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A funeral is a somber occasion and it’s a gesture of respect to ensure the funeral clothes you wear are fittingly appropriate.
One thing it’s important to avoid when you’re dressing for a funeral, is standing out from the crowd.
Whether it’s a traditional funeral you’re attending, or a celebration of someone’s life, the focus is upon the person who has died and their bereaved family. The same rules apply when you are paying your respects at a viewing or visitation at a funeral home.
So what do I wear to a funeral?
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Unlike other ceremonies marking major life occasions, it’s often taken as a given that people will know what to wear to a funeral. It’s unusual to be presented with a dress code for a funeral – although at celebration of life funerals, woodland burials and contemporary memorials with a focus on the uplifting remembrance of someone’s life, more alternative forms of funeral wear can sometimes be requested of mourners.
In a culturally diverse United States, funeral tradition – and funeral attire – can vary according to faith and lifestyle. You’ll find more detailed guides to funerals of faith and culture.
Funeral dress codes
At the traditional funeral most Americans are familiar with, it is respectful to dress formally and soberly.
Black has long been worn by mourners at a traditional funeral, but today, dark shades such as navy or gray are also appropriate. A smart work suit or outfit is usually acceptable – it’s a good rule of thumb to ask yourself whether it would be appropriate wear for a formal business meeting or job interview.
Whether you have a designer suit, or pick out an outfit from the clothes you have in a subdued color, what’s really important is to look smart and well-groomed.
Well-pressed clothes, polished shoes and a tidy appearance are a gesture of respect towards the bereaved family and the person who has died.
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Funeral wear should not draw attention to you. At a traditional funeral, it’s proper to wear conservative clothing in muted colors to maintain a focus on who the service is all about and for.
Even if the funeral you’re attending has specified a relaxed dress code, it’s still important to ensure that your funeral clothes won’t make you the centre of attention.
Formal wear hire companies are can help take the strain out of decision making – and ironing – providing formal men’s and women’s funeral attire to suit a range of budgets and sizes.
Funeral dress code – What men should wear to a funeral
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A dark suit is most appropriate for a funeral, worn with a tie. If you don’t have a black tie, a necktie in a dark color without a loud pattern, will generally go unremarked these days.
It’s typical to wear a long-sleeved white shirt at a funeral, but a gray, navy or black buttoned shirt is also acceptable. Shoes should be dark, clean and well-polished. The suit jacket should be worn throughout the funeral service.
Funeral dress code – What women should wear to a funeral
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Dresses, skirt suits and pantsuits can be all be worn to a funeral – the focus is on conservatism. Skirts should be worn below the knee at a traditional funeral, while dresses or blouses should have short or full sleeves – or with a sleeved jacket worn over.
Avoid clothes that expose too much bare flesh or cling to curves. Subdued and sober is key. Any jewelery or accessories should be kept to a minimum, unless you’ve been specifically asked to wear a special motif in memory.
Some women still choose to wear wear dark hats to a funeral. If you are wearing pumps, avoid spikes likely to sink in the ground at a graveside service.
Funeral dress code – What children should wear to a funeral
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Children attending a funeral should also appear smart and well-groomed. While less strictly formal than an adults’ dress code, it’s tradition for boys to wear smart slacks, Oxford shirt, necktie and a blazer and for girls to wear a dress – the kind of clothes that would be appropriate for attending Sunday church or place of worship.
Light, but not bright colors are acceptable for children’s funeral wear. A girl’s dress may have muted flower-print, for example, with a navy cardigan worn on top.
The younger the kids are, the more the emphasis upon them appearing neat and tidy – while older children and teenagers may adopt more of the adult dress code’s formality.
Seasonal funeral attire
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Conservative funeral attire is key, but if the mercury is on the rise, it makes sense to wear clothes in lighter fabrics. For women, a plain sleeveless dress that exposes the shoulders may not be inappropriate, if it’s a formal cut.
Avoid beach-ready wear, bright prints or party outfits, unless the obituary has specified a funeral dress code.
It’s proper to wear hosiery and closed-toe shoes to funerals, but dress sandals may be acceptable for women to wear in summer months, if they are suitably discreet.
If you are attending a graveside committal in winter weather, consider your choice of footwear and wear a dark-colored overcoat to keep out the cold.
What to wear to a funeral – by invitation
Serving members of the military or civilian services may be requested to wear uniform to the funeral of a comrade or a veteran. On formal occasions such as this, service dress uniform is worn.
A more recent funeral custom is for families to request mourners wear a certain colour to reflect someone’s passion, lifestyle or a charitable cause they had a connection with.
This could be anything from an accessory in a certain hue, to asking mourners dress from head to toe in bright colors to celebrate someone’s life. Details like these can usually be found in the person’s obituary or death notice.
The funeral was traditionally a time for mourner to contemplate their own mortality. America’s National Association of Funeral Directors has said that the ageing baby boomer generation are key influencers in changing funeral trends towards services with a focus on the life they lived.
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Themed funerals and memorials, although more unusual, are increasing in popularity, too. Funeral homes have played a part – by request – in arranging Star Wars, superhero and other themed ceremonies in fancy dress.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to dress up in full character – but could set the tone for an accessory or token to bring along, that reflects the spirit in which the person’s life is being celebrated.
If you are still uncertain about what to wear to a funeral, the funeral director making the arrangements on behalf of the family should be happy to advise you.
Read more: How to plan and arrange a celebration of life funeral.