What Do You Wear to a Funeral?
Funerals, more so than weddings perhaps, are the most important ceremonies to get right with regards to clothing. Different cultures and religions have various rules and expectations with regards to funeral etiquette, and we will debunk some of those variations here. One universal rule that can be applied across most cultures is that funerals are a means by which respect for the deceased is registered; therefore dress must usually reflect this. Unless alternative instruction has been specified by the funeral organizer, it is best practice to err on the side of caution when it comes to picking an outfit for a funeral service.
Traditional Western Funeral Dress
Traditional Western funeral ceremonies are usually Christian ceremonies or at least based upon Christian funeral practices. Requirements for all attendees are usually fairly simple; you must be wearing black or another dark colour (as close to black as possible). If it is a black-tie occasion, self-identifying men must wear a black suit jacket and trousers; a white dress-shirt; black dress shoes; and a bow-tie. The rules of black tie (one’s bow-tie need not be black) may apply here, but it is standard for black bow-ties to be expected. For those not wearing a suit ensemble (some women, perhaps), a level of conservatism when it comes to fabric types and lengths is often required, particularly in Catholic ceremonies, where layers are recommended. Black hats may be worn outside, and small bags may be carried. The ‘all-black’ rule is increasingly being abandoned in Western funerals; in which case, the funeral organizer will likely let guests know if it does not apply, rather than the other way-round. In short, accept ‘black and conservative’ as the general rule for traditional Western or Christian funerals.
Non-Traditional Western Funeral Dress
This is an easy one. In alternative or more-casual instances, the typical Western model of dress may be abandoned in favour of formal-wear (essentially the suited-and-booted rules of black tie but without the insistence on the colour black) or, ‘smart-casual’. Smart-casual dress codes leave much decision up to your discretion, but for funerals it is again best to be cautious rather than bold, and conservatism is again widely expected. You might replace suit-trousers with chino-trousers, or a black smock with a pink tea-dress. Denim and shorts are ill-advised. If the funeral in question has been announced as purposefully informal, your normal day-to-day clothes (or a slightly tidier version thereof) might be just fine! Navigating funeral dress codes is all about respecting and taking on board the tone set by the funeral organizer.
Jewish Funeral Dress
Jewish men will typically wear a suit or a shirt and trousers, whereas women will traditionally wear a skirt or dress of a considerable length (though the rules here vary with regards to preference, as to the expectations of wearing gendered clothing). Men will cover their heads with a kippah, and for any guests that are not Jewish and therefore without one, kippahs will likely be provided at the venue. Subdued colours are expected when it comes to clothing fabrics, alongside a level of cleanliness. The immediate family will peform kriah, which involves tearing the fabric of the clothes across the chest, or cutting a black ribbon worn on one’s front, as a symbol of mourning.
Muslim Funeral Dress
Similar to what we have seen thus far, conservatism or modesty is key to Muslim funeral dress. Clean and smart clothes are generally expected, with skin mostly covered and protected. Women will must wear headscarves or hijabs, and be wearing high-necked, long-skirted outfits. Muslim tradition does not require you to wear black, but it remains an acceptable colour to opt for. Like Jewish tradition, subdued colours are preferred. As Muslim attendees must remove their shoes before entering the prayer hall, clean and presentable socks or tights must be worn to a funeral. Stained socks or socks with holes must be avoided. Traditionally, immediate family members will mourn for 40 days, throughout which they will only wear black, and widows will wear black for an entire year.
Buddhist Funeral Dress
As in Hindu funerals, Buddhist mourners will usually wear white, but this is dependent upon the sect or branch of Buddhism in question. Black garments may be permitted by Westernized sects, for instance. Buddhists will sit on the floor throughout the ceremony, so comfortable clothing is usually encouraged. Attending monks will wear their traditional robes.
Sikh Funeral Dress
Sikh funeral etiquette demands for smart clothing (suits, in many cases) in a neutral or subdued colour, teamed with the covering of the head. Men will usually wear a cap, and women a headscarf. You must layer-up in order to inhibit too much skin showing, and patterned or decorative items are considered inappropriate.
Hindu Funeral Dress
In Hindu funerals, opposite to that of Western tradition, white is the expected colour of dress. Usually the deceased is also buried in white, except in specific circumstances, such as where an unmarried woman might be buried wearing red. In Hindu culture, white is worn as a symbol of both loss and respect. Not all Hindu ceremonies will expect white to be worn, but it is important to wear white if in any doubt. With regards to the type of dress expected, relatively simple and casual attire is worn to Hindu funerals, often due to the ritual of either disposing of or cleaning one’s clothes before returning home (for purification). Garish or distracting colours are deemed disrespectful.
When deciding what to wear to a funeral, the most important thing to decipher is whether the funeral you are attending is following and cultural or religious guidelines, and therefore dress accordingly. If you are ever in doubt, ask other guests what they are wearing, or go straight to the organizer for advice. It is far better to be prepared when it comes to dressing for a funeral than to turn up and potentially cause offense. For more information on how to plan for a funeral, visit us here!