Nobody likes going to a funeral. Many times, funerals are fairly sudden and unexpected leaving us in lack of time for getting prepared for what to wear to these occasions. The reality is that funerals are going to happen in our lifetime. On average we will attend a minimum of 50 funerals before we are 90 years old.
Although a funeral is a common way to say goodbye there are increasingly more and more people choosing to do a “Celebration of Life”, rather than a formal service and viewing.
This can cause a lot of confusion around the topic of appropriate clothing, especially since a “Celebration of Life” can drastically differ from one to the next depending on the wishes of the family.
This article is meant to take away the confusion of wondering what is appropriate to wear and how to present yourself while showing your respect. At the end of this article, we aim to leave you feeling more confident and prepared for how to present yourself when these unfortunate situations come up.
First, let’s cover a few definitions to make sure we are on the same page,
The formal ceremony honoring a dead person, typically involving burial or cremation. This service is generally conducted by a minister or priest.
Visitation (noun) (Also known as a “viewing”)
A viewing is a gathering of friends and family where visitors can pay their respects in a more informal manner than a funeral. The visitation is usually held before the formal funeral service.
A wake is similar to a visitation or viewing. It is a term mostly used by people of the Catholic religion.
Celebration of Life
A celebration of life is an opportunity for family and friends to pay tribute to a loved one while saying goodbye in a unique way.
These gatherings can range from being fairly formal to fairly casual. This will all depend on the wishes of the deceased and their family members.
Some celebrations of life are fairly similar to funerals and held within a funeral home while we have attended many that are in restaurants, community centers, or family homes. We have even heard of some that have specific themes based around the hobbies and interests of the deceased.
These type of gatherings could even come with instructions on what to wear!
Now that we have the definitions out of the way, let’s talk about what to wear to each of these respective situations.
What to wear at a Funeral, Visitation, Wake or Celebration of Life?
Here are the top 5 tips for “How to dress for a funeral, visitation, or celebration of life.”
#1 – You don’t necessarily need to dress in black
Unless the specific religion or culture specifies that you are to wear black, this is not a steadfast rule. You will want to be conservative with your choice of colors.
Generally, if you choose to opt-out of black, you will want to wear dark or neutral colors such as dark blues, greys, and browns. It would be safe to save the hot pink or leopard print for another day ;)
If you are attending a ceremony from another culture that you may not be familiar with, I do suggest asking a friend who may know or performing a google search on the topic.
#2- Know your place
If you are part of the immediate family you can dress up a little bit more formally than if you are a long lost friend of the deceased.
As a general rule, you don’t want to be overdressed or stand out too much from the crowd if you are not part of that inner circle. Remember, the purpose of the gathering is to support the members of the family and show your respect, not to bring attention to yourself.
There are times to “dress to impress” and show off, but this is definitely not one of them.
#3- Stay classy
Don’t be “that guy” or “that girl”. What does that mean in this context? No jeans, no cleavage, no offensive t-shirts (better yet, just avoid t-shirts and shirts with words on them), don’t go overboard with flashy jewelry and accessories, iron your clothes, check for stains, and wear clothing that fits properly.
#4- Be mindful of location & type of service
When you are attending a funeral service at a funeral home or a church it is probably more appropriate to be a bit more formal. If it is a “celebration of life” taking place at the corner pub you may switch your dress shirt or polo, for example.
For many celebrations, you may even get an idea from the family on how formal or informal the event is.
Given that visitations are generally a bit more relaxed than the former funeral service, you can also take that into account when deciding what to wear to one or the other.
#5- When in doubt, keep it simple
If you are at all unsure of what to wear just stick with a nice pair of dress pants, an appropriate dress shirt, and keep it simple. Make sure you bring a sweater or coat that will compliment your outfit in case you are out in the cold for the burial.
It is always better to be over-prepared rather than underprepared. It doesn’t hurt to keep a spare pair of shoes in the car or an extra sweater. Another great guideline is that you can wear to a funeral what you might wear to a job interview.
Simple, classic and “business casual” seem to work well in a variety of situations.
Specific Clothes to Wear to a Funeral Viewing
Let’s break this down even further with some specific ideas on what to wear.
For men, the following might be good choices fo clothes to wear at a funeral:
- Dark dress pants
- A button-up shirt or polo
- Dress shoes and dark socks
- A sports coat or a nice jacket
Women amongst us might want to pick from the following to wear for a funeral:
- A simple dress
- Dress pants, a classy shirt, blouse or sweater
- Neutral colors or simple patterns
- Avoid anything bright or “busy” looking
- Wear high heels or flat dressy shoes
Dressing for a funeral, visitation or celebration of life does not need to break the bank either. Chances are that you probably have some of these clothes in your closet already.
If you don’t have anything right now but need to find some clothing last minute you can consider borrowing some clothes from a friend or perhaps shopping at a thrift store.
Final Advice on What to Wear at a Funeral
Avoid overthinking your outfit, trust your gut and go with what you think is appropriate. Nobody is ever going to look back on this day and be thinking about what you were wearing or chose not to wear.
The most important part of a funeral is that you were there. People will not remember what you looked like, they will remember that you were present and there to support them.