What to Wear to a Funeral

Introduction

Are you wondering what to wear to a funeral? Years ago, the answer was easy: black. A black suit or a black dress were expected. Anything else was considered disrespectful. Today, the rules have changed. Black is no longer a necessity, though it’s still always appropriate for funeral attire.

Please note that these tips are generally intended for current, traditional American funerals. Certain religions and cultures have their own traditions including Hindu, and others.

 

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What to Wear to a Funeral – Dos, Don’ts, and Exceptions

Here’s a quick list of dos and don’ts:

Dos

  • Do dress respectfully
  • Do wear black or subtle colors
  • Do wear business-casual clothes
  • Do keep your accessories to a minimum
  • Do dress your children in nice-but-comfortable clothes
  • Do cover up tattoos that may be considered offensive to others

Don’ts

  • Don’t wear overly casual clothing
  • Don’t wear bright colors and wild patterns (Unless requested by the family)
  • Don’t dress for a night at the clubs
  • Don’t wear jewelry that’s flashy or makes noise
  • Don’t dress children in uncomfortable clothing
  • Don’t wear scents (perfume, cologne, body sprays, etc., that may cause allergic reactions)

Exceptions

As in everything, there are going to be exceptions.

For example, if there’s a death in your family, and your family members have always worn their Sunday best to such events, that’s what you should wear. But if the deceased was a Jimmy Buffett fan, you may be requested to wear a Parrothead or Hawaiian-style shirt.

Another thing to consider is the religion of the deceased. Some religions have different practices, and that can include color preferences for attendees.

Read the Obituary

An obituary may save you the trouble of deciding what to wear. Sometimes the family will request that their guests wear something more personal.

  • “The family asks friends to wear purple, as that was Evelyn’s favorite color.”
  • “Because Larry was such a huge Cubs fan, attendees are welcome to wear their Cubs shirts.”
  • “In honor of Dan, please wear your favorite flannel, jeans, and bandana, optional.”
  • “If you have something IH Red, please wear it!” (W.A Grenzow)

 

More like This: How To Write An Authentic Obituary

 

If the family is using Everdays, be sure to check the Family Messages and Events sections to look for any notes or details indicating a themed service. Visit the Everdays website or the Everdays app – available on both iOS and Android.

 

Colors – Are You Supposed to Wear Black?

An often-asked question is “What are the proper colors to wear to a funeral?” The answer is no longer just black. Over time, funeral etiquette has evolved. The commonplace tradition of wearing your best black suit or dress is no longer a necessity, but you also can’t go wrong wearing it.

Colors appropriate for funerals:

  • Black
  • Dark grays (and lighter grays)
  • Deep blues
  • Brown shades
  • Earthy colors (including greens)
  • Deep purples
  • White (like a dress shirt with a suit and tie)

Avoid bright colors:

  • Pinks
  • Yellows
  • Oranges
  • Reds

 

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Keeping It Simple

Some sources recommend thinking “business-casual” when planning what to wear to a service. Others say that if you would wear it to a job interview, it should be fine for a funeral.

For young people, a school uniform can be the way to go. ObitTree.com says, “Black, grey, or dark blue clothing is considered the standard for funeral attire.”

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy something to wear at a funeral. You may already have something appropriate in your closet, so check there first. It’s likely that you will have pieces that can be put together to form an appropriate outfit. Examples: a long-sleeve navy-blue dress or gray dress pants and a hunter green shirt with a tie.

What Not to Wear

While what people are wearing to funerals is changing, there are definitely things no one should wear to a service – even a casual celebration of life. The best rule of thumb to follow is “ you should never call attention to yourself with your attire” (TheSpruce.com). While times have changed and expectations regarding funerals are evolving, funerals are largely still somber occasions.

Do not wear:

  • Anything that will call attention to yourself
  • Novelty T-shirts with images, logos, or funny sayings (even if it was a joke between you and the deceased, the family may not see the humor in it)
  • Revealing clothing (unbuttoned shirts for men; and plunging necklines for women)
  • Spandex and other tight-fitting apparel
  • Jeans or other denim
  • Overstated jewelry (that make noise or are attention-getting)
  • Bright colors
  • Bold prints and patterns
  • White as more than an accent or dress shirt under a suit

 

Funeral Attire Tips for Men

Tips for Men

Here are some quick tips for men on what to wear to a funeral or viewing:

  • Suit and tie
  • Dress pants, button-down shirt, and tie
  • Dress pants and sweater
  • Dress pants and a polo shirt
  • Dress shoes or loafers

Avoid wearing:

  • Baseball caps
  • Sneakers
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Sleeveless shirts

 

Funeral Attire Tips for Women

Tips for Women

Here are some quick tips for women on what to wear to a funeral or viewing:

  • Skirt or pant suit
  • Dress
  • Skirt and blouse or sweater
  • Pants and blouse or sweater
  • Top with sleeves (long or short)
  • Top with cardigan
  • Low-heeled shoes or flats (you may be walking in the cemetery)
  • Close-toes shoes

Avoid wearing:

  • Low-cut tops
  • Spaghetti-strap and strapless tops
  • Sleeveless tops (unless worn under something)
  • Anything see-through
  • Mini skirts and dresses that fall above the knee
  • Form-fitting clothing
  • Shorts
  • Sundresses
  • High heels and stilettos

 

What to Wear to a Funeral for Teenage or Tween Girls

Tips For Tween Girls

Tweens and teenage girls are at the in-between stage of no longer being little kids but aren’t yet adults. Even with this in mind, the above guidelines for women also apply here.

Here are some tips on what’s appropriate for teen and tween girls to wear to a funeral or viewing:

  • Black or dark-colored dress (that falls below the knee)
  • Skirt and top (see women’s section tips)
  • Pants and top
  • School uniform (or clothing like this)

 

Tips for Dressing Children for a Funeral

Tips for Dressing Children

Children often have dress clothes because they’ve been to other events like weddings or religious services. Often these outfits will work for a funeral.

While dress clothes are definitely appropriate, what a child wears to a funeral should really be based on the particular child.

Consider this – Some kids love to dress up, while others don’t. Keep in mind that children’s dress clothes can be restrictive, uncomfortable, and hot. By the end of an event a child is often out of them and wearing something more comfortable.

It can be difficult enough for a child to sit quietly through anything, let alone a somber and emotional funeral service. The mourners want to focus on their grief and their loved one … while your child wants to pull off his tie and shoes that are just a little too tight. Plus, can you imagine sitting quietly with layers of scratchy crinoline under your skirt?

Comfortable but Nice

To lessen the risk of having a cranky child and upsetting fellow guests, dress your little one in comfortable-but-nice clothes. Think of it as “business casual for kids.”

There are many options for children’s clothing that look dressy without being dressy. Skip the bold-printed dinosaur and TV character tops. Go for solid colors while avoiding bright ones. Khaki pants and a polo shirt can be just right for boys, and a simple but pretty dress can be perfect for girls.

 

What to Wear to a Wake, Viewing, or Memorial Service

What to Wear to a Wake, Viewing, or Memorial Service

As not everyone has attended a wake, viewing, or memorial service, your first question may be, “What’s the difference?” Below are explanations of what they are.

Regarding how to dress for a wake, viewing, or memorial service, you can generally wear what you would to a funeral – except you don’t have to be quite as formal. All black is not necessary, as these services are for visiting with family and friends.

While you don’t want to risk looking too casual, you can dress slightly more casual than you would for the funeral service.

Wake

Traditionally, a wake was the practice of staying “awake through the night with the deceased in order to offer protection from evil spirits. The concept is based on Celtic traditions in Ireland as well as being a traditional Catholic ceremony.” (Ann Lipton)

Funeral Viewing

Depending on where you live (and possibly your age), a viewing may be referred to as the visitation or “calling hours.” A viewing may take place at a funeral home, a church, or other locations such as the family home. Viewings may be held the day or evening before the funeral and are typically less formal than funeral service.

According to BurialPlanning.com, “A viewing is an unstructured gathering of friends and family where visitors can pay their respects to either the deceased after having been prepared by a mortician, or to a cremation urn or series of memorial photos.”

Memorial Service

Memorial services are also not as formal as funerals. But the biggest difference between the two is that the deceased’s body is not present at a memorial service as it is at a funeral service.

There are a number of reasons memorial services are held rather than funerals. Florence Isaacs of Legacy.com says, “Perhaps there are no remains, as in the case of some 9/11 victims or soldiers killed in combat. Or the body may have been donated to science, or the deceased may have died halfway around the world in another country. In some instances, the family simply cannot bear to see the body or the casket.”

 

Suggested Read: Differences Between Memorial Services, Funerals, Wakes, And Viewings

 

Funeral Attire is Changing. Here’s How To Dress at a Life Celebration

An argument could be made that all funerals and types of services are celebrations of a life lived, but celebrations stand out, according to TheGardens.com, because they are “fully personalized to become an homage to the deceased’s life.” They tend to be more relaxed and casual. What to wear to can be challenging because you may be wondering exactly how casual you can go.

To help you decide what to wear, pay close attention to the obituary or ask a family member of the deceased’s. Factors to consider include where the ceremony will be held (the funeral home, church, a restaurant, a park, etc.). Another thing to keep in mind is what time of day it will be held and what type it will be.

For example, you’d wear more conservative clothing to a celebration of life held in church in the evening. But a celebration held during the day with a balloon release or picnic calls for more casual wear. You could be requested to wear a specific sports team shirt, color, or even costume apparel. In casual settings, jeans are usually fine if worn with a nice shirt or top. You still want to stay away from message or novelty T-shirts, unless the family requests something specific. When in doubt, ask.

Suggested Read: Why We Need End of Life Celebrations  

 

What to Wear to a Funeral in the Summer

Tips On What to Wear to a Funeral Summer

Please note: No matter what time of year, use the guidelines already listed and then take in the seasonal considerations.

If a funeral takes place in the summer and it’s held outside or is a graveside service, you’ll need to be prepared for the elements. Dress with the heat in mind, and check the weather forecast for possible rain. You may want to bring your sunglasses and possibly an umbrella (good for blocking the hot sun as well as the rain – black is preferred).

Quick Summertime Tips for Men, Women, and Children:

Men

  • Choose light-weight clothing
  • Stay with the appropriate colors
  • Avoid bright colors and wild patterns
  • Collared shirt and tie (hot suit coats aren’t necessary)
  • Wear breathable fabrics, like cotton or linen

Women

  • Same as men’s list
  • No shorts or miniskirts
  • No spaghetti straps or strapless tops
  • Dressy sandals are okay (no flip-flops)

Children

  • Comfort is key for kids
  • Dress them in appropriate colors
  • Shorts on little ones are acceptable in this case

Color list

  • Black
  • Dark grays (and lighter grays)
  • Deep blues
  • Shades of Brown
  • Earthy colors (including greens)
  • Deep purples
  • White (like a dress shirt with a suit and tie)

 

How to Dress for a Funeral in Winter

Tips On What to Wear to a Funeral Winter

The color-scheme for funerals fits in well with the darker-colored clothes people generally wear during the colder months. The same goes for the types of clothing suggested earlier in this article.

Outerwear

The best-case scenario regarding outerwear, is a classic wool coat in black or dark colors. These are perfect for both men and women. If you don’t have one of these, a dark or subdued solid-color coat is the next best thing.

If you don’t have a coat like the ones mentioned above, don’t fret. Odds are the service you’ll be attending is indoors and has a coat room or rack. You won’t have to worry about whether or not it’s appropriate. Instead you can focus on the winter temperatures and what will keep you warm.

Most children will probably not have a wool or similar dress coat, so their current winter coats are fine. Parents shouldn’t feel the need to go out and buy a special coat for their child, who may only wear it once.

Conclusion

The bottom line is to wear an outfit that shows respect for the deceased and family and fits the specific tone of the service.

  • Dress conservatively
  • Wear black, dark, or subdued colors
  • If you would wear it to a job interview, it should be fine
  • It’s better to be more dressed up than dressed down
  • Check the obituary for the wishes of the family
  • Before you buy something, check your closet first

It only takes a little extra thought to make sure you are appropriately dressed for a funeral.

 

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