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What to Wear to a Funeral (video)

What to Wear to a Funeral (video)

by John Maxwell

A guide to selecting proper clothing for funerals.

Casual clothing has become more acceptable dress code in many places and situations than it used to be. But what about funerals or memorial services? Should we still wear traditional black suits and dresses to a funeral, or can we take the “anything goes” approach that we do for many other situations?

The truth is somewhere in between. Most funerals don’t formally require us to wear our best clothing in the most somber colors — but it’s also rarely okay to show up in our most casual and brightly-colored outfits. 


It’s important to remember that you’re there to share the grief of those mourning the deceased, not distract from it. It’s most polite to keep it fairly conservative with neutral colors and simple, respectful silhouettes.

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There’s still plenty of room for confusion in our ever-changing world, so we’ll help by spelling out below what various people should and shouldn’t wear to a funeral service.

What women should wear to funerals

You’ll never go wrong wearing a dark-colored dress, skirt suit, or skirt and blouse to a funeral. Even if you’re a little overdressed compared to others, that’s always better than being under-dressed.

If you prefer to be a little less formal, business casual in neutral colors is also appropriate. A blouse or sweater with slacks or a skirt, or a pantsuit or dress, would be a solid choice to wear to a funeral.

Patterns, such as florals or stripes, aren’t inappropriate as long as they’re not too loud, bright, or busy.

Shoes should be fairly conservative, and keep in mind that very high heels may present a challenge if you’re walking through grass to a graveside service.

Since the goal is not to stand out, try to avoid wearing plunging necklines and extremely short skirts.

What men should wear to funerals

The default for menswear at funerals has long been a conservative suit in dark colors, and this remains an ideal choice. Again, it’s better err on the side of being overdressed than to be the worst-dressed man in the room.

You can also choose business casual, such as slacks or khakis and a collared shirt, polo shirt, sweater, or sport coat in neutral colors without particularly flashy patterns. If you wear a tie, it should also be toned down — a stripe or other quiet pattern is preferable.

Wear dress shoes that are in good condition.

What children should wear to funerals

The rules of funeral attire are a little more relaxed for children, especially very young ones who can be fussy about getting dressed up. But if at all possible, try to encourage your child to follow the guidelines provided for adults.

Dark- or neutral-colored pants or skirt with a nice shirt or blouse would be best, along with dress shoes if possible. Shorts can be acceptable for children in hot weather as long as they are also dark or neutral, and not jeans shorts.

What to wear to a winter funeral

The guidelines for dressing for a winter funeral aren’t too different from the above, but you may need to pay attention to your outerwear, too. If possible, you should wear a dark- or neutral-colored dress coat rather than something casual like a puffer jacket or parka. 

What to wear to a summer funeral

If you’re going to a funeral in very hot weather, a suit or sweater may well be just too much. You can dress appropriately for the weather while still looking respectful.

For men, wear a polo shirt or short sleeved shirt with slacks; for women, choose a short-sleeved dress or blouse with skirt or pants.

But no matter how warm it might be, you should save the shorts and flip-flops for the beach — they’re just not appropriately respectful for attending a funeral.

What to wear to the funeral of a family member

If you’re in the deceased’s immediate family, what you wear helps set the tone for the funeral. Many people will be looking at you, so it may be best to keep it simple and conservative. It’s most appropriate for you to be overdressed compared to other funeral attendees.

But if you and the rest of the family feel that your loved one is best represented by more casual clothing, that’s a decision you can make together, and you can even share it with the people you’ve invited, if you want them to follow your lead.

What to wear when the family has made specific requests for attire

Sometimes an obituary will specify that anyone who attends the funeral should wear a specific color — maybe the deceased’s favorite. Other families request that people wear a certain type of attire, such as Hawaiian shirts or a favorite sports team’s gear.

When this is the case, it’s okay to suspend the usual rules if you wish to honor the request. Just be sure to keep it respectful. For example, if you’ve been asked to wear purple and the only purple thing you own is a pair of sequined short-shorts, you should either purchase something new to wear or simply skip wearing purple and stick with the guidelines above.

What NOT to wear to a funeral

There are a few items of clothing that are almost never appropriate at a funeral. The most casual of clothes are just not okay, even though you might see them on people everywhere else in life. This includes shorts, flip-flops, jeans, sweatshirts, yoga pants, sneakers, and t-shirts.

But just because something is formal, that doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate. Women and girls should generally avoid sparkly or slinky party dresses. Men and women alike should skip anything that shows a lot of skin.

Avoid presenting a sloppy appearance — if a shirt is meant to be tucked in, you should tuck it in, and if shoes are scuffed or dirty, you should do your best to clean them up before the funeral or choose a different pair. Don’t wear dirty or rumpled clothes — they should be clean, free of rips and fraying, and ironed if necessary. While having some color in your outfit is generally okay, bright and flashy clothes will often be too much of a distraction. 

If you arrive at the funeral and see someone wearing one of these no-nos, don’t take it as proof that you should have worn it after all. Instead, take comfort in the fact that you chose to be respectful even if someone else didn’t.

What to do if you’re still not sure what to wear

If you ever have any questions about what to wear to a particular funeral, try calling the funeral home that’s handling the services. They’ve worked with the family, and they should have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be right for that funeral.

And keep in mind that it’s hard for anyone to know the perfect thing to wear at such a difficult time. Do your best to look put together, and know that your presence at the funeral and support of the family are the most important things.

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