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What to wear to a funeral

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  • Mel Buttigieg
  • Writer, Bare
  • August 11, 2020
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When we receive the devastating news that a loved one has passed away it can come as a shock, as death often happens unexpectedly. With a funeral or memorial generally planned to be held within days of death, most people don’t have a lot of time to plan or even shop for an outfit to wear to the service. Most of the time we turn to what we have in our wardrobes as we search for what to wear to a funeral or memorial.

Traditionally, the general guide is to wear your ‘Sunday best’ as you would for a job interview or regular church service, but this is becoming less formalised in some instances.

Our tips, guidelines and ideas for what to wear to a funeral can help you prepare for how to present yourself to farewell a loved one that is fitting with contemporary Western culture. The way mourners might dress to farewell those in other cultures can vary considerably, so it’s important to also keep in mind the traditions of the decedent’s family, heritage and religion.

In this article we will offer advice on the following:

What to wear to a funeral: General tips

A funeral is the traditional term used for an end-of-life service with the body present, while a memorial service honours the decedent when the body is absent. Memorials are often less formal in nature and tend to focus more on celebrating the decedent’s life, rather than death.

At a church or more traditional service, mourners may be expected to wear black and dress in formal funeral attire. But for many funerals or memorials the only requirement is that attendees wear something nice, in darker colours, in a way that communicates sympathy and mourning as a sign of respect to the deceased and their family. 

“In a church, there of course needs to be a level of respect that doesn’t need to be there in a memorial,” said Bare Cremation’s Daphney Adams, a former funeral director and celebrant.

Expectations can vary depending on your loved one’s individual personality or the type of service planned, but the general guide is to dress modestly and respectfully. Taking the time and effort to appear neat and tidy speaks volumes about honouring the deceased and showing consideration for their family and friends. 

“A lot of families don’t want people wearing black at their loved one’s funerals and a lot of people are dressing more casually these days,” Daphney said.

For a non-traditional funeral, memorial or ‘celebration of life’, there may be no expectation to dress formally at all. Mourners may even be requested to dress in bright, celebratory colours, or the decedent’s favourite colour. We talk more about that below.

But when in doubt, it’s best to come to a funeral overdressed than underdressed.

What to wear to a funeral: Often mourners are asked to wear colour during a ‘celebration of life’.
Requests to wear colours instead of black are common for memorials or celebrations of life.

What to wear to a funeral: Women

For women deciding what to wear at a funeral, consider the traditional funeral dress code of a modest black dress or pantsuit, or conservative business-casual variations of a blouse with a skirt or pants. Depending on the decedent’s culture and personality a less strictly formal funeral attire may be acceptable. The general rule is to wear respectful, non-attention-grabbing outfits in darker colours, however tasteful colour accents can be acceptable.

It’s more respectable to keep shoulders covered and avoid wearing tight-fitting or revealing clothing or short hemlines. 

What to wear to a funeral: Men

The traditional funeral dress code for men is a suit in darker colours (black, grey, or dark blue) with a collared dress shirt and tie, but in recent times the dress code is generally no longer as formal. Nowadays smart-casual or business funeral dress is acceptable for men. 

Pairing slacks with a dark collared shirt is generally sufficient. This can be a business shirt without a tie, or even a polo shirt, but keep the colours subdued.

Also consider getting your hair trimmed – along with your beard if you have one – and take the time to polish your shoes.

What to wear to a viewing

A viewing is an opportunity for close family and friends to see the deceased’s body in an open casket ahead of the funeral. In the Catholic church, a viewing is traditionally held a day or two before the funeral, accompanied by a Rosary mass. In other instances, a viewing may be held immediately ahead of the funeral service.

When attending a viewing, follow the same funeral dress guidelines as detailed above.

What to wear to a cremation service

When deciding what to wear to a cremation service, follow the same general guidelines as mentioned above. However, if the casket is not present during the memorial service, the family may instead prefer mourners dress in a way that is a more fitting celebration of their loved one’s life. In this instance there is generally a more relaxed approach to funeral dress.

What to wear to a memorial or celebration of life

When families plan a ‘celebration of life’ for a loved one, generally they are consciously trying to remember the person’s life rather than focus on the sad and depressing element of death. Some families request attendees wear the decedent’s favourite colour or colours of their sports team – or less specifically that they dress in bright colours, including bright ties. These personalised requests are usually indicated in the funeral notice in newspapers or social media announcements.

It’s completely acceptable for families to make these requests, Daphney said. “A lot of people actually like having these requests because it takes the stress out of them trying to figure out what’s most appropriate to wear at a funeral.

“People go to funerals out of place, not knowing what to do, what to say, or how to feel. Those who go following the family’s request to wear a certain colour – it’s a recognition of what they’ve done to acknowledge their grief. It unites people. It’s a lovely thing. 

“As a celebrant, on one particular occasion it was quite moving to look out and see a sea of 150 people in blue – it’s quite a touching visual,” she said.  

Wearing specific items or accessories can also help celebrate your loved one’s personality.

“I did a service for an older lady who was a milliner. Everybody wore a hat and it was really sweet,” Daphney said.

What to wear to a funeral: Often mourners are asked to wear colour during a ‘celebration of life’.
Mourners were asked to wear hats to celebrate the life of a milliner.

“Another time, the lady loved her costume jewellery. The family wanted to share her brooches and necklaces with her loved ones, so everyone, as they arrived, could choose a piece to wear during the service and take home to remember her.”

What to wear to a children’s funeral

Turning away from the traditional black is more common in children’s funerals. Bright colours, or the child’s favourite colour, are often requested to wear to help celebrate the vibrant young life tragically cut short.

What to wear to an outdoor funeral, burial or scattering of ashes

A committal service is a ceremony that takes place at the burial site, also known as a graveside or burial service. While the usual funeral dress guidelines still apply, it’s important to consider the outdoor elements when planning what to wear to an outdoor service or scattering of ashes.

Ladies should consider thicker, flat-soled heels in place of thin stiletto heels that might become stuck in dirt or lawn and make walking difficult.

Also remember to dress for the season. Like we would do for any other outdoor event, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast beforehand to help prepare what to wear. Bring a coat or dress jacket and umbrella (preferably black or a dark colour) in case of inclement weather. A prepared funeral director will usually only have enough umbrellas for the immediate family if it rains. 

Sunglasses are also a good idea and it’s also handy to wear sunscreen, particularly in summer.

For more ideas adding personal touches to a memorial service, read our article How to personalise an end of life service.

For help personalising your loved one’s funeral or memorial, visit the Bare Cremation website  or call 1800 841 639.

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