiges
is scholarly attire: gowns, caps, and hoods,
as worn hundreds of years ago. Once worn
for all lectures and other public occasions,
the cap and gown is now usually reserved
for college graduation ceremonies.
Ordinary bachelors, or holders of B.A,
B.S, etc. degrees, wear a black gown over
their ordinary clothes and a cap called
a mortarboard, consisting of a stiff square
panel sewn onto a
skull-cap. Higher degrees call for gowns
of different colors and hoods rather than
In the 19th century, the bachelor's gown
and mortarboard were annexed by the new
institution of the high school. High school
graduates proudly wore caps and gowns to
their ceremonies. The custom further diffused,
to the point that some kindergartens send
their graduates out into the big world to
the accompaniment of tiny caps and gowns.
For a first-time bride, the dress is
white, denoting virginity. Women marrying
for the second (or third, or fourth) time
are supposed to forgo the elaborate white
gown and wear a colored dress or ensemble.
The archetypal wedding gown is cut like
a ball gown, with a wide skirt, tight waist,
and decolletage. If the skirt is cut closer
to the body, it may still have a trailing
train, often carried by a child trainbearer.
The dress is accessorized with a lace
anchored by a
a bouquet of flowers, often encased in an
Brides are supposed to be wearing, in
the words of an old jingle:
Something old and something
Something borrowed and something
Because wedding apparel is often quite
expensive, most brides find no difficulty
in mixing old and new. A new dress will
be crowned with a family heirloom veil,
an old dress with new earrings, etc. The
borrowed item is often a
the blue item is often a
The garter is a decorated band of elastic
once used to hold up long
Garters are no longer used, but survive
in the wedding paraphernalia as an item
that the bride removes and throws to the
crowd at the reception following the actual
The elaborate and expensive white wedding
dress is an innovation of the 19th and 20th
centuries. It is increasingly a component
of wedding ceremonies in all parts of the
world, often in parallel with non-Western
costumes and customs. For example, Japanese
brides may now dress several times, in the
traditional Japanese wedding costumes, then
appear again in a Western wedding gown.
The dead are honored with a funeral and
often a reception or a wake following. Anyone
attending the funeral is expected to wear
black or at least sombre or drab-colored
clothing. A widow may wear a black veil
over her face.
Following the funeral, family and friends
now resume their normal clothing. This is
a modern innovation. Until the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, relatives were
expected to wear mourning for periods that
varied depending on the closeness of their
relation to the deceased. The rules for
mourning wear were strict and complicated.
They may only have been observed in their
entirety by the wealthy with money and time
for a course of mourning that started with
black clothing, progressed to grey, then
violet, and ended with the wearing of colors
again. The poor might just wear a black
armband over their regular clothing as a
sign of mourning.
Mourning bore heaviest on the widow.
In many Mediterranean countries, she might
wear black for the rest of her life. In
England, she wore a cumbersome outfit called
widow's weeds: an all-black dress surmounted
with a widow's cap trailing a long black
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