How to Dress for a Funeral

A Quick Guide on Funeral Etiquette

There is no doubt that funerals are usually solemn occasions that typically entice top quality dress from their attendees. In fact, in this day in which many city councils across the United States (usually in tropical-themed tourist locales) have begun adopting tongue-in-cheek ordinances against ties in public, many men have made it a practice to avoid ties and other formal dress all together themselves – except at funerals. Many a man has, perhaps as a result of a midlife crisis, tossed (or given) away all of his business attire only to keep one coat and tie set aside at the back of his closet just for the purposes of funerals (and possibly weddings).

But nevertheless, ties are rarely ever required at funerals in today’s world. And, in fact, it is often the case that blue jeans and t-shirts are the clothing of choice among those in attendance at a memorial service, even for the most prominent of men and women. While it is certainly true that the modern funeral is still apt to take on the traditional images of mourning, with dark black, exceedingly formal attire dominating the atmosphere of the interior decor right along with the dress of the mourners, it is also just as likely that a memorial service will take on a bright and cheery look overall, too. Further, many a funeral in today’s world has a combination of the two extremes.

In short, it is hard to say today just how one should dress for a funeral. The answer is as varied as the personalities of the deceased and the tastes of the fellow funeral goers. Nevertheless, we offer the following brief look at this often confusing topic in hopes that we can help even one or two folks who may be wondering just what sort of dress they should prepare to wear when they find themselves contemplating attending a funeral for a friend or loved one.

Determining the Atmosphere of a Funeral

There are many ways one can go about deciding what to wear to a funeral

The first thing to consider about how to dress for a funeral is the basic overall atmosphere that will be prevalent at the service. This may not always be easy to determine, but a little detective work will likely yield some good guesses that you can use to guide your choices for what to wear at the memorial ceremony. The first way to access the atmosphere that will likely be in force is to consider the location of the funeral. If it will be in a large, traditional, formal church, then the strong likelihood exists that the overall atmosphere will be formal as well. In such cases, formal, business-like attire will likely be the best choice, but this is not always the case. There are other factors to be considered as well.

The age of the deceased is often a good indication of what the atmosphere will be at a funeral: if a young child is to be remembered during the memorial ceremony, then the atmosphere will likely be about as somber as can be. Formal attire is likely the most appropriate choice in such cases. If the person to be remembered and honored is a teenager or relatively young adult, the atmosphere may be much less formal, in keeping with the traditionally robust, cheerful (or often even mildly rebellious) spirit of that age. And, finally, the older that a person to be memorialized is, the greater the likelihood that a solemn, somber atmosphere will prevail. While this is certainly not always the case, a good rule of thumb in determining what to wear to a funeral is this: the older younger or the older that a deceased person is, the more likely it will be that the best attire will formal, dignified, dark and business-like.

And yet another indication of the potential atmosphere at a funeral is the probable size of the crowd. Large funerals – say of 100 or more – will likely include many people who were only marginally acquainted with the deceased and, with the lack of familiarity, comes a sense of formality. (In fact, it is interesting to note that the words familiar and formal have similar etymologies, hence their similar spellings.) Meanwhile, smaller funerals will likely be comprised mostly of people who were close intimate friends or family of the deceased. These people might be less likely to contribute to a formal atmosphere. Hence, the larger the funeral, the more likely that a formal, dark, business look will be most appropriate for a funeral, and the smaller the funeral, the more likely that a pair of jeans will be suitable for a funeral service.

It should be noted that judging the atmosphere of a funeral before the service is actually in progress can sometimes be a tricky – even dubious – endeavor. So, please remember that the above advice and ideas are not at all set in stone. Rather, we offer it only as a good set of guidelines to use in making your decision about what to wear to a funeral. There are many other factors that you should consider and we now move on to just some some of those other considerations.

Keeping With the Deceased’s Spirit

After you have thought about the atmosphere that will most likely be prevalent at a funeral you have been considering attending, it is important to strongly consider what you know of the deceased’s own spirit. What would he or she want you to wear to a funeral? In many cases, such a question will reveal the obvious choice of what is appropriate attire in this case, and you should never feel bashful about abiding by such answers. It’s true that going with your idea of what the deceased would wear to a funeral may end up putting you at odds with some of the others in attendance – especially if the deceased was prone to making jokes and you believe he might actually wear an outlandish “jester’s” outfit to the event – but it’s also true that the objective of just about every funeral is to honor and remember the spirit of the deceased. So, if the idea strikes you that you should dress in a manner that is especially befitting the deceased, you should feel free to do just that – no matter if you are concerned about being alone on that (chances are strong you will not be). This is especially a good consideration if you are honoring the spirit of person whose personality was exceedingly outlandish.

Considering Your Role in the Memorial Service

Often it is best to determine the overal feel of the service, to decide on the proper attire.

One final consideration in the area of how to dress for a funeral should be one’s own role in the service. If you have been selected to have some active part in the memorial service, such as an usher or a pall bearer, or even a speaker, or just a greeter, your attire is much more important than if you are simply expecting to quietly observe the service. A further consideration in this area is your relationship to the deceased or the deceased’s family. If you are a close friend to the family of the deceased, then it is likely that you will have a great number of informal roles that you will be expected to play – such as that of a comforter and great, compassionate friend.

Your dress at the funeral service will be at its best if you have duly considered these roles. In general, the more you expect to be observed by others, the more formal your attire should likely be. Though it is somewhat common for pastors and other speakers who appear at a funeral to dress somewhat informally – with no tie or no coat, for example – wearing blue jeans or short pants or sleeveless shirts or even sandals to a funeral is likely not a good idea. To be sure, there are some cases in which such attire may be just what is expected of you. (In fact, more and more funeral directors these days are encouraging their clients to arrange for special outfits for pall bearers – often outlandish styles that specifically fit the spirit of the deceased.)

But, unless you have been specifically invited to wear such attire at a funeral in which you will be a public participant, dressing in such a manner is typically a significantly risky endeavor. If you are struck with a notion of wearing something that is less conservative than traditional formal dress and have been asked to provide a specific service during the memorial ceremony, your best bet, experts say, is to consult a chief organizer of the funeral – usually someone directly involved with the family leaders – before appearing in that dress on the day of the service. Further, another tip that some experts give to people directly involved in a funeral is to carry with them a change of clothing that they can use in the event it becomes evident that the original choice is too awkward for the purpose at hand.