Funeral and memorial service attire used to be very straightforward—everyone wore black, and that was that. But times have changed, and black is no longer a hard and fast requirement. One funeral service might want bright colors, while another may want traditional Scottish kilts. So how do you know the appropriate funeral attire? Here are 5 things to consider and some general advice to follow when deciding what to wear to a funeral or memorial service.
What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service
Do you have to wear black to a funeral?
Has the family said anything about clothing? This should be your first consideration. More often than not, nothing is said about what to wear to the funeral or service, but if they give some guidance, take it! I have heard of people requesting that funeral-goers wear clothing with bright colors or patterns to honor the bright life of the departed.
If you are a close family member of the deceased, you may decide to wear something that honors them or their wishes. The close family sets the tone for the service. If you are not close family, avoid wearing something that could be controversial—opt for the more conservative choice.
Consider the weather
When you are choosing what to wear, consider whether it will be appropriate and comfortable for the graveside service, if there is one. What is appropriate will depend on the weather conditions and time of year.
I once made the mistake of wearing stiletto heels to a graveside service during a rainy season. The heels sunk all the way into the ground and the shoes quickly became filthy. Flats or boots would have been a much better choice had I taken the weather into account.
Is a specific religious tradition being observed?
If you will be attending a religious funeral or memorial service, find out if there are any expectations regarding clothing choices. For example, women may be expected to wear skirts or dresses, and men or women may be expected to cover their heads. Christian funerals are quite different from Jewish funerals, which are quite different from Muslim funerals. Following the religious custom or expectation at a religious funeral shows respect for the deceased and their religion, even if it is not your religion.
What about the kids?
If you are planning on bringing children to the service, neat clothes that would be appropriate for church or a wedding are a good choice. Children are generally not expected to wear dark or black clothing to a funeral. Avoid clothing that is too casual, and when in doubt opt for something more formal.
Is it a funeral or a memorial service?
Memorial services are generally less formal than funerals. For memorial services, absent directions to the contrary, business casual clothing is a great choice. That includes shirt and slacks for men and a dress or a blouse with skirt or slacks for women.
Suggestions for women
For a funeral, consider wearing something that is more formal, and not flashy or revealing. It doesn’t need to be black, but wear something that does not draw a lot of attention. If in doubt, consider the following suggestions:
• A pantsuit or skirt suit
• A blouse and dress pants (can add a sweater)
• A dress (can add a jacket)
• Blouse and skirt (perhaps with sweater)
• Pumps, flats, or boots
• No tennis shoes or flip flops
• Pearls are always a tasteful choice
• Avoid big statement pieces that draw attention
Suggestions for men
A suit is an easy choice for attending a funeral service if you have one. You can also wear slacks and a button-down shirt.
• You can’t go wrong with a dark suit
• Dress pants and button-down shirt (can add a sweater)
• A tie is tasteful but optional
• Loafers, dress shoes, or boots
• No tennis shoes or flip flops
At the end of the day, if the family didn’t specify what to wear, err on the side of caution. Go with black or dark colors, Sunday best but nothing flashy.