It’s customary to dress in dark, sombre clothing when you are attending a traditional funeral, according to funeral etiquette. Yet many people now consider the funeral to be a celebration of life and request mourners wear brighter colours in their loved one’s memory.
The most important thing is to respect the wishes of the family when deciding what to wear.
What to wear to a funeral
If you’re attending a funeral and wondering how to dress, then it is sensible to assume that dark and formal clothes will be most appropriate for the occasion, unless the bereaved family has suggested otherwise.
Clothes for a funeral should be clean, smart and well-ironed, brushed and polished.
Although it is traditional to wear black to a funeral, dark colours including blue or navy and grey are acceptable and often worn by mourners, especially if they were not close family members. Formal day wear, such as a smart coordinating outfit or work suit are the most appropriate ways to dress for a traditional funeral.
Serving members or the armed forces or civilian services, may be asked to wear uniform to the funeral of a comrade or a veteran.
Depending on the time of year or funeral venue, a warm dark-coloured coat or tailored jacket may also be necessary. Shoes should be dark and scuff-free. If you are attending a graveside service or committal, a black or dark umbrella may also be useful.
It’s respectful to attend a funeral looking well-groomed and tidy, ensuring you won’t draw attention to yourself. Traditional funeral dress is subdued and sombre, so that the focus of the service is on the person who has died and the immediate family mourning them.
Women should opt for a trouser or skirt suit, coordinates in subdued colours, or a dress, with short or full sleeves. According to the most traditional funeral custom, skirts or dresses are the norm. Tights or stockings should be worn. Avoid clinging clothes or sleeveless dresses, which expose too much bare skin. Skirts should be worn below the knee at a traditional funeral, with jewellery and accessories kept to a minimum. If you are attending a graveside service, choose shoes with heels that won’t sink into the grass. Some women still wear hats to a traditional funeral.
Men should wear a dark suit to a funeral. A plain white shirt and black tie is traditional, while an unpatterned tie in a subdued colour may also be acceptable. A smart work suit is appropriate, with minimal detailing. Shoes should be black and well-polished.
Children should also be neatly turned out. At a traditional funeral, it’s usual for girls to wear dresses and boys to wear a shirt and tie, smart trousers and a jacket or school blazer.
What to wear to a religious funeral
If you the person who has died or their family are of a particular religion, then you may need to be aware of that faith’s customs when it come to the choosing funeral clothes in the appropriate style or colour. Our guide to religious funerals has details of what to wear to a funeral including Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh funerals, as well as Christian denominations including Church of England, Orthodox and Catholic funerals.
Not all funeral services are religious or have a specific cultural tradition. The rise of secular, humanist and celebration of life funerals means that dress codes can be a little more unpredictable.
If in doubt, choose smart clothes (a suit for men, suit or dress for women) and make sure they are clean, well-ironed and not too revealing.
What not to wear to a funeral
Unless the family have expressed a wish otherwise, then dress should be strictly smart for a funeral. Don’t wear trainers, sandals, or go bare-legged in shoes without socks or hosiery. Avoid wearing clothes that reveal underwear, are too tight, too glitzy, or too casual for a funeral. Bright colours, bold patterns and T-shirts with slogans are not appropriate at a traditional funeral.
What to wear to a celebration of life
Many funerals in the UK are becoming more personalised, with many families choosing unusual themes to reflect their loved one’s personality.
Some families request that mourners don’t wear black to a funeral, wear something bright or a certain colour. Children’s funerals in particular may be an occasion where it is important that family and friends wear something in a favourite shade or style.
If the family has a special request like this, they will usually tell you or mention it in the obituary or funeral notice.
Alternative funerals may also be held in unusual locations, such as in a woodland burial, a beachside scattering of ashes, or a burial at sea. Bear in mind that you may need an extra layer, depending on the weather, and sensible footwear is a must.
In some cases (and the practice is becoming more popular), families may have a theme such as a Viking-themed funeral or Star Wars-themed funeral, as part of a celebration of life. If you are uncomfortable committing to a full fancy dress outfit, consider wearing a small token to show the family you respect their wishes – something like a badge or other accessory that fits with the theme.