What to Wear to a Funeral

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A commonly asked question is what to wear to a funeral or memorial service?

It used to be that black was the only appropriate funeral attire.  These days funerals are not as formal as they once were, and colours other than black are usually appropriate.

Unless there has been a request for bright colours as a dress code (or any other dress code specified which is becoming more common) it’s safest to stick with traditional funeral appropriate dress to ensure that you are being respectful.

What to wear to a funeral or memorial services

What to Wear to a Funeral

  1. Dark colours – it doesn’t have to be black these days, but wearing an outfit made from overall dark colour shows respect.  If you don’t want to wear (or don’t have any) black, try navy or charcoal grey.
  2. Cover up – a funeral is not the time to show off lots of skin.  Keep your shoulders and upper arms covered, as well as legs down to the knees.  Be careful of how low cut your neckline is as well.
  3. Ditch the jeans – yes you may have black jeans – but denim is not formal enough for a funeral.  Leave your denim for casual occassions.
  4. Add colour if appropriate – if the deceased was known for a favourite colour, a touch of that colour in your outfit is an appropriate addition in an accessory or detail.
  5. Avoid brightly coloured patterns – in general, avoid patterns and stick to solid coloured fabrics for funerals.
  6. Not skin tight – modesty is polite at a funeral.  It’s not the place to “pick up” and wearing a “body con” dress is not the way to go.  Along with keeping covered, skimming, not clinging is the way to go.
  7. Feet first – keep your tootsies covered.  Closed toe shoes (no sandals or thongs/flip-flops) are always the appropriate choice when men wear suits.  Avoid athletic shoes too.  Anything that screams “outdoor leisure” is not appropriate at a funeral (and that goes for your black active wear).
  8. Waterproof your mascara – if you’re likely to shed a tear or two then make sure you’ve gone for the waterproof mascara – worrying about black streaks running down your face isn’t something you need at this time.
  9. Be culturally aware – these guidelines are for standard Western funerals.  If you are going to a funeral of a different culture or religion (where you may be required to dress in a specific colour, or cover your head or the like) do some research online before you go.

What to wear to a funeral

Many people keep some black in their wardrobe for funerals (even though they don’t wear it day to day). On the whole these days another deep colour will work well (unless it’s a very formal occassion or there is a specific cultural/religious dress code) and you could easily find an appropriate outfit from clothes you wear in colours that are more flattering for you.

And if you want more tips on wearing black when it’s not a flattering colour, check out these posts:

How to wear black when you have light colouring

How to wear a black dress

 

 

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17 Comments

  • I now live in Spain and here the locals wear normal street clothing to funerals. I find it a bit jarring when I see them wearing jeans, tee shirts and checked shirts as I was brought up wear formal dark clothing to funerals.

  • I remember as a girl in the northeast U.S. there used to be an unspoken rule to not wear any jewelry at all to a funeral. Must have been some Puritan holdover. I’m glad that specific idea has gone away, but it’s still considered not the time to bring out the giant sparkly bling. Or anything that invades others’ senses or space, i.e. noisy bangles, oversized hats, or strong perfume.

    Streaky makeup isn’t a good look either; waterproof mascara and eyeliner is advised, unless you’re going to be doing some competitive sobbing (which I’ve seen at a few melodramatic funerals – to prove who loved the deceased the most) in which case go for it.

    On a positive note – I’ve seen, in warmer seasons, lighter gray and taupe worn to services, and still quite respectful because of the modest styling and overall neutral effect. Especially nice on those with gray hair, or on those with very light coloring, on whom deep colors are too harsh…

  • Thanks for reinforcing the conventions. I live in an area in Germany where people are quite traditional when it comes to funerals, wearing dark colors even in their winter coats. I was at a funeral during the past winter on a windy day with temperatures below freezing. The chapel was unheated and we spent some time by the graveside. I do not have a dark winter coat – my formal one is a solid ivory color, and the only other coat I have is a royal blue winter parka with some black on it. The parka is what I chose to wear because of the cold, and because it was the only thing I had with a little black on it. I felt that I was not making a good impression, but of course the grieving family had other things on their minds. Do you have any advice about what to do in such a situation in the future, other than to buy a second formal winter coat in a dark color? Thanks for any advice you can provide!

  • I agree with this post entirely, but would say that if you have nothing 100% appropriate to wear, it needn’t stop you from going if approached correctly. A guy wore jeans and a band t-shirt to my father’s funeral in February. He came up to me afterwards and immediately apologised for what he was wearing, saying that: he didn’t have anything correct to wear but that he wanted to be there to show his respects.
    It was truly heartfelt and I appreciated it.

  • Kathryn, it might help to add black or dark blue accessories: hat, gloves, maybe also a large, darker colored pashmina over the shoulders of your coat can work if you have one that is large enough.

  • Such good advice. I’ve been to a few funerals recently and been amazed at what people seem to think is appropriate. A funeral is neither a fashion parade nor a pick up joint. Short skirts, low necklines, f**** me heels, bling, and vibrant ‘look at me’ outfits really have no place at a funeral. Are some people so needy that they need to be the center of attention even at a funeral?

  • My aunt wore a faux fur bunny coat to my grandmother’s funeral in the ’80’s. We were appalled! I totally agree that one should have at least one conservative outfit on hand for funerals. It’s rarely a time anyone wants to go shopping at the last minute.

    It sounds as though Australia is becoming as casual as the US based on a few of your tips.

  • I agree with you all about the modest outfit I would wear to a funeral. But many years ago I attended the funeral of a young guy of about 21, he was away from home at college and lived for surfing. His equally young friends, with little budget, travelled a long way to show their love and respect and turned up in every kind of student attire. I was never more touched to see them and it made me change my perspective somewhat.

    • Yes – this is the right kind of clothing for the deceased – and it’s becoming more common that we take into consideration the kind of person they were and what they would have liked, rather than just tradition.

  • Many people asked me what they should wear at the funeral of my husband, who died in June this year. I asked them to wear what they would be cool and comfortable in as the temperature was very high and it was humid. They came to the funeral in all kinds of clothes, some in light colours and some in dark and I welcomed them all. They all came with love and respect for him in their hearts. It was beautiful. I wore black pants and a black gypsy style blouse with my hair tied back. Someone told me how beautiful I looked on the day for my husband and it really helped me feel better to deal with such emotions.

    • So sorry for your loss Janet, and I think it’s great that we now have more opportunity to dress in a way that reflects the person who we are mourning.

  • I just went to my friends fathers funeral. His family wore green to honor the Irish heritage he was so proud of. It was quite touching.

      • Imogen, thanks for the kind words. It was my friends father, not my father. I am blessed to have my father. He turned 80 years young earlier this year.

  • Hi,
    My mother has terminal cancer and wants the women attending her funeral to wear hats and gloves, and the men to wear bow ties because she thinks these things are festive. She wants it to be a celebration if her life.
    I am at a loss as to what style to wear. Elbow length? Wrist length? The hat I’m wearing is actually a facinator. Any suggests?
    Thank you!
    Pam

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