What to Wear to a funeral

Attending a funeral can be challenging enough, without the added concern about what is appropriate to wear. Whether you have attended a funeral before or it's your very first time, it's understandable that you want to get it right. While some funerals may ask attendees to wear colourful clothing, or something symbolic to the person that has died, the most traditional attire is usually black or dark colours.

As a general rule of thumb, funeral clothing should be smart and presentable. If there is a particular dress code, it is important that you be respectful and follow it. The following guide provides practical advice and tips as to what to wear to a funeral to help to make attendance as simple and stress free as possible.

Why is black traditionally worn at a funeral?

This tradition goes back centuries, and many cultures throughout the world observe the custom. Indeed today, many funerals continue to uphold this age-old tradition. Historians have traced the wearing of black at funerals to the Roman Empire when a black toga was worn instead of the usual white as a mark of respect.

In the UK, the tradition is thought to have been inspired by Queen Victoria. She wore black at the funeral of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, and continued to wear black mourning veils for the remaining 40 years of her life. Black is considered modest, respectful, and understated, reflecting the sad emotions of the day. It is often seen as a symbol of dark moods and sorrow. Darker, muted tones including brown, navy, dark green, grey, or burgundy are also acceptable, often worn at funerals so that nobody stands out and as a mark of respect.

Today, we are seeing a move away from black and dark clothing to more colourful funerals, with many believing the colour represents a celebration of the life lived.

General tips for what to wear to a funeral

  • Wear black, dark, pastels, undertones, or other subdued colours
  • Smart, comfortable shoes or boots – some walking may be involved
  • Avoid stilettos if you are walking on grass
  • Jacket or coat with pockets for tissues
  • Take sunglasses and an umbrella depending on the weather
  • Wear clothing that is easy on the eye
  • Simple and conservative clothing works best

Funeral attire for men

Men’s funeral attire tends to be quite straightforward. It is traditional for men to wear a black or dark coloured two-piece suit. This is a smart option that can be worn with a white shirt, plain dark tie and smart shoes. Some people however choose to wear a black or dark coloured shirt. Brightly coloured ties or those with eccentric patterns and shapes should be avoided unless specifically requested by the family. If you don't have a suit or a smart jacket, simple shirt, tie and dark trousers or smart jeans are perfectly acceptable.

Funeral attire for women

When it comes to finding the right funeral clothes for women, there are lots of options which can make it feel a little more complicated. A simple black dress is always a good place to start. Try to avoid casual clothing unless the family requests it. Skirts and dresses below the knee, trouser suits or slacks and a jacket and top are all popular options. Whatever you decide to wear, it's important that you feel comfortable. While black should be the dominant colour, it's fine to pair your outfit with muted shades such as a navy handbag or cardigan. Accessories should be minimal and avoid any statement jewellery, which should be classic and understated.

Funeral attire for children

When it comes to deciding what to wear to a funeral for children, there is a lot more flexibility when it comes to choosing children’s clothes. It’s always best to dress your children in something they will find comfortable, as the experience will almost certainly be new and potentially challenging for them. Unlike adults, children are not expected to wear black clothing. It's perfectly acceptable for boys to be outfitted in a suit that they wear for weddings and other special occasions, school uniform trousers and shoes can also be a simple choice they feel comfortable wearing. Otherwise, straightforward button-up shirt and trousers will do the trick. Similarly, girls can wear smart dress or trousers and a simple top. The main things to avoid when dressing your child for a funeral are T-shirts, shorts, sandals, trainers, and bright prints or character / slogan clothing. Many indeed opt for school trousers or skirts and school shoes as a smart, simple solution.

What to wear to a funeral when you are asked not to wear black

Colourful funerals and celebrations of life are becoming increasingly popular, where guests may be asked to wear more vibrant colours to reflect the life of their loved one. If the family has requested that you do not wear black, you should always adhere to this. Whilst it may feel slightly different, it's important to respect the family's wishes. Even though you are wearing something that is not in the traditional black, you still should look smart and presentable.

If you are uncertain about what to wear to a funeral when asked not to wear black, follow the general guidelines and advice on what not to wear. For men, instead of black, opt for a pastel suit jacket, a white shirt, and a matching tie. For the ladies, opt for dresses, skirts or trousers that are simple with one colour. Avoid anything that will make you stand out such as bright florals or stripes.

Summer funeral attire

Funerals during summer can be hot, especially if you are wearing black, so it's always best to find light and loose-fitting materials. Breathable materials, such as cotton and linen are always a good choice but avoid shorts, T-shirts, and sandals, especially if the service is in a religious setting. For men, wearing smart shirt, tie, and trousers could be the answer to staying cool. It is quite acceptable for men to take their jackets off if they become uncomfortably hot. For women, smart three-quarter length trousers or a dress that comes down to the knees are considered appropriate options. A good tip is to carry some deodorant with you to prevent body odour and keep you feeling refreshed. Don’t forget to bring some sunglasses as parts of the funeral service may take place outside.

Winter funeral attire

When considering what to wear to a funeral held in winter, your main priority is keeping warm. Therefore, wear warm clothing and add layers to your outfit. Wear a dark, smart coat and accessorise with a hat, scarf, and gloves. Men could pair their shirt and tie with a black jumper while women may opt for an elegant cardigan or sweater. If you are wearing a dress, choose some thick plain tights or stockings to keep your legs warm. If you don't have a black jumper or cardigan, you can always layer up underneath instead. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella so that you are prepared for rain. Wear a long black or neutral coloured coat or long jacket and winter boots.

What to wear to different funeral types

There are many different types of funeral services, including traditional, religious, graveside, direct burials or cremations and woodland burials. Generally speaking, you should always opt for smart attire. The exception to this is for a life celebration, where you can wear more casual clothes. What you choose to wear also depends on the location of the service. If it's in a church, keep it traditional. For picnics or home-based events, you can take a smart-casual approach, avoiding novelty T-shirts, shorts, and flip flops. A memorial service may happen weeks or even months after the person has died It is therefore an event held in the memory of a loved one and usually considered less formal than a regular funeral. At a non-religious funeral, unless requested otherwise by the family, funeral clothing is normally formal attire in dark colours.

What to wear to funerals of different religions

What to wear to a funeral can depend on religion. Different countries and cultures view mourning colours differently. While most western funerals require traditional black attire, some religions have different expectations. People attending Buddhist and Hindu funerals, for example, tend to wear white. Always do your research and ask family and friends or the funeral director if in doubt.

  • Church of England funeral - unless requested otherwise by the family, dress is usually formal wear in dark colours
  • Muslim funeral - dress modestly. For women, ankle-length skirts, long sleeves and a headscarf; for men, long-sleeved shirt and trousers. Shoes are removed before prayer, so ensure you are wearing clean socks.
  • Jewish funeral - there are variations in etiquette although the basic principle is ‘respect’. Clothing should be modest and subdued in colour, with many people choosing to wear black. Usually, a skullcap is required by men and women should cover their heads.
  • Catholic funeral - the atmosphere is usually sombre and mourners are expected to dress appropriately and smartly in dark colours, typically black. In recent times, many countries have introduced purple for mourning.
  • Buddhist funeral – while the family will often be dressed in white, mourners are asked to wear dark clothing. Red is frowned upon, for both dress and flowers as the colour represents happiness and joy in Buddhism. Mourners may walk with sticks, signifying the support needed from their grief.
  • Sikh funeral – mourners usually wear modest clothing in dark colours. Heads should be covered, with men wearing a hat or a cap and women wearing a headscarf.

What do different colours symbolise in various countries

In Buddhist and Hindu countries, white is often seen as a symbol of purity and innocence. Therefore, funerals in China and India, often feature all white. Interestingly, yellow is associated with mourning in Egypt, as it is associated with both the sun and gold. The masks of mummies in ancient Egypt were often painted in yellow and gold. In Ghana, red is a common funeral colour among native cultures. Purple is the predominant colour worn in Thailand when a widow mourns the death of her husband. Brazil also uses purple as a colour of bereavement. Grey is favoured in Papua New Guinea, and blue in South Korea.

What to wear to a virtual funeral

Due to the recent COVID pandemic, virtual funerals are becoming increasingly common. While funeral attendees will not see your full outfit, you will still want to feel appropriately dressed out of respect. When deciding what to wear to a funeral that is online, it is usual that the dress code isn't as strict as traditional funerals, so you don’t always need to wear black. Make sure your online funeral attire is respectful, conservative, neutral and relatively formal. In all cases, you want your clothing to blend in, as you do not want to attract unnecessary attention.

During the service, the focus should be on the person that has died and the individual who is speaking at any given time. Avoid dressing down and don’t wear T-shirts, loungewear, pyjamas, and sportswear. Do not draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy jewellery or other accessories. You might want to do a trial run in front of your computer and test different lighting. It’s important that you don’t appear too bright or conversely are covered in shadows. It’s always a good idea to wear some make up but not too much. This will avoid you looking washed out. It is a good idea to wear a contrast to your background as light coloured or beige clothing may blend into white or pastel coloured walls.

Pay attention to all the details such as your hair and make sure your clothes are ironed. It really does matter. How you present yourself is very important and being well dressed shows you have taken the occasion seriously.

What to generally avoid wearing at a funeral

  • Flip flops and trainers
  • Sportswear and football shirts
  • Ripped or distressed jeans or scruffy trousers
  • Mini skirts
  • Strapless tops or dresses or attire with spaghetti straps
  • T-shirts
  • See-through, sheer and revealing clothing including plunging necklines
  • Caps, beanies and large hats
  • Clothing with inappropriate slogans
  • Flashy jewellery
  • Bright colours and loud prints

How can we help you with funeral arrangements?

Although it can be quite daunting deciding what to wear to a funeral, we hope our guide has helped with some simple, easy to follow tips that won’t require a new wardrobe. In essence, the most important thing is that you are in attendance to pay your last respects. If in any doubt at all get in touch with the family or the funeral home making the arrangements. The latter will be able to advise you if the family has made any specific requests regarding what to wear at a funeral. Always respect the wishes of the family and lean towards conservative or traditional funeral attire if uncertain.