What to Wear to a Funeral

“Do you have to wear black to a funeral?” a reader once asked me. “Is it some type of requirement?”

Once upon a time, the answer was yes.  Black symbolizes mourning in Western Cultures, and wearing black or dark clothes to funerals has long been considered a sign of respect.  Black was the first choice for centuries, up through the 1970s.

Cemetery

Today the rules are much less rigid.  While black is still appropriate, any subdued color like brown, gray, navy, or burgundy is also considered acceptable.  I have seen lighter, brighter colors at funerals – a friend of mine wore a buttery yellow to her son’s funeral because it was his favorite color on her – but generally, darker, more somber tones reflect the seriousness of the occasion. Your goal is to blend in with the other mourners and keep attention where it should be:  on the deceased and his or her family.

Opt for formal or semiformal business attire, including suits, coat dresses, skirts, and the like.  Nice pants are also acceptable, particularly during inclement weather.

What’s unacceptable?  Flashy, flamboyant attire or accessories like short skirts, revealing necklines, sheer clothes, or metallic handbags.  Extremely casual attire like jeans and t-shirts are also a no-no.  Again, your goal is to be respectful and blend in, not get everyone to look at you.

That said, remember that funerals often mean unplanned reunions as family members, friends, and colleagues reunite to mourn the passing.  You’ll be seeing people you may not have seen in years, so keep that in mind as you determine what to wear.

Dark Suit

Dark Suit
SmartBargains.com

If you’re the sort that likes to plan ahead, try to keep something in your closet that would work for a funeral, like a dark suit, dress, or skirt.  That way, you’re not scrambling to find something amid the stress, travel, and confusion of the death and funeral arrangements.

Did you Know?

 

In Victorian times, family members of the deceased would go into deep mourning for their loved one.  They’d dye all their clothes black and wear only black for a full year afterward (widows would often go two years).  To be seen in anything else was considered disrespectful and even immoral.

Victorian Mourning

Victorian Rituals

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Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Occasion Magic, an ebook that teaches women what to wear for various occasions. If you’d like to receive regular fashion tips from Diana, be sure to sign up for her FREE ezine, the Clothing Chronicles. Diana Pemberton-Sikes

9 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Reply Reply November 12, 2009

    Until 1960, in a small town in France, we acted like in Victorian times. My mother disagrees with my wearing black clothes, she finds they are dull and sad, it really hurts her.

  • Paula T.

    Reply Reply November 12, 2009

    I wore red to my dad’s service; it was a suit that he loved to see me in AND I wanted to celebrate his full and long life. However, the priest at the ceremony didn’t seem to think I was part of the family, even though I was in the front row right beside my mom. He passed right over me and extended condolences to everyone but me. So be warned! Any other service I have attended, I have definitely followed the advice above – subdued colors like black pant and jacket, with a more “somber” colored blouse or shirt.

  • Janet Darbey

    Reply Reply November 12, 2009

    Here in Greece the very close family still wear black for mourning for a full year. Often, widows wear black for the rest of their lives. Many mourners wear black or dark colours, but I have seen mini skirts, low cut blouses and even evening wear worn to funerals many times. The saddest thing I ever saw was two female mourners from the Uk who came over for a funeral of a loved one, and they stood in summer dresses and open toe sandals in a torrential thunderstorm at the graveside.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 13, 2009

      Hi Janet,

      Wow – I didn’t realize some of the old traditions were still followed. I, too have seen mini-skirts at a funeral. That’s NEVER appropriate, regardless of where you live.

  • Shelly Miller

    Reply Reply November 12, 2009

    My Grandmother lived and was buried in a rural community. Her 37 years as a school bus driver and class room volunteer led to a sizable crowd at her graveside funeral in a small town. I dressed in a two-piece navy number – long straight pants and a long sleeve, plain collarless wesit top. And i stood out like a city-slicker soar thumb amidst t-shirts, Levi’s, shorts, and flip flops! There seems to be “no rules.” Perhaps I should have opted for a dark pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt…

  • Nancy

    Reply Reply November 12, 2009

    Does anyone see a difference in the mourners’ attire when the funeral is sudden (because of accidents or crimes) or anticipated (extended illness or aging)?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 13, 2009

      Hi Nancy,

      There is no difference in the attire requirements – which is why it pays to already have something in your closet you can wear for the occasion…

  • Heather

    Reply Reply November 21, 2009

    I am an American living in China. Here the traditional color for funerals is white. In the rural area where I live, the local Chinese wear tall white hats and white aprons over there clothes to the funeral. It would not be unusual at all to see mourners wearing normal, everyday clothes such as jeans and sweaters, etc. as for many, these are the only clothes they own. Same goes for weddings. Wedding party members usually wear red while the guests just where whatever they would normally wear, jeans and t-shirts included. Very big contrast to the US and other Western countries.

  • josi

    Reply Reply December 1, 2009

    I remember as a teen, when our housekeeper, a spanish women came back from holidays all dressed in black. Her father had died and the spanish tradition wanted her to wear black 3 years long. She just began to wear colours (greys and dark marine) when her mother died.. another 3 years. We have never seen her wearing any colour after this second funeral. From that time, I have learnt to associate black with mouning and sadness. I wear colours with pleasure.

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