What To Wear To A Funeral: Expert Tips for Men and Women (2020 Edition)
It’s quite common to have questions about what to wear as you get ready to attend the funeral or memorial services for someone who has passed away. Many funerals are traditional, while other services bring more modern and unique ways of celebrating life. Whether the services are traditional or personalized, it is important to respect the family’s wishes about the dress code so that you can help to keep the focus on what’s most important during this difficult time: offering comfort and support to friends and family.
What to Wear to a Funeral – Dos, Don’ts, and Exceptions
When you’re choosing attire for a funeral, the first step is to find out whether the service will be traditional or personalized.
Dress for a traditional service in formal attire. A dark suit, slacks, skirt, or dress is appropriate. For footwear, choose a flat shoe or a lower heel. It is often recommended to wear darker colors, and while muted color tones are generally acceptable, it is best to avoid bright colors and distracting prints.
Some families may choose to celebrate their loved one with a personalized service. This type of service may be themed around a passion or interest, favorite color, sports team, or an achievement. For these types of events, the family may request that you dress in accordance with the theme of the service.
Here’s a quick list of dos and don’ts:
- 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
- Do consider is the religion of the deceased. Some religions have different practices, and that can include color preferences for attendees.
- Don’t wear overly casual clothing
- Don’t wear bright colors and wild patterns (unless requested by the family)
- Don’t dress provocatively
- 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)
Read the Obituary
An obituary may be able to help you decide on 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.”
More like This: How To Write An Obituary – 6 Things You Need To Include
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 it’s still a good option to consider.
Colors appropriate for funerals:
- Dark 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:
Keeping It Simple
Some 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. 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 new to wear at a funeral. You may have pieces you need to 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
There are things you should avoid wearing 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
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
- Baseball caps
- Sleeveless shirts
Funeral Attire Tips for Women
Here are some quick tips for women on what to wear to a funeral or viewing:
- Skirt or pant suit
- 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
- 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
- High heels and stilettos
Tips for Dressing Children to Attend a Funeral
Children, tweens, and teens may already have dress clothes if they’ve been to other events like weddings or religious services. Often these outfits will work for a funeral.
While dress clothes are appropriate, what a child wears to a funeral should really be based on the particular child.
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. You may also consider dressing your child in a clean school uniform.
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 to help you.
Regarding how to dress for a wake, viewing, or memorial service, you can generally wear what you would to a funeral. While you don’t want to risk looking too casual, you can dress slightly more casual than you would for the funeral service.
A wake is a gathering of family and friends to pay their respects to the deceased person. Traditionally, the wake took place in the house of the deceased. Modern wakes, similar to the viewing, are often held at the funeral home. A wake is generally held before the funeral service.
A viewing is a gathering of friends and family at the funeral home with the body of the deceased person present. The viewing gives mourners the opportunity to gather and support one another, and to pay their respects to the deceased. Generally, visitors have the option to arrive at any time during the designated viewing hours, and can stay for as long or as short as they’d like.
At a memorial service, family and friends are invited to memorialize the deceased without the body present. If a cremation has taken place, the memorial service may be held with the cremated remains present. Alternatively, if a burial occurs prior to the service for the deceased, the service that follows is considered a memorial service. It is common for the service to take place shortly after the passing or on the anniversary of the death. Memorial services can take place in traditional settings, such as a church or religious institution, or at a home or memorable location that is sentimental to the family.
Suggested Read: Attending A Funeral: The Ultimate Survival Guide
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. Consider where the ceremony will be held (the funeral home, church, a restaurant, a park, etc.) and keep in mind the type of service, and what time of day it will be held.
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. Stay away from message or novelty T-shirts, unless the family requests something specific. When in doubt, ask.
Suggested Read: Celebration Of Life – 20 Of The Best Ideas
What to Wear to a Funeral in the 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:
- 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
- Same as men’s list
- No shorts or miniskirts
- No spaghetti straps or strapless tops
- Dressy sandals are okay (no flip-flops)
- Comfort is key for kids
- Dress them in appropriate colors
- Shorts on little ones are acceptable in this case
- 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
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.
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. 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.
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.