by © Richard Num 30 August 1999



The following was compiled in response to a question by a Prince Hall Brother on the Internet asking why freemasons wear black and white.

This has been the custom for over a hundred years. In the 1700's freemasons did not wear black and white. In an old masonic catechism of that time there is a question asking about the Master's clothing - "yallow jacket and blue breeches" forms part of the answer. This was an allusion to the colours of a pair of compasses and a square, perhaps. There is a painting showing the Scottish poet Robert Burns in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, Edinburgh (Scotland) on his appointment as lodge poet laureate - members of the lodge wear variously coloured coats, breeches and stockings, not black and white. This event was supposedly on 1 March 1787 ; the painting (by Brother Stewart Watson) was produced in 1846. Blue and Gold were certainly recognised as the official colours of freemasonry in the 1720's - nowadays these colours are used as the edging on aprons of Grand Lodge Officers and on their collars; private lodge officers use light blue collars and have light blue trimmings on their aprons.

A quick Internet search on the history of men's formal wear yielded two useful sites: site (1) and site (2).

>From site (1) it seems that black formal wear was invented by an English writer. The idea of wearing black for evening wear was, according to the English clothing historian James Laver, first introduced by the nineteenth-century British writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who utilized it "as a romantic gesture to show that he was a `blighted being' and very, very melancholy. " And it was Bulwer-Lytton who gave further impetus to this notion of black as the color for formal wear by writing, in 1828, that "people must be very distinguished to look well in black." Naturally, the moment this statement was noted by would-be dandies, the style became decidedly de rigueur...or "cool" in modern parlance.

This was probably a reaction to the sartorial excesses of men during the time of the English Prince Regent (later Brother King George IV) when dandies such as Beau Brummell wore more splendid apparel than females.

The original dinner jacket was "invented" by Brother King Edward VII when Prince of Wales. He was also the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in the last quarter of the 19th Century. He certainly made the dinner jacket fashionable, and no doubt this is why the vast majority of freemasons in Australia and some other countries wear dinner jackets (some WMs and Grand Lodge folk wear white tie and tails).

From site (2) - the tuxedo was "invented" by Pierre Lorillard IV, a wealthy man of Tuxedo Park in New York State, in 1896. His son and friends wore the first tuxedos to a white tie and tails ball. The cummerbund and bow tie (popular with many freemasons in Australia) were later additions to the "tux" outfit.

In the more tropical parts of Australia, masons wear white mess jackets rather than the sombre dinner jacket or tuxedo or tailcoat. Members of daylight lodges here wear day clothes such as a business suit or perhaps a formal sports jacket.

Frequent attenders at lodge take their freemasonry fairly seriously, and wearing formal clothes perhaps helps to set the mood. Furthermore, the "uniform" of black-and-white might mean that we pay more attention to the man than his clothes - the reverse might occur if we wore catwalk "gear" to lodge!

In many parts of the world, at least a portion of the lodge floor is black and white. As to how long these chequered or black-and-white mosaic pavements have existed in lodge, maybe someone else can answer that question. I would suspect that these pavements became fashionable in permanent lodge rooms, when chalk marks on the floor or floor coverings were no longer required to be laid out by the tyler in temporary accommodation such as taverns and hostelries. As an aside, there is a vogue in Australia for some new lodges to meet in temporary accomodation such as clubs, so the rolled up masonic carpet (afghan) is making a comeback. Such carpets are mainly comprised of black and white squares arranged in a mosaic pattern.



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