The tradition of wearing black clothing to funerals is believed to be associated with the Bible phrase ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ The wearing of black is thought to symbolise the ashes and dust of the earth to which we return.
Unless a family expresses a preference for guests to wear clothing of a specific colour or style, funeral outfits are generally conservative, classic and understated. At Bethel, people often ask us what to wear to a funeral. We have created this guide to assist you with your decision-making about how to dress for a funeral.
Appropriate Funeral Attire for Women
Classic and Conservative
A classic business suit, or a simple dress with a blazer or cardigan, are examples of conservative funeral outfits that reflect a reverent attitude. Choosing to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, even in the warmer months, is an appropriate way to show your respect.
Soft and Subtle
Soft and subtle colours are widely accepted as part of the preferred dress code for a funeral. Unless you have been advised of a specific request for colour, it might be best to wear an outfit of black, grey, navy or taupe.
Simple and Unadorned
Limit the amount, tone down the colour and consider carefully the style of jewellery and accessories you wear to a funeral. A simple and unadorned funeral outfit will help you to present yourself as respectful mourner who is available to support the needs of others.
Comfortable and Understated
Attending a funeral often means spending a lot of time on your feet, standing and walking, especially if you are planning to attend a graveside service. Choose comfort over glamour and wear ballet flats, low heeled court shoes or understated boots in keeping with the dress code for a funeral.
Prepared and Practical
Be prepared for seasonal weather. Depending on the season you might like to bring an umbrella, a jacket, a hat or a pashmina. Extra handkerchiefs or tissues are always a good, practical idea.
Appropriate Funeral Attire for Men
Classic and Crisp
A black, grey, or navy classic-cut suit is representative of appropriate funeral attire. A crisp, white, collared shirt with an understated tie is the perfect choice to complete an appropriate funeral outfit.
Understated and conservative
Limit yourself to understated accessories and consider toning down your jewellery choices. Cufflinks, tie pins, earrings, neck chains and wristbands should be subtle in colour and style if in doubt err on the conservative side and leave the bling at home.
Neat and Tidy
Taking the time and effort to appear neat and tidy is a way of honouring the deceased and showing consideration for your family and friends. When preparing to dress for a funeral you might like to consider getting your hair trimmed and taking the time to shine your shoes. These small efforts with grooming speak volumes about the respect you hold for the occasion.
Prepared and Considerate
Dress for the season and bring an umbrella or jacket in case of inclement weather. Having extra tissues at the ready for the comfort of a distressed loved one or friend is an act of kindness that is always appreciated.
What Not to Wear to a Funeral
A funeral is a solemn occasion. Examples of clothing and accessories that are likely to draw attention to you, and are therefore best avoided, include:
- Bright, clashing prints
- Mini-skirts, tight or low-cut outfits
- Strong perfume, lots of makeup
- Clacky, strappy, distracting shoes
- Jangly bracelets and sparkly jewellery
When deciding what to wear at a funeral think about making a positive statement of respect. Some items best left at home include:
- Sport caps
- Novelty Ties
- Strong aftershave
- Printed T-shirts
- Trainers and runners
Religious Customs and Funeral Attire
The dress code for a funeral can depend on cultural and religious traditions. Religious customs do sometimes apply, to help you dress appropriately we offer this summary of traditional funeral attire according to different religions:
Christian funerals usually require guests to dress in smart attire. Black clothing and subtle tones are traditional but family wishes regarding special colours should be considered.
Mourners at a Hindu funeral are often expected to wear white. Guests should wear subdued colours and men will occasionally shave their heads as a sign of respect.
All mourners are required to cover their heads at Orthodox Jewish funerals. If you happen to arrive without a head covering, you will usually be provided with one. Conservative Jews ask only men to cover their heads.
Family and close friends of the deceased often wear black to a Muslim funeral. Female mourners are asked to wear loose clothing and a scarf or veil.
There is some variance among Buddhist cultural traditions, but it is common for the family of the deceased to wear white, friends traditionally wear black.
There are many aspects of funeral attendance where considerations regarding etiquette are important. For further insight into funeral etiquette, please refer to our Funeral Etiquette FAQs article.