WHAT TO WEAR

What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service

Dear Deborah,

I’m trying to figure out what is appropriate to wear to a funeral. I’m attending my boss’s funeral and will be speaking in front of  400 people. I went online to search and found nothing. No one ever talks about this! Sadly, I’ve been to several funerals over the years, and I always hesitate – too dressy, not dressy enough, etc.  I see people wearing denim as funeral attire, which I think is inappropriate, but what are the rules? Kari S.

What to wear to a funeral Black Dress

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How to Dress for a Funeral

Hi Keri,

This is a topic many of us feel uncomfortable discussing, but it is important. What you wear to a funeral is about respecting the family.  I don’t like to ever use the word “rules” because dressing is a way to express ourselves, but when attending a funeral, we want to respect others’ traditions.

 

A simple, classic black or navy dress with sleeves, and that ends at the knee or below, with minimal detail is always appropriate for a funeral. Here are a few more ways to think about it.

 

Funeral Dress Code

The etiquette for funeral attire is to match your clothing to the emotions of a funeral by wearing a respectful, business-type conservative outfit. Err on the side of dressing up rather than dressing down. Think of it this way:

  • Dress like you’ll be giving a speech to a group of bankers or going for an important job interview.
  • If you feel your outfit is too festive or casual, it probably is.
  • Dress modestly. You’re not going to a  party or nightclub!
  • Keep prints small and subtle in dark or soft colors

Classy top and pants outfit.

 

Women’s Clothes for Funerals

Dress: A classic dress such as a sheath style, fit and flare, or simple, low-key shift dress is perfect for a wedding. See Dresses at the bottom of this post.

Classy Top and Pants: You can also wear a classy blouse or sweater with a skirt or dress pants.

Suit: A pantsuit or skirt and jacket show respect and are perfect, too. See suits for funerals here.

What not to wear to a Funeral

Jeans (even black). They are far too casual and not appropriate for this type of event.

Capris or shorts, even in summer!

Leggings or stretchy tight pants

Athletic wear

 

Should you Wear Black to a Funeral?

It’s not mandatory, but you can never go wrong wearing black. However, anything in a dark color is just fine. Other options are gray, brown, dark green, burgundy, etc. Navy is a popular choice, as it looks formal but is less harsh looking.

 

Classy top and pants outfit.

What to Wear to a Memorial Service?

In general, you would wear the same thing to a Memorial service as a funeral – conservative clothing in dark colors. However, memorial services are deeply personal, and there may be a request for you to wear more joyful colors or something that reflects the personality of the deceased.

In this case, you may still want to err on the conservative side and wear something light, classic, and neutral. This pretty taupe pencil skirt and soft pink blouse would be very appropriate.

 

 

ladies funeral outfit - navy dress, taupe sweater and shoes

 

What is Appropriate to Wear to a Funeral?

  • Don’t wear anything tight or revealing. No plunging necklines,  skirts with a slit, sheer peek-a-boo fabrics, or mini dresses.
  • Skirt length should be at the knee or just below.
  • Don’t expose a lot of skin. This is not the time to try and look sexy.
  • No bare legs (preferably). Wear dark stockings or ultra sheer nude hose to show respect.
  • Cover your arms or shoulders if the funeral is being held in a formal church
  • 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.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Funerals can be a lot of standing and walking, so plan accordingly. Nothing too high (stilettos) or strappy. Closed-toe shoes are appropriate.
  • Classic jewelry (gold or silver) is best. Avoid large, flashy bling.

 

incorrect funeral attire

Your funeral outfit should not be bright or flashy.

If your style is to wear colorful clothes, tone them down for a funeral. No solid bright colors, especially red, orange, or yellow, which, in some colors cultures, signifies a celebration. Some color on a dark background is o.k., but only a little.

A black dress with bright stripes or florals can be overpowering. Embellishment, like studs, can be distracting. Keep things subdued. The goal is not to try to bring attention to yourself.

A Few Other Things to Prepare for a Funeral

  • Try on your funeral outfit the night before. If you have an outfit you “save” as your funeral outfit, you want to ensure 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!

 

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

  1. This was a great article. I really liked the dress lengths that you featured. So many black or navy dresses but I always find them so short! Also, I liked the option of the lighter outfit for a memorial service done months later. You are so great! I always enjoy your blog.

    1. Thanks Anne Marie. I’m so glad the article was helpful and you liked my choice of dresses. Dresses have been really short in the last few years and then there was a slew of maxis. Now I’m seeing more of that in-between perfect length, fortunately. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, Deborah

  2. 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 unsure 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 problem. I want to wear something respectful of his wish but also something sad and doesn’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. You want to look respectful, even though your grandfather requested no black. Have you thought about dressing in navy or a soft, low-key color? You can’t go wrong with something classic like a sheath dress, 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 – something like you’d wear to the office, rather than a social function, and you should be good. I hope that helps. Take care.

  3. Dear Deborah: Our daughter-in-law’s mother has passed away, and my husband and I will travel to the memorial service. I’ll be wearing a printed dress with a purple blazer, the hem of my clothing 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 delicate. I would make sure if you wear nude, they are ultra-sheer. Otherwise, you get that heavy-tanned old lady leg look. Donna Karan’s nudes are my favorite, and Secret makes some good ultra sheers. All the best.

  4. Deborah, thank you for always being classy! The funeral concerns the deceased and the family, and fashion should defer to them. It’s not the time to showcase ourselves.

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

  6. If the funeral is in a church, synagogue, or other places of worship, please refrain from a low-cut top or dress, even if it is black.

  7. 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.

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