This is a sensitive subject, but one that many people have questions about. The definition of appropriate funeral attire varies a lot across different cultures and religions. This is particularly true for colour. For example, in western culture black is the colour of bereavement, but in other cultures it is white.
But I think it is safe to say that a funeral is not about us and our outfit. It is about paying one’s last respects to the deceased and supporting their family. That’s why I suggest the safe “M-D-M” dressing rule. Wear a “muted”, “dressy” and “modest” outfit and you’ll look and feel appropriate.
Here’s the checklist in more detail as applied to a western funeral:
- Keep it muted: Dark colours like black, charcoal grey, navy and brown are no-brainers. Deep burgundy reds, greens and purples, or muted pastels and beige are also fine as long as you don’t wear anything too bright, flashy or bold. Generally, no lively pops of colour for this outfit and that includes make-up.
- Keep it dressy: No jeans please. A funeral is a not a casual occasion so at the very least think dressy business casual, but business formal is best. Skirts and dresses are the traditional choice but dress slacks are just as acceptable. Closed toe shoes are not a must but covering up neon toe nail polish is a good idea.
- Keep it modest: Tailored clothing is fab but anything too alluring is inappropriate. If an item of clothing is too short, too tight or too low-cut to wear to work, you probably shouldn’t be wearing it to a funeral. Hose is not essential especially if it’s hot, but it does add a polished touch to your skirt or dress ensemble.
Sometimes funeral attire is specified to honour the personality of the deceased. For example, you might be requested to wear their favourite colour, or wear T-shirts that were printed for the funeral occasion. In this case respect the request and go with the flow.
I’ve been to four funerals and in each case I wore a black suit with hose, pearls and black pumps. For my Mum’s funeral I added a crisp white shirt and red handbag to a black pinstripe suit ensemble, just because she would have preferred it that way.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on funeral attire. I’m particularly interested in the appropriate dress for non-Western funerals. Does my checklist still apply? The more we hear about different cultural traditions the better.