What to wear to a funeral

by Sylvia

What to wear to a funeral | 40plusstyle.com

This is not the most happiest of subjects to write about but when I recently unexpectedly had to attend the funeral of a close relative, I realised that this is an important topic that needs to be addressed on this site.

Although dress codes for funerals have become a lot more casual in the last years, I still feel it is important to dress in a respectful manner at a funeral. I was in The Netherlands at the time and upon enquiring found that just about anything goes at a funeral there these days. That definitely turned out to be the case as people were wearing all kinds of clothes. Even sneakers and jeans and brightly colored clothes.

I have to admit I personally feel that this is not appropriate. I feel that you need to make an effort to dress respectfully, in a sober manner and appropriately dressy. But I would love to have your opinion on this as well.

Here are some of my guidelines on what I believe you should wear to a funeral

  • Dress in muted colors. Black is always a good option but any other hues in dark muted colors are also good.
  • You don’t have to go all black. A suit with a white or light shirt will look very appropriate.
  • It’s ok to wear prints but keep them demure and preferably in dark muted colors.
  • Don’t dress too fashionable. You are there to pay your respects not to show yourself off.
  • Both dresses, skirts and pants can look equally good.
  • Dress for elegance.
  • Do not show too much skin and keep your outfit modest.
  • You can add a personal touch of flair, depending on the person for whom the funeral is for.
  • If you wear a dark overcoat, you can add a scarf in a different color or print to soften the black.

I realise that these guidelines are quite general and especially aimed at western culture, so I would love to have your input.

What is appropriate funeral attire for your country and / or culture?

Do you feel that there should be dress code for funerals or do you feel that anything goes?

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie Nalepa

Hello

Well I agree that one must be dressed appropriately for a funeral, I do not feel that it is necessary to wear somber clothes in muted colors. A funeral today can take many forms — including a celebration of life. Sadly I had to attend a funeral for a very close friend of mine. Out of respect for his creative spirit, his love of color, and his zestful energy, I deliberately wore a turquoise dress to the event (conservative in cut but a bright hue) along with some fun jewelry that he gave me. We told stories about what a great person he was, how much we admired him, and how we would miss him. It is exactly what he would have wanted – an event focused on joy, not a roomful of dark sad people.

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Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Laurie. So did everyone do this at this funeral? I wonder if it would be good to add some sort of dress code in the funeral announcement?

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Gloria Williams

I am Italian American and back in the day one would never, ever show up at a funeral wearing anything else but black, black, black. It was a sign of disrespect and just wasn’t done. Today, when I go to a funeral, I take care care to dress appropriately, maybe a black dress or suit and I do break it up with a scarf or a lighter blouse. But never anything that is too festive or bright. To every season there is a time.

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Sylvia

yes that seems to be the safest option. And I agree that adding a lighter scarf or shirt to a black outfit is a good way to not be too dark.

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Rita

Your guidelines are good ones. I haven’t been to too many funerals, but do tend to dress plainly when I go (of course, that’s sort of my style anyway). For my father’s funeral, I wore black slacks and shoes and a pink sweater set. When he lived with us after he had a stroke, he wasn’t able to speak very many words, but when I wore my pink sweater set, he’d always point and give me a nod and thumbs up. So, I took that as he thought it was nice and it seemed fine to wear it to his funeral. I got one or two comments from stodgy relatives, but they weren’t the ones caring for him in his last days, so I just smiled and said, “My dad told me to wear it!”.

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Sylvia

Yes that is the special personal touch I was referring to. I’m sure your dad would have been very pleased…

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Rita

Thanks, Sylvia. I think so, too. 🙂

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Glada

Rita,
I hope your sweater never wears out.

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Elaine Lascher

This is my first time posting on your site so “hello!” to everyone. I tend to agree with Sylvia’s general points but want to add one. There may be a need to dress according to local protocols. For example my uncle died in the rural area where he lived and was buried in his red/black buffalo checked hunting shirt. Friends and neighbors who attended the service wore everything from their work clothes (jeans and carhartt) to their “Sunday” best. I like Rita’s story about the pink sweater and agree that something with personal meaning is a good choice. Dressing for a night out clubbing, not a good choice.

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Sylvia

Hi Elaine. Nice to get your feedback. It is not the easiest event to dress for is it? There are so many factors to take into account. If you are very aware of local rules and protocol you can follow those. I guess, otherwise err on the safe side. I still wish people would dress up a bit more for funerals, even if they prefer to choose brighter colors.

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Cynthia

For a friend’s recent funeral, her partner specifically asked that people wear colors because she would hate to see everyone in black.

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Sylvia

I think that is a great idea. At least that way you will know exactly what to wear!

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Melissa

In the UK, we tend to dress soberly for a funeral. Personally I don’t like to see women in trouser suits at funerals (or weddings come to that, I am a product of my mother’s upbringing!!!) But it is becoming less unusual for a request of colourful clothing to be worn as a celebration of the person’s life. My friend sadly passed away last year and we were asked to wear pink, but we also had a choice of one of his ties (he was famous for his tie collection). I wore a black dress, with a pink pashmina, but had one of his brightly coloured ties as a sash.

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Sylvia

I actually think that is a great idea too. That way everyone knows exactly what to do and it is very personal.

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Vanessa

The last funeral I attended- my husband passed in a whirlwind at the age of 46- fashion was the LAST thing on my mind. I believe I threw on a black dress I had on hand and black heels- which sunk in the ground during the service but heels were required. I really do feel this topic is in bad taste. A funeral is NOT a fashion event and if the one you are attending IS then maybe your reason for attending is off.

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Sylvia

I agree that a funeral is not a fashion event which I also mentioned in the article. But it is an occasion where women wonder what to wear which is why this article was written as this website provides guidance on what to wear for all kinds of occasions. I apologize if I offended you in any way.

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Maggie

I was suddenly widowed at a young age too, and I actually put thought in to my clothing, and the clothing of my children. It’s part of who we were as a family; we liked to be nicely turned out. We were crippled by grief, and having the expectations associated with rituals of loss gave us something to hang on to in those terrible first days.
I’m here today because I’m going to another funeral, and needed a few ideas for what to pull out of my closet. It’s not a fashion related issue, it’s simply a reminder of how to get through the ritual of a funeral.
Everyone is different, and everyone grabs on to the things that have meaning to them to get through a funeral, just like there is no single correct way to grieve.

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Mish

Vanessa, so sorry to hear you lost your husband.

And I have seen people (social climbers) use a funeral as a social occasion. That’s up to them.

But I don’t think this topic is in bad taste. It’s just as important for someone to understand what’s appropriate at a funeral as at a job interview. It’s part of showing respect to the deceased and their family.

I have a funeral coming up and am planning what to wear. The person is overseas, and in the last stages of her life. I can’t pretend it’s not going to happen. She has always been particular about things and “last minute” would be inappropriate in this case.

All the best Vanessa and readers.

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Lorraine

I love Rita’s story!
When my mother died I really wanted to wear black because that’s how I felt inside, and I bought a dress for the funeral. I wore it again when my father died two years later. I know things are more relaxed these days but I must be old fashioned as I frequently bemoan the fact that people don’t dress up any more.

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Rita

Thanks, Lorraine. 🙂 That is an excellent point about what you wear reflecting what you are feeling. Sometimes it is hard to express things in words, especially during such emotional events, but your clothing is another tool by which you can convey what you are feeling.

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Annette

I live in a very traditional, catholic area on the countryside in Bavaria, Germany. Attending a funeral in anything but black, dark grey or dark blue would be considered as inappropriate.
Although unfortunately I had to attend the funeral of a friend who sadly passed away in his mid fourties and his family specifically asked not to wear mourning colours. But that is an individual dress code and not the rule.

P.S. I understand that anybody who had to suffer from the death of a beloved person might be offended. I therefore regard this topic and conversation merely as a cultural and not as a fashion related post.

Annette | Lady of Style

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Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Annette. Yes that is exactly what this is.

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Greetje Kamminga

I agree with you Sylvia. It is “anything goes” in The Netherlands, and I don’t like that either. Unless, it is specific. I have done the same as Rita did on my dad’s funeral. I wore something he really liked. It was purple with lots of other colours. He would have liked it. And attending a funeral of my friend Ina, who made all those lovely chuncky necklaces, I wore one. Of course. And so did almost every woman who attended. But with a black dress. If I attend a funeral of somebody I am not that familiar with, I play it safe, like you described.

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Sylvia

I love the personal touch! But otherwise, yes, best to play it safe.

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Lisa

I’m a minister, so I go to more funerals than just about anyone other than a funeral director. There are more and more people who request that people dress in their loved one’s favorite color, which is in some ways more respectful than black because it is specific to the actual person.

In fact, black is one of the big problems in dressing inappropriately. I’ll lay this mostly at the feet of 20 somethings who only own one black thing — the LBD they go clubbing in. Oh, no, no, no, no. Wear something covered up, whatever the color, before your LBD.

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Sylvia

Yes, I really like that (special request). It makes the event more personal. Thanks for your feedback Lisa!

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Lesley

Oh, thank you for agreeing with me. I am a funeral director and I despair at the amount of youngsters who wear black short skirt or dress, so short I can just about see their breakfast. And even worse, bare legs. So, so inappropriate.

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jocelyn

It depends on the WISHES of the DECEASED!!

Having just been the Officiator of my 91 year old mother’s, celebration of her life,

she requested everyone should wear their favourite colour, and if that is black, so be it!!!

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Helen

I am 64 and was raised in a rural farming community. Like many of you, I was brought up to believe that a funeral is a respectful event that requires dark colors and the 50’s ethos of “Sunday morning church-type” clothing. As time passed, I attended several funerals that were personally difficult: a beloved aunt when I was 10, my father when I was 32, the accidental death of my brother when I was 35, and my husband 2 years ago. Unless there is a special request of clothing preference, I do find the bright colors and relaxed clothing styles found at funerals indicative (contributory?) of a further loosening of funeral manners. Growing up, you did not stand around and loudly discuss anything but the departed, especially during the time the family is there for the visitation; that was simply rude and not done. At the time of my husband’s funeral, I anticipated this and did not want to be drawn into those conversations, so I and a few others sequestered ourselves in a small side room. I realize that with the change in what is acceptable with funerals, that may have been offensive to some.
With all of that, I especially think that what is considered in good taste for funerals needs to reflect the age of the departed and of the ones most heavily impacted by their death. If it involves older people, a respect of their very traditional funeral ethos would be in order.

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Sylvia

Thanks so much for your feedback Helen.

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Helen

Sylvia, thank you for your acknowledgement and the post. I hope that my post won’t be viewed as too rigid by others.

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Deia

I thought you might find this interesting. I’m a second generation Indian American and my parents are Hindu. Hindu funerals have the dress code of all white. Hindus believe that white is the true color or mourning as its the color of purity. Black is out of the question as it is considered a bad or inauspicious color, while white is the color of sacrifice, sainthood or detachment from materialism. In order to truly mourn and respect the one who has passed away, whose soul is no longer attached to the material world, white is worn in order to show that the people mourning that person are temporarily giving up all color, symbolizing material pleasures, in their grief.

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Sylvia

It’s very interesting indeed. Thank you so much Deia for explaining your culture to us and what is appropriate to wear to a Hindu funeral!

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Tania

For my parents funerals in the Russian Orthodox community in Australia , I wore black with a black head scarf (tradition is for women, especially married ones to wear a head covering). Others dressed in muted colours, like navy, grey, black, brown . No latest fashion clothes but church-appropriate/conservative.

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Sylvia

Thanks for your feedback Tania!

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jocelyn

I believe, in MOST cases funerals should be a CELEBRATION OF LIFE!

I conducted my late Mother’s funeral (no Vicar), my Children/Grand Children carried the Basket Coffin, and we wore our FAVOURITE COLOURS, in my case ROYAL BLUE DRESS & JACKET, as my Mother wanted, who died age 91 !! The men had PURPLE balloons and the females had PINK to let fly, and we also let DOVES fly, all in CELEBRATION of her long life!

Everyone said what a lovely affair it was.

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Sylvia

That sounds wonderful too Jocelyn. Thanks for sharing your story.

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vierrah

Am going to attend my husband’s colleague and friend.I’m going to wear a black rap dress which is a bit above the knees.And a 3quarter coat and a red and black scarf,high heel black shoes.Is it respectful enough since I’m gonna meet my husband’s colleagues

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Annette

Hi thank you Sylvia for adding this as knowing what to wear is something people are unsure about. My mother sadly passed away a year ago at 83. She loved fashion and would have been horrified if anyone turned up in Jeans.
All the women in the immediate family dressed in lovely black dresses and heels and the men in black or gray suits and ties. Some of the other guests dressed in black dresses and heels and a coloured jacket which my mum would have approved of.
One of the extended family dressed very casually as if she was ‘going to the shops’. I personally thought she should have made the effort and I found it disrespectful. On the whole in the UK I think black attire is the norm

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Bridget

Thank you for this post. Someone commented it was not a “fashion related” topic. But personally, I found it very helpful. I have to attend my grandmother’s funeral this weekend. Most of the family is traditional Hungarian. She was 93, and there will be a Catholic mass, so I am choosing to stay very conservative in my dress. I think my choice is ok. But it was reassuring to find a post relating to what should be worn. I also liked that you asked people from various cultures to share about what’s appropriate where they live.

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Joanne

I am an 83 yr old widow living in Arizona whose husband’s funeral in the Seattle area has been postponed until April in order to gather his family. I’m uncertain what I should wear. I lost a lot of weight last year and went from a size 14 to a 6 and have slowly been replacing the clothes that no longer fit me. I like to dress my age, yet still stay “current” without looking like I’m trying to copy my grandchildren!

My husband was a man with wide interests and the funeral guests will include people from many different cultures; in my own immediate family, one son and his wife who always dress very casually (tshirt & jeans or cotton skirt) will probably come in what they consider their church clothes–which they’ve worn to every serious ‘event’ in the last few years–and they will still look very casual while my other children will be in more classic style wear–something akin to business suits and dresses. I think that while the older guests will dress in a similar way, most will will wear what they wear on ordinary days when they attend church.

Would it be fitting if I wear a summer-weight black suit/skirt –maybe one with white buttons–and semi-flat shoes– something I could wear when I return to the Arizona summers? Or if not white buttons, maybe a light colored top or scarf under the jacket?

I can guess what readers are thinking, and I regret that I probably to seem be overly concerned about what I should wear, but as one earlier poster said, after being married to the love of my life for over 65 years, I’ve learned that a new widow needs any distraction she can find to limit her grieving until after all the business following the death of her beloved husband is finished.

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Sylvia

I’m sorry about your loss Joanne and wish you lots of strength in your healing process. I totally understand why it’s important for you to wear the right thing and to me your suggestion sounds excellent. Funeral attire does not have to be all black and a black summer suit with white blouse and buttons sounds very appropriate. As you say, you could also wear something black with a scarf to brighten up the outfit a bit.

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Carol

I believe that funeral attire is a very useful topic and relates more to dress etiquette than to fashion.

My late grandmother, when she had to move into a nursing facility, gave me her old navy blue business suit: an Italian brand, pure wool with puffy sleeve jacket and pencil skirt. Of course, I wore it to her funeral and many family members commented that they had expected me to show up in that suit! Sad to say, it is now my go-to funeral (and job interview!) suit, worn with a white or ivory blouse or button-up shirt.

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Polly

To everything there is a season. Yes, I know we celebrate the lives of loved ones, but to deny the great sadness that is death does a disservice. It’s like stuffing feelings. We are so detached from the realities of birth and death in our culture – these are often technological events that happen behind closed doors. Because I am a Christian I have the worldview that death is a result of original sin – the fallen world on this side of heaven. I prefer traditional mourning clothes.
Now — the reason I’m here is that I have calling hours and a funeral this week, and I don’t know what I’m going to wear. Must shop for funeral attire and keep it handy for these occasions. xo

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Faylinn

Because I don’t like to wear all black, I typically dress in muted colors when going to a funeral. However, I usually like to wear something that is the deceased’s favorite color as well. For example, if their favorite color was green, then I’ll wear a bright green blouse with a black skirt and cardigan.

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Sherry Edwards

I am so with you here Sylvia. Sorry for your loss. I am from the old school and agree that people should be dressed appropriately when attending a funeral, wake and reception after. I prefer “all black”. Everything black. I keep a plain black dress and a plain black suit way in the back of my closet just for this purpose. Not saying I’m waiting but I’m prepared.

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Angelina

Thank you for posting this. Most people don’t want to offend the grieving family but it’s so easy to do unintentionally. I live in the US. I think because so many RC churches are closing down, an “anything goes” dress code is becoming more common. My mother thought jeans in a church was disgraceful. At the same time, I’m sympathetic to people who can’t afford a “Sunday’s best” outfit.

I recently went to a funeral and wore black pants, black flats, and a button-down top because I thought my LBD would be inappropriate!

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Towanda

Growing up, I was always taught that black, navy blue or dark grey were the colors that immediate family members wore to a funeral. Today, I do not feel that way at all. My father passed 6 months ago and my sister and I wore off white, brothers and mother wore black and white and all of the grandchildren wore white. I don’t believe in traditions like that anymore….black and dark colors for funerals. I have been to funerals where I’ve seen women in red, bright yellow and orange. It not about what a person choose to wear it is about the respect that you give to the family and a choice of color clothing does not have anything to do with respect at a funeral in my eyes.

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