Black Ribbon Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

Wondering what it means when someone wears a black ribbon? Keep reading to discover our complete guide on the meaning of black ribbon.

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Although it may be a difficult pill to swallow, the world isn’t a perfect place. While awareness ribbons may not be the fix-all solution that may put an end to that sad truth, they do serve as bright rays of hope in an otherwise dim situation. 

That said, you may already know that the yellow ribbon is used to show support for our troops while the pink ribbon is used to spread breast cancer awareness, but what does the black ribbon mean?  

What Does a Black Ribbon Symbolize?

Before we dive into the meaning behind a black ribbon, let’s chat a bit about awareness ribbons — namely, what are they?

Simply put, awareness ribbons are short pieces of colored ribbon folded into a loop.

Used by many organizations to raise awareness of health conditions, various concerns, and other important social causes, these iconic symbols are used in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and other parts of the world. 

With that in mind, what does it mean when someone wears a black ribbon? According to, a black ribbon is a symbol of remembrance or mourning. 

Does a Black Ribbon Symbolize Anything Else?

Like many awareness ribbons, the black ribbon has more than one meaning. Although commonly known as a universal symbol of remembrance and mourning, a black ribbon may also symbolize the following:

  • Melanoma
  • Anti-gangs
  • Anti-terrorism (in Spain)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sleep disorders
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  • Amish Support
  • Gun control
  • 9/11

What Is the Origin of the Black Ribbon?

Although the history of the black ribbon is a bit murky, it’s believed that the first awareness ribbons were small tokens given to knights during the Middle Ages in Europe. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s when organized ribbon usage began, thanks to Penn Laingen. Penn tied a yellow ribbon around a tree in her front yard to honor her husband who was being held hostage at the time.

Soon thereafter, during the Cold War, the symbolic emblem evolved into a reminder of all men and women serving the country around the globe. 

A decade later, activists for AIDS turned the yellow ribbon red. From then on, just about every charitable health cause had one. In fact, awareness ribbons became so popular that the New York Times dubbed 1992 “The Year of the Ribbon.”  

Other Awareness Ribbon Colors and Their Meanings

Although awareness ribbons may seem small at first glance, these tiny symbolic ribbons are a way for people to show their support for various causes. No matter what color, the idea behind the symbol remains the same — it’s all about supporting or raising consciousness for a cause.  

With that in mind, here are some of the most common awareness ribbons and their meanings:

  • Yellow Ribbon: Suicide awareness, bladder cancer, military support, sarcoma, liver disease
  • Pink Ribbon: Breast cancer awareness, inflammatory breast cancer, birth parents, nursing mothers, cleft palate
  • Teal Ribbon: Ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, rape, Tourette syndrome
  • Red Ribbon: HIV/AIDS, blood cancers, head and neck cancers, cardiovascular disease
  • Orange Ribbon: Multiple sclerosis (MS), leukemia, melanoma
  • Brown Ribbon: Anti-tobacco, colorectal cancer
  • Silver Ribbon: Children with disabilities, elderly abuse
  • Grey Ribbon: Brain cancer, allergies, asthma, diabetes
  • Blue Ribbon: Child abuse and prevention, anti-bullying, addiction awareness, prostate cancer
  • Purple Ribbon: Alzheimer’s, caregiver appreciation, ADHD, epilepsy, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer
  • Gold Ribbon: Childhood cancer awareness
  • Green Ribbon: Cerebral palsy, kidney disease, lymphoma, liver cancer
  • White Ribbon: Gender equality, innocence, victims of terrorism, peace, sexual assault 
  • Puzzle Ribbon: Autism Awareness Month (April)
  • Zebra Ribbon: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, neuroendocrine tumor, carcinoid cancer, and other rare diseases

As you can see, there are many color meanings. Due to this, the shade and style of the ribbon are of the utmost importance. 

Take green, for example: Lime green symbolizes non-Hodgkins lymphoma, whereas light green symbolizes sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

For black ribbons in particular, the primary focus is typically on boosting awareness about grief.

Where Is a Black Ribbon Worn?

The placement of a black ribbon can vary from person to person; however, it’s commonly worn close to one’s heart to honor a deceased loved one and to outwardly signal to others that they are experiencing grief or are currently in a period of mourning. 

That said, a black ribbon may also be worn on shirts, blouses, jacket lapels, or anywhere else the wearer is comfortable placing it. 

Examples of Black Ribbons Symbolizing Grief and Morning

Some examples of black ribbons being used to symbolize grief and mourning include:

  • A black ribbon was placed on the Google homepage on April 9th to commemorate the death of Prince Philip.
  • Spaniards embraced black ribbons to symbolize their sympathy for the scores killed in a terrorist attack in Madrid on March 11th, 2004.


So, what exactly does it mean when someone wears a black ribbon?

The short answer: it depends. 

You see, depending on the wearer’s intentions, black ribbons can mean a number of different things. A black ribbon may raise breast cancer awareness or melanoma awareness. 

It could also be worn to support family members or a loved one who has been diagnosed with a certain illness. More often than not, however, a black ribbon symbolizes a period of mourning or an expression of grief. 


  1. The Definition of Black Ribbon |
  2. Casualties treated at the closest hospital in the Madrid, March 11, terrorist bombings | PubMed
  3. Malaysia Airlines flight 17 | Background, Crash, Investigation, & Facts | Britannica