If you are wondering what to wear to a funeral that you’re invited to, you’re not alone. It can be a tricky task. The underlying theme in all of this is respect — dressing in a way that doesn’t appear flashy and instead, blends in with everyone in the room. However, expectations of what men and women should wear can vary, and not all families opt for the traditional forms of funerals these days.
Nevertheless, we believe there are certain tips you can follow in choosing funeral clothes that help you avoid looking out-of-place in any way, communicate mourning, and show you’re taking the occasion seriously. But please be mindful that these are guidelines and ultimately, appropriate clothing options will depend on the culture, heritage and traditions followed by the family of the deceased.
1. General guidelines in dressing for a funeral
The rule of thumb when it comes to funerals is that black is the traditional colour choice. Almost always, it is appropriate, versatile for both formal and casual types of clothing, and you are never going to look out of place wearing black to a funeral.
Nevertheless, bear in mind that non-black clothing is also acceptable in many cases, so long as the colours aren’t bright types such as reds, oranges, yellows and pinks. White, meanwhile, is an acceptable colour for shirts worn under darker colours (e.g. white dress shirt overlaid with a dark suit), as well as accents and jewellery pieces.
The commonly accepted approach to dressing for a funeral is that you ought to dress as you would for a religious event or job interview. That means it’s best to have the upper torso, shoulders and knees covered. Shirts or dresses should come up to the neck, and open collars are not recommended.
If the funeral you’re attending is more casual, then t-shirts might be appropriate, but do avoid going with shirts that have logos or wild prints. To play it safe, bring along a formal jacket in case you arrive and see that everybody else is a little more dressed up, as this basic addition will help make your own outfit passable. Again, colour choices should be subdued, since you don’t want to draw attention away from the person everyone is there to pay respect to.
On a similar note, don’t consider wearing athletic shoes, sandals or flip-flops to the funeral regardless of whether it’s outdoor or has a casual dress code. This is simply not the occasion for those kinds of footwear. And lastly, be mindful of the religious setting of the funeral, if it has one, given that certain religions may require traditional wear for men or women. Read more on funeral traditions of various religions here.
2. What to wear to a funeral: men
In Western cultures, first and foremost, you’re never going to go wrong with a buttoned shirt. Preferably it has long sleeves and a collar, and you have it tucked in. Your best choice of pants would be dark-coloured slacks, and your safest bet here is black. Dark jackets are always the best kind to overlay the shirt. Don’t forget to wear a belt, and as for your footwear, choose between loafers and dress shoes.
Here are some suggested ideas for men’s attire at a funeral:
• Dress suit with tie.
• Polo shirt with slacks.
• Button-down shirt with tie and slacks.
• Button-down shirt with vest, tie and slacks.
• Any of the above overlaid with a blazer instead of a suit jacket.
3. What to wear to a funeral: women
Women’s funeral wear tends to be formal, so you’ll want to make sure that your shoulders are covered and that a skirt or pants cover – or at least reach – your knees. Usually Western cultures wear clothing that isn’t brightly coloured for a funeral, although tasteful colour accents may be acceptable.
Here are some suggested ideas for women’s attire at a funeral:
• Pants and top with sleeves
• Skirt suit
• Skirt with sweater
• Skirt with blouse
4. Dressing for non-traditional services
Given there are other forms of services you may attend that aren’t traditional funerals, it’s important that you note the differences among them so that you’ll have a better idea about how to dress for them. That said, if you’re ever in doubt — particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the venue or don’t personally know the host family that well — it’s best to go with conservative, traditional options. Remember that nobody will ridicule or scold you for showing up overdressed to such solemn occasions. It’s far worse to come underdressed.
What to wear to a memorial service
Typically, memorial services are held without the body present. While this might happen due to various reasons, it’s not unusual for a memorial service to take place weeks or even months after the person has passed away. Maybe different groups of people are invited to attend on separate dates, and it’s easier to host them on weekends.
Therefore, a memorial service can be a bit less formal than a funeral. So while the same guidelines for dressing for funerals apply, you can opt to lean more towards the dressy-casual side of the spectrum — and in some cases, even wear jeans. The important thing, nonetheless, is that the colours are subdued and nothing about your clothes is flashy.
What to wear to a wake or visitation
In some parts of the world, a wake is a reception held after the funeral, but in this case, we’re talking about the United States, where a wake is an open-casket viewing of the body of the deceased person.
Although it’s traditionally a Catholic ceremony, in recent years people have used the term ‘wake’ more loosely, while others tend to call it simply a ‘viewing’. A visitation, while a similar event, takes place without the person’s body present. Either way, you’re expected to express your condolences and give support to the family and close friends of the person who has passed away.
When you attend, it’s best to stick to guidelines we gave earlier for funeral attire. But if you want to be completely sure, check with the family about how formally you should dress. They should be able to confirm whether everyone is going to wear black or some will be attending in grey or other dark, non-black choices.
What to wear to a celebration of life
Not too long ago, the phrase ‘celebration of life’ came into vogue, along with the concept of focusing on how someone has lived their life as opposed to the fact that their life has ended. So if you’re invited to this occasion, expect the service to be more casual and perhaps a little more lively. You might even witness a creative, alternative ceremony that causes guests to smile and laugh about notable moments in that person’s life. Don’t be shocked if the service ends up being a full-on party with music, drinking and dancing.
Does a celebration of life allow for a more casual wardrobe? Yes, but you’ll still want to dress as respectfully as possible. It still boils down to the culture and values of the family of that person, but it’s quite plausible that going with smart-casual dress and muted colours will be perfectly acceptable.
Remember that if you won’t be wearing black, then darker earth tones are the next group of colours to consider. Nearly all shades of grey are highly suitable, as are dark blues. For your reference, here is a palette of non-black clothing colours that are generally suitable to wear to a funeral:
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