What to Wear to a Funeral, Memorial or Celebration of Life

What to wear? What to wear? While traditional funerals have historically warranted somber black dress, the rules of funerals—and funeral attire—are no longer so rigid. A wider range of dress is now perfectly acceptable for most funerals and memorials. Celebrations of life often have even fewer rules.

What to wear to a funeral or memorial

A traditional church service still calls for more traditional clothing. Both men and women typically choose conservative outfits in black, gray and navy. A celebration of life, however, may mean a less-dressy or even casual outfit. When deciding what to wear to a service, just remember: You want to show respect for both the person who has passed and the family. What you wear to a funeral shouldn’t draw attention to you, and be cognizant that the religion or culture of the person being honored may call for different attire than what your own might.

When choosing your clothing, let the type of service be a guide. Common sense tells you that you don't want to wear a black suit to a beach celebration. By the same token, shorts may not be right for a church ceremony. Some funerals have a color theme, and, if that's the case, you might want to incorporate that color into your outfit. If you're attending a Chinese funeral, you may want to wear pink or white, depending on the age of the deceased. If you're attending a Hindu funeral, you'll likely want to be sure your arms and knees are covered.

You can show you care by dressing well while keeping in mind that personal touches and expressions of love are always appropriate.

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Funeral attire for women

Traditionally, women wear modest clothing, such as a knee-length or longer skirt or dress. Dress pants are usually OK for most cultures, but jeans or leggings may not be. You can pair a skirt or pants with a blouse or sweater in a muted tone, but avoid flashy patterns or bright colors unless a family has asked guests to wear them.

Shoes can be heels or flats—whatever you find comfortable. Athletic shoes might not be right, but some services may call for them. For example, a cremation scattering service could mean a short hike into a wooded area. You can wear simple jewelry, but avoid flashy costume pieces. A hat or other head covering may be appropriate, especially for some cultures or an outdoor ceremony in winter.

Woman puts Hawaiian lei around a man's neck at an outdoor memorial
Two men and two ladies talking at a tailgate celebration.

Funeral attire for men

While men typically wear dark suits to traditional funerals, a sport coat with dress pants is almost always acceptable if you don’t have a suit. Your suit or dress pants can be paired with a light-colored button-down shirt. If you’re choosing to wear a tie, avoid bright colors or flashy prints unless you're giving a nod to the person being honored.

Dress shoes or loafers are appropriate. Avoid wearing jeans, shorts, athletic shoes or sandals unless you're going to a very casual celebration of life or the family indicates otherwise.

Dressing for a formal vs. a casual funeral

More and more, services are trending away from the very formal and toward a more celebratory tone. The family may state in the service details when there is a more casual dress code, or they may have a special request, such as sports jerseys or a certain color.

If there's no mention of dress in the service details, let the location and the family's cultural background guide you. If the service will be held at a restaurant or club, or an outdoor location such as a park or beach, dress accordingly. However, if the funeral will be held at a place of worship, it’s usually a good idea to dress conservatively.

If you were a co-worker of the loved one being honored and your work required a uniform, you might consider attending in uniform. A group of co-workers in uniform at a funeral conveys a touching solidarity.

Dressing for the weather

Winter, spring, summer or fall, if you're attending a memorial service, you want to dress according to the season as well as the type of service.

What to wear to a funeral in the summer

While you may want to avoid wearing shorts or a T-shirt, you do want to be cool. Some possibilities include:

  • Light, flowy dresses or skirts
  • Clothing made from linen, chambray or cotton
  • Short-sleeved or sleeveless tops
  • Sunglasses for an outdoor service

What to wear to a funeral in the winter

In cooler months, be sure you dress warmly enough, especially if you'll be going to the cemetery after the funeral or memorial. Consider layers:

  • Black or dark-colored dress coats
  • Heavier fabrics, such as wool, cashmere or tweed
  • Long-sleeved dresses or long skirts paired with sweaters
  • Blazers or cardigans
  • Shawls or scarves and gloves
  • Hats for an outdoor service

Adding a personal touch, no matter what you wear

It's always appropriate to honor a loved one with a personal touch, even if the family hasn't indicated a theme for the service. Some examples of creative details you might want to add to an outfit for the service of a:

  • Veteran: a flag pin
  • Gardener: floral tie or scarf
  • Biker: leather jacket
  • Cowboy or cowgirl: boots
  • Pilot: aviator sunglasses

Your clothing can reflect your unique personality as well as that of the beloved individual being honored, as long as it remains tasteful and respectful. And if you're unsure about what to wear, don't be afraid to check with someone from the family or call the funeral home and ask a funeral director.

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A funeral or memorial service should be a one-of-a-kind celebration. Everyone has their own unique story. How do you want to tell yours? Imagine is a book full of ideas for creating a beautiful and unforgettable remembrance for yourself or a loved one. Download Imagine to begin planning an unforgettable tribute today.


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