It’s an unfortunate fact that, as we get older, we start attending more and more funerals and memorial services. It’s also unfortunate (or maybe fortunate) that, for all the talk we have about weddings and baby showers and bar mitzvahs, no one spends a lot of time talking about how to conduct yourself at one of these things. For instance, when Victoria and I discussed what to wear, I said the only guidance I was given was “wear black,” while she said her mom told her not to wear black to the one funeral she has attended. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
We don’t seem to be the only ones who are confused. Over at Etiquette Hell, this woman writes that she was chastised for wearing a black, sleeveless dress and a hat with a mini-veil to a wedding, and the commenters seem to be completely divided over the issue of what she wore. So where does this leave us? Here are some tips on what to consider when picking out an outfit for a funeral.
1. Where is it? – If the funeral services are being held in a place of worship, you’re more likely to find a more conservative dress code. In the Etiquette Hell link, but the woman was told that her outfit was inappropriate for the grieving family’s “faith and culture,” though it’s unclear what those are. But keep in mind that if you’re in a place of worship, your shoulders and knees will most likely need to be covered. For men, a black suit will do you just fine. For women, if you can’t find a dark-colored dress with sleeves (or it’s too hot to wear one), invest in simple jacket or shawl.
2. Who is it for?– Victoria said that, traditionally, wearing all black connotes “strong mourning,” and is most appropriate for the immediate family of the deceased. This isn’t to say that if you have a black dress you can’t wear it, just that you don’t need to be stressing yourself out if all you have on hand is something in dark blue. It’s better to wear a muted colored dress or suit than to show up in leggings and a baggy sweater because those are the two black things you happen to own. Traditionally, veils are reserved for the spouse/parents/children of the deceased, so if you decide to wear a hat make sure it doesn’t include one. Of course, this depends on your culture and traditions, so use your best judgment. The problem with wearing something “showy” like a hat with a veil is that it draws attention to you and away from the deceased and their immediate family, especially when people don’t really wear hats anymore. Like a wedding, you should absolutely avoid wearing anything that draws particular attention to yourself (unless you are the immediate family.)
3. Think conservative– A sleeved, long-ish black dress is great. A black satin dress with an open back is not. Try to keep jewelry, super-bright colors, and overall shine to a minimum. Same thing with shoes–now is the perfect time for sensible flats or boots.
4. Ignore all of this if the deceased wants you to– Apparently some people get very specific in their wills about what you should and should not wear at their funerals. Some people want everyone in their favorite colors, or specifically ask for no black. Usually you’ll be notified of this if this is the case.
A few years back my great-uncle passed, and I was stressing over the fact that I had nothing to wear & no time to go shopping. I ended up picking out the darkest items from my work wardrobe, so I was awkwardly business casual. But when I arrived at the funeral and saw my cousin in a satin bodycon low cut dress and stilettos, I didn’t feel as bad.
This is all to say that your point about going with respectful for the occasion vs. whatever is black couldn’t be true enough.