Deciding what to wear to a funeral service or a memorial can be sensitive, and more than a little tricky. You might feel anxious about how to present yourself appropriately and respectfully—and your everyday wardrobe might not contain much that’s funeral-appropriate.
But what do we even mean when we talk about a “funeral outfit”?
Here’s a quick guide to help you find funeral attire that will create the right impression, whether you’re going to a funeral for your own loved one, or to support a friend or partner who has lost someone they care about.
What is traditional funeral attire?
As you probably already know, it’s traditional to wear black to a Western funeral or cremation service. Other dark colors like maroon, dark green, or navy are all considered suitable for funeral clothes.
This means a black suit, black dress, plain white dress shirt, or smart black top with a black skirt or black pants are all safe choices (and items you probably have on hand in your closet).
Here’s an oft-referenced rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t wear it to a job interview, don’t wear it to a funeral.
Funerals aren’t usually the time to make a fashion statement, so you might want to avoid bright colors, flashy accessories, and outfits that show a lot of skin. Plunging necklines, spaghetti straps, and very short hemlines are typically frowned upon at funerals. This is probably obvious, but bears repeating.
If you’re coming straight from work and don’t have time to change, bring a smart blazer, jacket, or cardigan in a dark color, so you can slip it on over what you’re wearing.
When it comes to shoes, leave the strappy sandals and stiletto heels at home, especially if you’re going to a graveside service. Practical dress shoes in any dark color probably make the most sense. Sport shoes aren’t the best choice, but if they are in good condition and subdued colors, they’re unlikely to raise eyebrows.
Ultimately, “appropriate” funeral attire isn’t black-and-white, so use your best judgment.
How to dress for a religious funeral
If the deceased or their immediate family was religious or otherwise traditional, check if there are any religious considerations. For example, at a Muslim funeral, people might be expected to wear a long-sleeved shirt or top and long pants or skirt, while women wear headscarves.
Some cultures have specific colors for funerals. It’s considered inappropriate to wear black to a Hindu or Sikh funeral; instead, mourners and attendees are expected to wear white.
Although you might feel uncomfortable asking fellow mourners about your funeral outfit in advance, it can be respectful to contact a family member or friend who isn’t one of the immediate mourners, and inquire if they observe any religious or cultural norms around funeral dress. They will appreciate that you cared enough to ask.
What should I wear for a non-traditional funeral?
Sometimes, funerals don’t take the traditional form (a religious service, followed by a graveside burial). You might attend a celebration of life ceremony, a memorial service, ash-scattering ceremony, or a host of other possibilities.
In these circumstances, the deceased’s family may specifically ask people to wear colors that aren’t black. When it comes to doing things out-of-the-box, you should follow any requests from the family to the best of your ability, like if they ask you to wear a specific color that the deceased loved.
If you’re going to a non-traditional funeral, it’s still best to avoid bright, loud colors and patterns, unless instructed otherwise. (If the deceased was a fun-loving musician who despised formality, perhaps they’d appreciate if everyone showed up in Hawaiian shirts to pay tribute to their life.) Earth tones, pastels, and neutral colors can be a safe choice.
You might be asked to dress down and not to wear suits and ties, but make sure that your clothing is subdued and neat. Ripped jeans, slogan t-shirts, and clothing that’s stained, crumpled, or revealing still isn’t appropriate.
How to dress for a funeral in any season
Match what you wear to the weather. If you’re going to a funeral in the height of summer, you can leave the suit and jacket at home, but you should still wear a smart top.
Try pants, skirts, and dresses in lighter fabrics and in lighter colors like gray or pastel, but avoid brightly colored sun dresses or pantsuits. Flip flops are always frowned upon, but you could wear clean sandals.
Baseball caps also should be avoided at funerals. If you need additional sun protection while attending a graveside funeral in the summer, look for a cap that’s more formal, like a sunhat. Some people bring parasols or umbrellas to provide shade, rather than wearing a hat.
If the funeral service will be held indoors in summer, remember that there might be very powerful air conditioning. Bring a blazer or cardigan, even if it’s boiling hot outside, so you can slip it on if you get cold indoors.
In winter, wear something warm, especially to a graveside service. A large coat or jacket in a dark color can be your savior and covers up all the rest of your clothes. If it’s likely to rain, bring an umbrella and a waterproof jacket. Gloves, scarves, and winter hats are all appropriate for cold weather, but you might want to avoid casual hats like beanies.
How should I do my hair and make-up for a funeral?
You can wear makeup to a funeral, but keep your look light and toned down. Avoid glitter eyeshadows and bright lipsticks—stick to neutral, minimal coverage. You might want to skip the mascara unless you have a water-proof formula. Tears can make mascara run, but no one will judge you for a bit of streaking.
If you like to wear make-up, it’s best to choose a long-lasting foundation with a light bronzer or blush. Matte lipstick in a soft, subtle shade, and eyeshadow or eyeliner in a neutral tone will help you feel comfortable without drawing too much attention.
When it comes to hair, go for a look that is neat, but not overdone. Long hair is best styled away from the face in a simple bun, chignon, or ponytail—but no elaborate updos. Short hair should be clean and neat.
What should children wear to a funeral?
It’s traditional for children to wear formal clothes, like a dark suit, a dress in a dark color, a button-down shirt, or a nice top.
But children aren’t expected to dress as formally as adults. A plain t-shirt or top in a dark color, plain dark jeans, or a dark dress are all good choices for children who are attending a funeral.
Toddlers especially aren’t expected to wear a miniaturized version of an adult funeral outfit, but you should make sure their clothes are subdued. Lots of toddler clothing comes with glitter, cute pictures, and slogans, but put those aside if you for this more somber occasion.
Whatever they wear, make sure it’s something comfortable that doesn’t itch, so they don’t spend the funeral service wriggling in their seat.
What should I wear to a wake or shiva?
When it comes to memorial services, the rules for what to wear are more fluid. It depends on the type of service you’re going to and what the mourners want for the event.
For example, a wake is typically somber and subdued, so you should dress as though you were going to a funeral.
If you are going to pay your condolences to the family at a shiva or memorial service, you aren’t expected to dress formally, but avoid eye-catching outfits and very casual clothing.
If the service is in a house of worship, like a church, synagogue, or mosque, there’s often a dress code, whereas if you’re going to someone’s private home, a forest, beachside memorial service, or a wake in a funeral home, things are usually more relaxed.
Before we go…
It isn’t easy to think about losing someone, but of course this is a reality that is simply unavoidable for us all. Much like a wedding or a birth, memorial events are social and cultural touchstones to bring together communities to mark a major event.
After a loss, there’s so little we can do, but arriving at a wake, shiva, service, or burial dressed in a way that honors the deceased and their family is a small way we can “show up” during a difficult time. Now that you’ve got a good idea of what to wear to a funeral, you might want to brush up on some advice on what to say during the occasion itself.