What to wear to a funeral
When it comes to dressing for a funeral, many turn to black, formal clothing. This is typically the safe option. However, clothing expectations vary heavily depending on the type of service, when it is held, and where. It can sometimes be tricky to know what is expected, so we have compiled a guideline to help you pick the appropriate attire for different settings.
What attire is expected and appropriate at a funeral?
In most cases, funeral attendees are expected to wear formal and modest clothing. However, this can mean different things to different people. For example, a t-shirt may be viewed as appropriate during a celebration of life ceremony but may be considered too casual when attending a funeral home, a church or other funeral venue.
To better understand what is expected and appropriate in a funeral setting, it is best to outline the types of things you need to consider when deciding what to wear. This includes:
- Colour and style
- Time of the year
- Expectations for men and women
- Type of service
- Funeral location
- Religious and cultural customs
Colour and style at a funeral
In many cases, black clothing is viewed as the ideal choice for funerals. Whether the funeral is formal or casual, black is often the safe option. In addition to black, other dark and somber colours are generally acceptable. This includes colours such as greys, dark blues, browns, etc. White is also viewed as appropriate as an accent colour. In general, it is best to avoid bright colours such as greens, reds, pinks, yellows, etc.
Style expectations vary depending on the type of service. But, generally speaking, clothing should be modest. This means that shirts and dresses should not be low-cut, pants/skirts should fall above the knee, clothing should not be revealing, casual shoes (e.g., flip-flops) should be avoided, etc.
If the service is formal, guests are expected to wear dressy clothing such as dress pants, suits, ties, blazers, dress shoes, etc. Less traditional clothes like ripped jeans and board shorts should be avoided.
If the service is casual, clothing is often still expected to be modest. For example, a t-shirt may be acceptable; however, bright colours/patterns and large logos should still be avoided.
In some instances, it may be the deceased person's wish that people wear non-traditional colours and styles to their funeral. If that is the case, that should be communicated with friends and family before any ceremony.
Dress for the season
Funerals can be held at any time of the year. In addition to following colour and style expectations, guests are expected to dress appropriately for the weather.
In warmer seasons like spring and summer, guests must dress to deal with heat and weather conditions. For example, since black is typically worn at the funeral, it is a good idea to wear lightweight and breathable clothing to counteract the heat from the sun. It is also good to bring items that block the sun, such as sunglasses. Moreover, with either rain or shine, it may be a good idea to bring an umbrella. This is especially true for services held outside.
In colder months, guests are expected to dress appropriately for the current temperatures while ensuring their outerwear is funeral appropriate. This includes coats, scarves, gloves, hats, rain boots, umbrellas, etc. There is a bit more flexibility in outerwear, especially for services mainly held indoors; however, guests should try their best to follow colour and style expectations.
Dress code expectations for men and women
Both men and women have similar colour and style expectations. However, there are subtle nuances between the two genders.
Traditionally, women were expected to wear formal, modest black dresses or dress suits, and men were expected to wear a complete suit and tie. These outfits are still commonly worn; however, expectations are less strict these days. Guests are free to wear whatever they want if it adheres to a "business casual" or "church appropriate" type of style.
What women should wear at a funeral
For women, common funeral attire components include the following wardrobe components:
- Dress pants
- Dark jeans
- High heels
- Jewelry and accessories
For tops, it is best to stick to dress shirts and dresses that cover shoulders and are not overly revealing. Skirts and dresses should reach or fall below the knees. Non-formal shoes such as sandals and flip-flops should be avoided. However, dressy sandals may be acceptable in warmer months. Moreover, winter or rain boots and other weather-specific attire may be acceptable in colder conditions.
What men should wear at a funeral
For men, common funeral attire components include the following items:
- Collared shirt
- Button-down shirts
- Dress shoes/loafers
- Slacks/dark jeans
For suits, darker colours such as black and grey are often customary. If wearing a suit or a blazer, shirts can be lighter colours like white or cream; darker colours can also be worn. Avoid shorts and jeans for both men and women, but dark jeans can be acceptable if dressed up. In terms of accessories, men can keep accessories minimal and should avoid wearing casual hats such as baseball caps.
What should non-binary people wear at a funeral?
For people who identify as non-binary, they can choose to wear what makes them comfortable if they follow general color and style guidelines. Alternatively, if you decide to dress more masculinely, guidelines for men can be considered. Likewise, if dressing more femininely, guidelines for women can be considered.
What should children wear at a funeral?
Some parents may choose not to take children to a funeral and leave them in the care of family or a caregiver. However, if you want your children to attend then here is clothing guidance for various ages.
Most people will not worry about what babies or toddlers wear to a funeral. That said the best guidance is to dress them in whatever is comfortable for them and to choose clothing that is simple and unflashy.
Younger children can get away with wearing jeans, short-sleeve shirts, and other informal clothes that might not be appropriate for an adult to wear. Again simplicity where possible is advised.
Older children (age 10 and older) and teens are held to similar funeral dress code standards as adults. However they do not need to wear black funeral attire as it may be difficult to find formal black clothing. The guidance here is to wear sombre colours where possible and appropriate and choose simple and respectful clothing where possible.
Type of funeral service and location
A funeral can mean different things for different people. Additionally, a funeral can encompass more than one type of service. Therefore, clothing expectations can vary greatly depending on these and other factors. However, much of the advice mentioned above can be applied to different scenarios, albeit it may be more or less strictly.
Dressing for viewing, wake visitation or burial
For example, much of the advice holds with a viewing, wake, visitation, and burial or interment. These types of services are typically more formal and somber. Therefore, modest attire with darker colours is typically the norm. This can vary depending on the family. If they are a more casual type of family, more casual attire may be acceptable. However, it is a safe bet to dress more formally if instructions are not given.
Dressing for a memorial service
On the contrary, services held after the deceased has been cremated or buried are often more casual. For example, a memorial service is usually scheduled long after the individual has died and is often held in more casual spaces such as a recreation centre or restaurant. So less formal attire may be appropriate, however be sure to check with the event organizer.
Dressing for a celebration of life or ash scattering
Other funeral services such as a celebration of life or ash scattering ceremony are even more likely to have a less formal setting. A celebration of life, for example, is often a more festive event meant to celebrate the life of the deceased. It may also have a specific colour scheme or theme to honour the deceased. Therefore, very dark and formal clothing may not pair with the livelier atmosphere.
An ash-scattering event can be held almost anywhere. Often family and friends go to a location outdoors to scatter the ashes. For example, if the deceased loved hiking in a particular area, the family may opt to scatter the ashes there. Therefore, more athletic or outdoor attire would be appropriate and formal clothing would not.
In most cases, wearing somewhat formal clothing of a dark colour is a safe bet. However, it is crucial to consider the type of service, where it is, and the family's wishes. Those planning a less-traditional funeral service should also give guests a general outline or dress code when possible.
Learn more about what to wear to a celebration of life.
Religious and cultural customs
Much of the advice above is more relevant to traditional Western culture and customs. However, many cultures and religions have their own customs and traditions for funerals.
For example, colours can vary depending on cultural and societal significance. Black is the traditional colour for many Western and non-Western cultures. It often signifies mourning, sadness, grief, and seriousness. White, however, is a standard colour used in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. It represents purity and rebirth.
In some cases, if you are not part of a culture, you may be expected to observe the customs instead of taking part in them directly. For example, if you are attending a Catholic mass, it would be customary to kneel, sit, and stand at appropriate times. However, non-Catholics should not receive communion, and ask for a blessing instead.
In other cases, you may be expected to participate in certain aspects of the funeral, including wearing customary attire. For example, a yarmulke will often be offered to all men at a funeral home or synagogue, regardless of their religious affiliation. Although not required, it is respectful for non-Jewish men to wear the yarmulke throughout the service.
If you are attending one of these funerals, you must research or inquire about expectations before the event. This helps ensure that you are honoring and respecting other cultures and religions.