WHAT TO WEAR

What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service

Dear Deborah,

The other day I was trying to figure out what to wear to my boss’s funeral- what would be appropriate as I had to speak in front of about 400 people. I went online to search and found nothing. No one ever talks about this. Sad to say, I’ve been to several funerals over the years, and I always hesitate – too dressy, not dressy enough, etc.  I see people wearing denim, which I think is totally inappropriate, but what are the rules to follow? Kari S.

funeral-black-dress
Black is always appropriate. (This model is tall, but dress is 39″, which hits the knee on most)

Hi Keri,

This is an important topic, one that so many people feel uncomfortable talking about.  What you wear to a funeral is all about paying respect to the family.  I don’t like to ever use the words “rules” because dressing is a way to express ourselves, but when it comes to attending a funeral we want to be respectful of other’s traditions. This simple black dress is very appropriate for a funeral. Here is something similar.

funeral-grey-pants
Cover your arms and if you wear a print make sure it is subdued.

Guidelines For What to Wear to a Funeral

  • Match your dress to the emotions of the event by wearing formal, respectful clothing.
  • Dress like you’re going to be giving a speech to a group of bankers, or wear something appropriate for an important job interview.
  • Conservative work dress is what’s appropriate for most funerals.  If you think your outfit is too festive or too casual, it probably is.
  • If the funeral is being held in a church, be sure to dress modestly.  Cover your arms, or shoulders at the very least.
  • Black is not mandatory, but you can never go wrong wearing it.  However, anything in a dark color will be just fine. Other options are gray, navy, brown, dark green, etc.
  • Avoid wearing jeans. They are just not appropriate for this type of event. They are far too casual.

wrong-for-a-funeral

  • Nothing too revealing or tight such as a plunging neckline,  skirt with a slit, or very short dress.
  • Your skirt length should be at the knee or just below. Don’t expose a lot of skin.
  • No bare legs. Wear dark stockings or ultra sheer nude hose to show respect.
  • Nothing flashy or bright.  If your style is to wear colorful clothes, tone it down for a funeral. No bright colors especially red, orange, yellow which in some colors signifies a celebration.
  • Don’t even wear a black dress with bright stripes or florals. This is not the time to try to bring attention to yourself. ( The only exception is if the family requests you wear a favorite color of the deceased, which happens the odd time).
funeral-navy-dress
Navy is also a very appropriate color for a funeral.

 

 

  • Avoid loud busy patterns and prints like large stripes, polka dots, and animal prints.
  • Nothing edgy or glitzy- Leather or sequins do not belong at a funeral.
  • Make sure your shoes are comfortable. Funerals can be a lot of standing and walking, so plan accordingly. Nothing too sexy or strappy. Closed-toe shoes are appropriate.
  • Wear traditional jewelry, ( gold or silver) and avoid large, flashy bling.
  • Try your outfit on the night before. If you have an outfit that you “save” as your funeral outfit, you want to make sure it still fits!
  • Don’t forget to tuck some tissue in your purse and an extra one to share.
  • You may need an umbrella. Check the weather.
  • Turn off your cell phone before you go. It would be pretty embarrassing to have your phone go off in the middle of this solemn event!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the Conversation

10 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service

  1. Hi Deborah.
    I am not over 40 but I’m hoping you could give me some advice anyway.
    My grandfather passed away and I’m not sure what to wear to his funeral. Firstly, one of his wishes was no black clothing. considering most of my clothes are black this causes a bit of a problem. I obviously want to wear something respectful of his wish but also something sobre and don’t mind buying something new for the occasion but I’m not sure what since I’ve never been to a funeral before.
    What kind of outfit would you recommend I wear?

    1. Hi Tabitha, I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand you want to look respectful, even though your grandfather requested no black. Have you thought about dress in navy or a soft, low-key color? You can’t go wrong with something classic like a sheath dress, or shift dress or fit and flare. You could also wear dress pants and a nice blouse or a top with a jacket. Nothing fussy, simple lines – more something like you’d wear to the office, rather than a social function and you should be good. I hope that helps. Take care.

  2. Dear Deborah: Our daughter-in-law’s mother has passed away and my husband and I will be traveling to the memorial service. I’ll be wearing a print dress with a purple blazer, the hem of my dress is black, so my shoes will also be black. I need your advice on stocking color. Is it appropriate to wear a nude color or a sheer black?
    Our daughter-in-law has requested that we all wear color as her mother was always brightly attired. There will be sadness but then Joy will follow.

    Thank you Deborah.
    Pamela

    1. Hi Pamela, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Either color is fine. I would make sure if you wear nude, they are ultra-sheer. Otherwise, you get that heavy tanned old lady leg look. Donna Karan nudes are my favorite, and Secret makes some good ultra sheers. All the best.

  3. Deborah, thank you for always being classy! Yes, the funeral is all about the deceased and the family, and fashion should defer to them. It’s not the time to showcase ourselves.

  4. These are very helpful reminders and guidelines on what is appropriate dress for a funeral or wake. Thank you for underscoring that appropriate dress conveys respect to the family and the deceased. I will sadly be attending a wake tomorrow and happened to read this before going upstairs to plan my outfit, so your post is very timely.
    Stefanie

  5. If funeral is in a church, synogoue, or other place of worship, please refrain from a low-cut top or dress, even if it is black.

  6. I know someone in their will specified that she wanted everyone to wear bright, happy and their favorite outfits to her funeral to joyfully celebrate her life.