Last Updated on September 8, 2020
Let’s talk about what to wear to a funeral.
Expectations can vary: At a more formal, traditional funeral, you may be expected to wear black dress clothes (buttoned suit for men, dress for women). For many funerals the only requirement is that you wear something nice in darker colors.
Traditional, high-profile, upper class, or more “formal” families will expect you to dress in traditional funeral attire. For others, there is may be no expectation of dress at all, and for some non-traditional funerals (perhaps a “celebration of life” or a funeral for a cosplay enthusiast) you may be expected to dress in bright, celebratory colors or even in a superhero outfit. We’ll talk about each of these in turn below.
However, most people at most funerals want to pay their respects to the deceased and the family by dressing in a way that communicates sympathy and mouring, so you will be best served following our general collection of tips, guidelines, and ideas for what to wear to a funeral.
This guide on what to wear at a funeral is ideal for contemporary Western culture; other cultures may differ and vary considerably. Even within modern Western culture, there is quite a bit of variation so please keep in mind the culture and traditions of the decedent’s family, region, heritage, and/or religion.
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- GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR FUNERAL OUTFITS
- WHAT TO WEAR TO A FUNERAL: WOMEN
- WHAT TO WEAR TO A FUNERAL: MEN
- DRESSING FOR THE SEASONS
- TRADITIONAL & NON-TRADITIONAL SERVICES
- EXAMPLES & FUNERAL OUTFIT IDEAS
1. What to Wear to a Funeral: General Guidelines
12 easy tips for everyone
- Black is a traditional color and is always appropriate
- Non-black clothing is generally acceptable, as long as it isn’t brightly colored
- Shirts/dresses should cover up to the neck; no open collars
- Pants/dresses should cover the knees; no shorts or miniskirts
- Avoid flip-flops or athletic shoes
- In a casual setting, t-shirts may be appropriate – but avoid wild prints, logos, etc
- Keep a formal jacket on hand; this basic addition can help make many outfits passable!
- Wear subdued style and colors; you do not want to attract attention away from the deceased
- Dress as you would for church or a job interview
- Revealing attire is generally not appropriate; many traditions require shoulders and knees covered
- Be considerate of any religious setting; i.e., some require hats for women and/or men
- For information on funeral traditions of different religions, see here
Proper colors to wear to a funeral
- Black is always the ideal; traditional, formal, or casual, you will never look out of place in black at a funeral
- Dark grays and deep blues are also highly appropriate, especially with accents and accessories
- Brown shades, lighter grays, and other earthy colors are acceptable for most funeral services
- Avoid bright colors such as pinks, yellows, oranges, and reds
- White is acceptable for jewelry, accents, and shirts worn under darker colors (i.e. a white dress shirt with suit and tie)
2. What to Wear at a Funeral: Women
Basic tips for women:
- Dark dresses or suits are always appropriate
- Keep shoulders covered
- Skirts/dresses should reach the knees
- Tasteful color accents can be acceptable
- Avoid bright sun dresses
- Avoid anything overly revealing
Basic funeral outfit ideas for women
- Skirt suit
- Pant suit
- Skirt and blouse
- Skirt and sweater
- Pants and top with sleeves
More outfit ideas here.
For women attending a funeral, the traditional dress code has long been a modest black dress or a black business dress suit.
But again, with the changing times, less strictly formal attire has become acceptable to wear to a funeral. While you will generally want to wear respectful, non-attention-grabbing outfits, you will be fine with a conservative selection of brighter or lighter colors, business-casual options, modest dresses, and variations of skirts, blouses, and pants.
When in doubt – especially if you are unfamiliar with the family or service location – you should opt for the more conservative and more traditional options. Of all occasions in life, it is best to come to a funeral overdressed rather than underdressed.
3. What to Wear at a Funeral: Men
Basic tips for men:
- Dark suits or buttoned shirts are always appropriate
- Long-sleeved shirts, something with a collar
- Belt with tucked-in shirt
- Dress shoes or loafers
- Avoid: sneakers, athletic shoes, flip flops
- Consider avoiding: jeans (though in many settings, dark jeans with tucked in shirt is acceptable)
- Avoid: shorts
- Avoid: baseball caps
Basic funeral outfit ideas for men:
- Dress suit with tie
- Polo shirt, slacks, belt
- Button-down shirt, tie, slacks, belt
- Button-down shirt, vest, slacks (or dark jeans), belt
- Any of the above with blazer
More outfit ideas here.
The traditional dress code for men at a funeral has long been a suit in darker colors (black, gray, or dark blue) with the customary collared dress shirt and tie.
However, with the changing times, this traditional attire is no longer an absolute requirement. Instead, it is acceptable to wear something along the lines of “business casual” or “Sunday best.” Use your judgment, but it is generally sufficient to wear slacks in any color along with a collared shirt. This can be a dress shirt minus the tie or even a golf or polo shirt. Keep the colors subdued, but acceptable funeral attire is no longer limited to only the darkest colors.
If you are unsure or not quite as familiar with the family or location, you should play it safe and go with the more conservative options. It is better to dress in more traditional funeral attire than to arrive underdressed.
4. Dressing for the Seasons
What to wear at a funeral in summer
When attending a summer funeral, consider the location first. If you are going to be part of an outdoor service you will certainly want to come prepared for the sun and heat.
Bring sunglasses and an umbrella. The glasses should preferably be simple and black rather than a cheery “summer fun” style. The umbrella will preferably be black, but most styles and designs should ultimately be acceptable if needed.
Keep your clothing lightweight and try not to do too many layers. Choose fabrics that are lighter and airy, such as cottons and linens. Avoid nylon, polyester, or other synthetic clothing that will trap in heat and sweat. Also stay away from shorts and flip flops; dressy or nicer strapped sandals are acceptable.
For women, choose a light and comfortable dress, or a knee-length skirt with light blouse. Short sleeved shirts are acceptable, just try to stay away from tops that reveal too much of the shoulders or chest. Avoid spaghetti straps, too-tight clothing, and miniskirts. Wear black, gray, or dark blue if possible, but most contemporary funerals allow a wider range of color as long as it is not too ostentatious.
For men, do not wear shorts or denim. Rather, stick to lightweight slacks or dress pants. Pair it with a collared shirt such as a button-up or a polo shirt. Avoid Hawaiian or other brightly colored shirts. While lighter colors are acceptable, notably khaki slacks, it is advisable to wear a darker dress or polo shirt as this helps keep the outfit’s tone somber and may help hide any sweat from the heat. Dress shoes, loafers, or dark sneakers should be acceptable, just be sure to wear dark socks with them.
For children, they should generally follow the lead of their parents. Shorts are acceptable, especially when there will be heat or sunshine, but pair them with nice shoes and avoid sandals.
What to wear at a funeral in winter
If the funeral will be in the cold of winter, choose your outerwear carefully. The same dress codes apply to a funeral in winter, but you will want to add a coat along with accessories such as gloves, scarves, and hats. Bring a black umbrella for outdoor events.
For women, you will never go wrong with a classic wool coat in dark or moderate colors. Winter green, dark blues, browns, and plaids are also typically acceptable for your outerwear. Choose good rain boots for a burial or outdoor funeral. Even if indoor, avoid open-toed shoes or sandals of any type. Accessories can include warm gloves, a scarf, and hats or other head coverings. Apart from outerwear and accessories, stick to the general guidelines for women’s funeral attire.
For men, this is why it is important to have a good-quality black wool coat. Accessorize with a dark scarf and warm gloves. Wear thick, dark wool socks. A black or gray beanie is acceptable, but a classic fedora is preferred. Choose rain boots for an outdoor burial service and your normal winter footwear for an indoor service. Aside from outerwear and accessories, follow the rest of the tips for men’s funeral attire.
For children, again, follow the lead of the parents. Winter jackets in most colors will be acceptable, as will most rain boots. If possible, try to stay away from bright colors in accessories, but most people will understand when it is not possible to purchase an entirely new winter wardrobe for your children.
5. Traditional and Non-Traditional Services
A funeral is the traditional term for a service with the body present, while a memorial service honors the decedent when the body is not present. Sometimes when the person has been cremated either term can be used.
When you are attending the literal burial, the service is traditionally known as a committal service but can also be called a graveside ceremony, graveside service, burial service, or simply a “burial.” Most often this takes place immediately after a funeral service and thus the dress code for one is identical to the other.
The term “celebration of life” has come into vogue in recent years, and the idea is to celebrate the life of the decedent as opposed to mourning their death. If this term is used, expect the service to be more casual with perhaps unique, creative, and alternative ceremonies and celebrations happening.
For more on the difference between these terms, see our article here.
What to wear to a funeral
When attending a funeral, it is important to dress respectfully to honor both the decedent (whose body is present) and the grieving family.
Since the body will be buried or cremated sometime after the service, by necessity it will need to take place soon after the death. This means that the grief of family and friends will be recent and raw.
All the more reason, then, to choose funeral outfits according the more traditional, formal, and conservative guidelines detailed above. This is a way for you to pay your respects to the departed and their family.
What to wear to a wake, viewing, or visitation
A wake is an open-casket viewing of the body and can also be called simply a viewing. More accurately, a wake is traditionally a Catholic ceremony but the term has been used more loosely in recent years. A visitation is a similar event but without the body present.
The wake, viewing, or visitation is a gathering for close friends and family to express condolences, share grief, and simply be together. If you are invited to one of these events it is a high honor.
When attending, follow the same guidelines as detailed above for funerals. Expectations for attire can range from highly formal to dressy-casual. If you are already familiar with the family you will be aware of their style and sensibilities, so dress accordingly.
On the other hand, if you are not very familiar with the family then it is always best to be safe and dress in more formal attire. Black or gray dresses and suits will always be appropriate.
What to wear to a memorial service
A memorial service is typically held without the body present. This can happen due to a variety of reasons, but in many cases the memorial service can happen several weeks or even months after the person has died.
As such, a memorial service can sometimes be a little less formal than a funeral. The same guidelines for dress at a funeral are typically followed, but a memorial service can lean a few degrees more casual and informal. At a minimum, you should dress in nice clothing, in subdued colors, and follow the dressy-casual outfits worn to a job interview or church.
When in doubt, err on the side of more formal and more traditional.
What to wear to a celebration of life
When you see the phrase “celebration of life” and and a complete absence of funeral, memorial service, committal, etc, then you will most likely be attending a more casual affair. These can range in tone from a lighthearted memorial service to a full-on party with bands, dancing, drinking, and more.
You will still want to dress respectfully and appropriately, and still keep in mind the culture and values of the family, but you are fairly safe to assume that a smart-but-casual outfit will be acceptable.
Clothing to wear to a funeral that is not black
There are many funerals and memorial services where black clothing is not required. You can still wear black to those occasions (unless it is a “celebration of life” or similar event where you are specifically asked not to wear black).
If you are not wearing black to a funeral, it is best to stick with darker colors, especially in earth tones. Gray in nearly all shades and dark blues are highly appropriate. Aside from these mainstay colors, here is a palette of clothing colors to wear to a funeral that are not black:
6. Examples and Funeral Outfit Ideas
Funeral outfit ideas for women
Three variations on the contemporary knee-length black dress, with complimenting shoes and bags. Note that the style of these funeral outfits is airy and attractive, yet the shoulders are covered and the necklines are appropriate for the occasion:
Here is an outfit designed for an outdoor funeral service. The hat and umbrella are a good idea for colder weather, the the light dress works perfectly with the pea coat. Add gloves to warm the hands, and the jewelry adds an antique sensibility appropriate for a traditional funeral.
Here we have an example of appropriate yet stylish funeral attire in varied colors. The vintage style is a tribute to restraint rather than excess, with muted brown and navy blue tones.
The “little black dress” is a funeral staple, for good reason. A classic look, always appropriate, perfectly accessorized with simple necklace and earrings.
Here is a more contemporary professional look, an example of the ideal skirt and blouse combo:
The simple black dress can always be accented with a bit of muted color, like the tan shawl and heels in this funeral outfit:
Little Miss Funeral is a blog run by a young funeral professional who loves fashion. Lots of great ideas for what to wear at a funeral, especially if you will be attending in a working/professional capacity. Here is the time-honored black coat with scarf, black dress and tights, with fur-lined heeled boots:
And here is a “casual dressy” look which utilizes a light gray cotton dress, black tights, and black shoes:
If you know the occasion will have something of a contemporary-casual feel, here is a good look that bridges the gap between dressy and casual. The darker colors help retain a sense of solemnity, while the floral patterned dress and green sweater provide a comfortable yet conservative look.
If you need to make jeans work, choose a darker pair and be sure to accent them with dressy neutral or earth tones, like the outfit here:
- Dresses: Amazon, Macy’s, Lulus, ASOS
- Shoes: Go Jane, Zappos, Heels, Designer Shoe Warehouse, Overstock
- Handbags: Bloomingdales, Tradesy, The Real Deal (authentic gently used items)
- Accessories: Forever21, Amazon, Buckle, DSW
Funeral outfit ideas for men
Starting off with the classic look of the traditional black suit and tie:
Here is the traditional look with a little modern flair thrown in by substituting a black shirt:
If you don’t have a formal black suit available, the next best option is the suit you do have. Below is a classy charcoal suit with gray shirt and tie:
If you don’t have a suit, go with the classic, time-honored dress shirt and tie. Again, stick with darker colors, black pants if at all possible:
Now we’ll get into some dressy casual looks which will be appropriate for most funerals. Here is a nice combination of black chinos, a charcoal blazer, and dress shirt:
If you’d like to make jeans work for attending a funeral or memorial service, try to class it up as much as possible. Here the jeans are dark, and balanced nicely with a sweater and tie:
For most contemporary funerals here in the USA, a respectful casual look will not look out of place. Khakis or dress pants paired with a collared shirt and sweater is a good standard:
Or, for warmer climes, go with a vest instead of the sweater. You can go with or without the tie; but with is definitely the superior option:
Thanks for reading our guide on what to wear to a funeral. If you have any additional tips, insights, or suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments below.