What Do You Wear to a Wake, and What to Wear to a Funeral?

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Have you ever had a hard time figuring out what to wear to a funeral and/or a wake?

Should you go safe and just go for anything black? Should you wear something formal? Something sentimental, perhaps?

To acknowledge those questions, we asked experts to enlighten us with some answers.

Let’s have a look:

Alison Johnston

Alison Johnston

CEO and Co-Founder of Ever Loved

Look out for instructions

The first thing anyone should do when deciding what to wear to a funeral is to look out for instructions.

As more upbeat celebrations of life are growing in popularity, some funeral announcements will make attire requests. I’ve seen requests for everything from no black to Hawaiian shirts to Seahawks colors.

If there are no specific instructions from the family, here are a few good rules to follow in order to play it safe:

1. Stick to dark colors.

You don’t need to wear black (unless specially asked to); darker blues, greens, grays, etc. are also fine.

2. Keep patterns simple.

If your outfit stands out draws attention to you, it probably isn’t right for the occasion.

3. Stay conservative and look put together.

If your outfit wouldn’t be appropriate to wear in a business casual office, it may not be a good choice for a funeral.

Allison Hamilton-Rohe

Allison Hamilton-Rohe

Personal Style Coach, Daily Outfit

Be respectful in either occasion

A wake or a funeral is a somber event, meant to honor and celebrate the life of one who has passed.

No matter what your personal style, it is important to be respectful in either occasion.

In Western culture, it is important to wear dark colors during times of mourning, especially black. You don’t need to be head-to-toe in black but make an effort to be understated.

A wake might be slightly less formal than a funeral, but it still requires a polished, put-together look. A nice sweater and trousers are about as casual as you can go. Better to wear a jacket, neat shirt or blouse and trousers or skirt. Avoid big patterns, sequins, or anything that makes noise.

For a funeral, a dress or suit works well. You can pair the suit with a white or blue shirt or blouse. Shoes and accessories need to be formal, dark and well- polished.

In both occasions, wear understated jewelry like a string of pearls or a nice watch.

If you wear make-up, it needs to be similarly understated. Now is not the time for your statement bold lip!

Finally, you may want to employ a cloth handkerchief even if you don’t normally use one. Tissue packets can be noisy and distracting during a ceremony.

Carole Brody Fleet

Carole Brody Fleet

Author | Media Contributor

In recent years, funerals and wakes have become far more creative in approach. Along with that creativity, many of the old standard rules have relaxed when it comes to bereavement attire; however, there are still important points to which attention should be paid:

The word relaxed should not be confused with “overly casual”

The way a person dresses, in general, is a show of respect to whatever the surroundings may be. Even in today’s more relaxed climate, a funeral is still a somber occasion and should be treated as such. Unless you are specifically requested to do otherwise (for example, shorts and aloha shirts for a beachside service), overly casual or overtly provocative clothing should be avoided.

Consider who is being remembered

My late husband was a member of his police department’s mounted unit and a cowboy in his own right and many attendees at his funeral wore cowboy garb (hats included); completely appropriate under the circumstances. Other funerals have seen teammates wear team jerseys or team/school colors for a fallen teammate or classmate; t-shirts that reflect a departed’s favorite band, social club and so on. Where dressing this way would be inappropriate at other funerals, these examples (and so many more) can be wonderful ways to honor the deceased.

However, it is always a good idea to check with a family member or close friend prior to the funeral, to ensure that this would be considered appropriate.

Respect the family’s religious and/or cultural observances

For example, certain houses of worship require modest types of dress, head and/or shoulder coverings, etc. (and a quick call to the mortuary or funeral home handling arrangements can answer those questions very easily for you), and you must respect these practices.

Go with the theme

As stated earlier, funerals today have become less “cookie-cutter” and far more creative in terms of celebrating a loved one’s life. If a family provides a particular theme that captures their loved one’s spirit, love of a hobby, etc., absolutely go with it. Again, if you have any questions, you can contact someone close to the family or the mortuary handling the arrangements.

When in doubt, go with what you know

If all else fails you won’t go wrong with a suit (men and women) or a simple black or dark-colored dress.

Wakes, visitations and similar gatherings generally tend to be less formal; however, continue to bear in mind what the activity represents. Consider where the gathering is taking place (a funeral home, a bar or restaurant) and dress to the surroundings; again remembering why you are there.

If you are attending a home service (as is common in the Jewish religion for example), you may not necessarily have to dress as formally as you would for an actual funeral; however, you would not dress as though you were attending a backyard barbeque either.

Shelby Forsythia

Shelby Forsythia

Intuitive Grief Guide | Podcast Host of Coming Back: Conversations on Life After Loss

It should honor both the person who died and your own sense of style

The dress code for wakes and funerals is largely dictated by religious/spiritual customs (if any) and the person who died.

If the person who died is a religiously conservative, traditional person something understated in basic black might be appropriate. If the person who died is a nontraditional spirit with little to no religious ties, muted (or even bright!) outfits might be fitting.

Whatever you wear, it should honor both the person who died and your own sense of style as much as possible.

If the deceased left any notes for their services in their will, honor their wishes!

Of course, wake and funeral garb can be enhanced with pins, ribbons, flowers, bandanas, or buttons honoring the person who died. Pink ribbons for breast cancer, colorful roses for the death of a child, bandanas for a friend who owned a Harley. One of my podcast guests Debbie Augenthaler remembers her husband’s friends showing up to his funeral in the fezzes they wore on their boys’ getaways.

Kerry Potter

Kerry Potter

Owner, Dying to Bloom

Whatever is comfortable to wear

Jeans, pajamas, or even sweats (gasp!) are more commonly being worn to a funeral and memorial services.

A small but growing number of people are choosing to create a family-led wake and/or funeral and keep the body at home. This should not sound too alarming since it is simply going back to the way funerals used to be. The beauty of a family-led wake or funeral is the ability to honor the deceased creatively.

A viewing at home can be casual with guests staying over, singing by the casket or sharing stories in whatever is comfortable to wear in a less formal atmosphere. People even wear pajamas during all-night vigils.

Natural burial often goes hand-in-hand with a home funeral. The casket could go from the home directly to a green cemetery. Clothing should be adjusted to the climate conditions and include comfortable shoes for walking the natural paths to the grave site. If you want to really go green, you can wear natural organic cotton, eco-friendly fabrics or recycle and reuse clothing from a second-hand store.