It is perfectly normal to have questions about funeral attire. Nobody really gives you a set of tips on how to match the dress code for your first funeral like they do with first job interviews or first dates. Plus, funerals are (hopefully) not a frequent event in your day-to-day life.
Buying conservative, dark clothes fit for a memorial service isn’t often top-of-mind for most people as they go shopping. However, there is a good chance that you’ll be attending at least one funeral at some point in your life. So, it’s best to have some things on-hand so you’re not rushing to find something last minute.
Deciding on an appropriate funeral outfit can be tricky; you want to be comfortable while at the same time being mindful and respectful of the deceased and their loved ones. There is a time and place for everything, and a funeral is a place to pay condolences to the grieving family. Dressing in a way that communicates sympathy and respect is one way to do this.
Funeral outfit etiquette to keep in mind
A good rule-of-thumb is to opt for a dark-coloured, conservative funeral outfit.
But there’s more to think about than simply wearing an all-black ensemble for a funeral. Do you choose your knitted black turtleneck or is your dark navy collared shirt okay? Silver or gold jewelry? Are belts conservative enough?
The answers to these questions aren’t always cut and dried. When you’re attending a funeral or memorial service, there are a lot of contextual factors to take into consideration. It can be all very overwhelming, especially as funerals are a time of mourning, grief, and change. But, fear not! Here, we break it all down to make your choice of funeral clothing simple and straightforward.
3 questions to ask yourself
Here is an easy 3-step question guide to check off before leaving your house for a funeral.
1. In a crowd of people clad in black, would I stand out?
The answer to this should be a firm “No”. A funeral is a solemn celebration of life, not a fashion show. Be considerate to the immediate family of the deceased by honouring the spirit of the event.
2. Do you hear you asking yourself; “Is this too short? Is this too much? Is this too tight? Is this too flashy?”
The answer to this should be “No” as well. It’s always better to be on the traditional side of things. In fact, if you are having these doubts, try finding something else to wear.
3. Are your clothes clean, neat, fitted, and well-pressed? Could you wear this to a job interview?
The answer to this should be a confident, resounding “Yes”.
Still stumped? That’s completely normal. Here are some funeral outfit dos and don’ts.
Funeral outfit dos and don’ts
If you opt for a suit, it should typically be a dark suit with a white dress shirt and tie. If you don’t own a white dress shirt, a neutral-toned, solid-colored blouse may suit the occasion as well. Other outerwear like vests, jackets, blazers, or pants should ideally be black, navy, or dark grey for a traditional funeral as well. Overall, you should aim for a polished, tailored, but subdued look.
If you want to wear a dress or a skirt ensemble instead, make sure that any hems are knee-length. It’s always safer to be on the conservative side of things when it comes to a funeral. A pair of dark, non-sheer tights would be a nice finishing touch too.
Avoid wearing something too casual, like jeans, leather jackets, hoodies, shorts, and polo or baseball shirts. Shirts that are sleeveless, too tight, or low-cut should be saved for another occasion too. You want to be comfortable and look presentable as you’re paying respects to the deceased.
Leave your miniskirts and cocktail dresses in the closet as well. They are not appropriate funeral outfits, even if they’re black.
Sportswear is another no-go as funeral attire. Stay away from wearing track pants, jerseys, muscle tanks, and yoga pants.
Bright colors like purple, red, green, yellow, and orange are not appropriate either, even for little details like your tie.
Funeral hair dos and don’ts
For most people, the best idea is to stick with your natural hairstyle as long it looks clean and put-together.
If you have longer hair, brushing it out neatly and then tying it into a ponytail or bun would be appropriate. If you’d like to keep your hair down, try wearing your free-flowing natural hair combed out with the tiniest amount of gel or hair spray!
While you should make sure that your hair looks neat for a funeral, it shouldn’t look as if you spent hours styling it. For that reason, we recommend against making any dramatic colour or style changes to your natural hair before attending a funeral. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself, the focus should stay on the grieving family.
While hair products can help tame wild hair, avoid using too much gel or hairspray to the point where the scent overwhelms everyone else at the funeral.
Shoes dos and don’ts
As for shoes, dark dress shoes, oxfords, and flats are all good ideas since you may be spending lots of time on your feet. Just make sure to take weather into consideration, especially if the reception is being held outside during unfavourable seasons or snow or rain.
Dark pumps, ankle boots, or short heels are all acceptable alternatives, as long as the heels of these shoes aren’t too thick and high. Prioritize comfort over style.
Avoid anything open-toed, running shoes, sneakers, flip flops, slippers, and sandals. Shoes with colourful prints, shiny buckles, or flashy logos should be saved for another time as well.
Shoes with very steep heels or tall platforms aren’t ideal options either; not only will they be uncomfortable, but they might seem disrespectful during the event as well if they make a lot of noise when you’re walking. Plus, if you’re going to the burial, heels on grass is never a practical idea.
Funeral makeup dos and don’ts
Your makeup should be very minimal, as 1) you may shed some tears at the service, and 2) it may appear disrespectful to look as if you’re celebrating. Try to look as natural as possible when putting on makeup.
For funerals, there shouldn’t be any no bright colors on your face. Some tips: avoid wearing false eyelashes, strong eyeliner wings, and colourful lipstick. That being said, what you wear is entirely your choice as long as you don’t make anyone else at the funeral feel overwhelmed. Do what you feel best fits the mood of the event, as each funeral is slightly different.
Jewelry & accessories
Depending on your personal preferences, it might be the best idea to leave the house without any jewelry or additional accessories. Shiny, long, or big jewelry draws the focus away from the reception onto yourself. Avoid large hoops and flashy expensive high-end jewelry or costume jewelry.
Bringing a purse to a funeral service is an excellent plan as well, especially if you’d like to bring tissues and handkerchiefs, just in case. Just be careful that your handbag isn’t too flashy or extravagant. A small-to-medium dark leather purse is perfect.
You could add in a belt or a watch on top of your clothing, as long as the accessories don’t draw too much attention during the funeral service.
What should my children wear?
If you’re a parent, getting your kids dressed in anything acceptable can be a daunting task, let alone in an “acceptable” funeral outfit.
What should children wear to a funeral?
While it would be better to leave them at home or with a babysitter, it is fine to bring children with you to a funeral. If you do have to bring them along, make sure to dress your kids in comfortable and appropriate clothes.
Dressing up in a button-up shirt and tie with dark or neutral slacks and dress shoes would be good funeral etiquette for young boys. Girls can opt for a knee-length black dress with flats or a simple top and nice pants.
This should be the one day of the year where your kids don’t wear bright colors. Try and keep colours darker and muted if they don’t have black clothing (or if they refuse to wear black!). Casual children’s accessories such as colourful hats, bows, and bead bracelets may be good to avoid as well.
When in doubt, ask
If you’re still not entirely sure about what you want to wear, there is no harm in asking for guidance. Ask a family member or someone else attending the funeral with you to help pick out an acceptable outfit. You could even ask the funeral director or the place of worship where the service will be held. It’s better to ask and prepare accordingly than to ignore the dress code and show up underdressed.
Keep culture & religion in mind
In Western culture and many other places in the world, black is the traditional funeral color.
Fun(eral) fact: black funeral outfits became an elaborate ritual after Queen Victoria mourned the death of Prince Albert for 40 years with black widow’s weeds! However, black isn’t the universal color for funerals everywhere.
In some indigenous Australian, East Asian, and Buddhist cultures, white fabrics are worn during a funeral symbolize rebirth and purity.
Purple is worn by devout Catholics in Brazil while mourning, and also by widows in Thailand to express sorrow over the loss of their spouse during the funeral.
The important thing to keep in mind is that what is deemed “appropriate” or “conservative” enough all depends on the ethnic background or personal wishes of the deceased. Hence, avoid making assumptions and always ask questions if you have any doubts.
Some overall tips, regardless of age or gender:
- A solid-coloured blouse
- Dress shoes
- A black suit
- Dark colors for any vests, blazers, slacks, et cetera
- Knee-length skirts and dresses
- Shoes with heels of appropriate height
- Open-toed shoes (e.g. flip flops)
- Luxury accessories
- Casual wear (e.g. baseball caps)
A funeral is a celebration of life for the deceased. The support you offer by simply attending the service is incredibly comforting for the grieving family.
Putting in the effort to dress properly for the occasion is another great way of further showing your sympathy and honouring the deceased.