The idea that green is unlucky has grown steadily from the late 18th century (when it is first recorded) to the present day, spreading from Scotland and the northern counties to the whole of England. Originally it applied only to clothes, but by the late 19th century a Sussex folklorist could write: 'I have known several instances of mothers absolutely forbidding it . . . in the furniture of their houses' (Latham, 1878: 12), and nowadays those who fear green generally apply the taboo to objects of any kind, for example curtains, cars, or bicycles.
   Two ideas are particularly well documented: that to wear green brings death into one's household ('Wear green, and you'll soon wear black' is a common saying), and that green should never be worn at weddings - especially not by the bride. The reason given in some sources is that it symbolizes being forsaken, or betrayed:
   Those dressed in blue Have lovers true; In green and white, Forsaken quite.
   (Henderson, 1866: 21)
   Oh, green is forsaken, and yellow forsworn, But blue is the prettiest colour that's worn.
   (N&Q 9s:8 (1901), 193; 9s:9 (1903), 33)
   Yet another rhyme, still known and quoted by older people, is:
   Married in green, Ashamed to be seen.
   This is usually taken to mean that the bride is pregnant and/or has had other lovers; in Elizabethan slang, 'to give a girl a green gown' was to seduce her and make love in the fields.
   There has been much speculation as to why such a pleasing colour, associated with nature and living growth, has acquired this reputation. One possibility is that green stands for death, because graves lie under grass. The favourite explanation (originally Scottish) is that 'green is the *fairies' colour' and they punish anyone who wears it - though it has to be said that no traditional legend actually recounts this, and that fairies do also often wear brown or red. Regardless of whether this is the true explanation or not, it now very regularly accompanies the belief.
   However, green has more positive associations too. Greenery and *evergreens are used in many seasonal customs as signs of joy and celebration, and the colour can stand for youthful vigour, spring or summer, hope, and the beneficent aspects of nature. It is also one of the two easiest colours to produce from vegetable dyes (the other is brown), so green cloth was much used in medieval and Tudor times; it should not be assumed that every personage wearing green in a ballad or folktale is necessarily a magical being.
   ■ John Hutchings, Folklore 108 (1997), 55-63.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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