What to Wear to a Funeral

What To Wear To A Funeral In 2020

Southern mothers - and probably mothers all over the world - have one motto they shop by for a "nice" outfit. Everybody in the family needs something that is suitable for "weddings, wakes, and occasions of state".

Does that mean you can wear the same thing to a funeral and a wedding?

Also, what's an occasion of state?

First questions first. Yes, you can wear the same thing to a wedding or a memorial service or a funeral. The old rules of couture, that you don't wear black at weddings or white at funerals, no longer apply. An "occasion of state" is anything that requires dressing up a little more than you would for church on Sunday - a civic event, an important event at work, or really anything that requires a little more formal and conservative dress. When you know the "rules" of what to wear, it's a lot easier to shop - so when you're faced with figuring out what to wear to a funeral, there's already something in your closet that is right for the day. The last thing you need during these times is to worry about going shopping for the "right" clothes.

Funeral Clothes

Traditional Mourning Colors

Black as the color for mourning and grief dates back to the Roman Empire - nobody knows why, but Roman citizens swapped their white togas for dark grey, brown or black ones after the death of a loved one. Black or white are the traditional colors for funerals and mourning in most cultures - Buddhists and Hindus, as well as French royalty, wore white to demonstrate grief. Even now there are designers such as French couturier Jean-Louis Scherrer pushing the envelope and develop bespoke clothing just for funerals that will set new trends.

Today, the colors you wear to a funeral are a personal choice - some obituaries ask that you wear a bright color to honor the deceased, or your favorite color. A soft and muted floral is fine for women and girls, and so is a print.

The only color that's still off-limits for most American is bright red - although in South Africa, that's the color most people wear

Styles And Accessories For Women

To say that anything goes is overstating it just a bit, but the "rules" for funeral wear really don't exist anymore.

Simple and conservative are the two words to consider for funeral attire. You can wear pants, a dress, a suit, or a skirt and blouse - pick what you're most comfortable wearing, since it's going to be a long and emotionally draining day.

If you don't own pantyhose, this is not the time to go buy some.

These are some styles to look for that are always in fashion, and always right for the occasion.

  • Simple A-line dress - this is the mainstay of most women's wardrobes. Look for a dress in a breathable fabric - a cotton or wool blend, for example - as you will be indoors for most of the day and you can add a jacket or sweater if it's cool. A sleeveless dress is fine if it's warm enough.
  • Length - Just above the knee is best, but if you're comfortable with something longer, that's fine. Just avoid anything too short - you will be sitting a lot and a dress that's nice to stand in might not be all that great for sitting.
  • Pants or pantsuits - especially if it's cool. You can wear a blouse under the jacket on a warm day, so you can take it off later.
  • Conservative cut - save the deep v-necks, off-the-shoulder tops, and fitted dresses for another time. Look for round necks, collars, and shoulder-covering styles. A "cold-shoulder" look is a little casual and trendy for a somber day.
  • Good fit - whatever you choose, it should fit well - not be skin-tight. Funerals are not like weddings, you don't have weeks to get ready so you can "get into" your outfit, and the last thing you want are pants that are too tight or a blouse that gaps.

Jewelry for funerals should be minimal - a single strand of pearls is the traditional option. If you don't like pearls, a simple necklace is fine - just nothing overdone and trendy. Here's another Southern mama rule - get completely dressed, and take off one piece of jewelry before you leave home.


If there's any kind of reception, you'll be standing a lot - wear comfortable shoes. Look for a heel that's a square or block, or a platform - those provide a better base of support than a stiletto or a wedge. A black or navy flat is always a good choice, the old-school pumps are hard to find these days. If you buy shoes, make sure the toe isn't too pointy and doesn't pinch your piggies.

Boots are perfectly fine at a funeral - just make sure they're clean and polished.


Some women wear hats, some don't. There are religious traditions that require women to cover their heads, although most in the US do not. But hats are like pantyhose - if they are not a regular part of your wardrobe, now is not the time to experiment.

Men In Black - Or Not

Men have it a lot easier - a suit, a coat and tie, or not. Contemporary men's fashion is casual, so unless you want to wear a dark suit, don't. The same thing goes for a tie - in many churches today, ties have gone the way of men's hats - nobody wears them anymore.

Speaking of hats, once you enter the church or the funeral home, take it off. It's a sign of respect to bare your head in a sanctuary or at a funeral. If there's a graveside service and it's snowing, you can put the cap back on.

Men can really wear almost anything to a funeral, but some of the same rules for women apply.

  • Avoid tight-fitting shirts and pants, make sure your clothes fit.
  • Leave the jewelry at home - except for your watch, this is not the time for bling.
  • Clean and pressed - whatever you wear, make sure your shirt and pants are wrinkle-free and your shoes are polished.

If you're in the military or are a veteran, especially if you served with the deceased, follow the regulations regarding funeral attire.

What Children Should Wear

For these purposes, a child is still shopping in the kid's section. Dark clothing is hard to find for girls, unless you hit that three-week window between Thanksgiving and Christmas - don't fret if your girls are in light colors.

Here are the rules of thumb for girls and boys. Babies and toddlers can wear whatever you have handy or can borrow; young children do not always attend the service but might make an appearance at the reception.


  • Dresses, or skirts and tops, in muted colors are always appropriate. Just like the big girls, make sure the clothes fit, are comfortable, and the fabrics will breathe - a cranky kid in a too-tight dress makes a bad day worse.
  • Shoes or boots should be low or no heels, and in a dark color. The younger the child, the more you can get away with - if a toddler won't part with her red glitter shoes, forget about it and move on.
  • Makeup should stay home, along with the jewelry - minimal is best.


  • Shorts are the traditional pants for boys until they're nine or ten, but long pants are acceptable today for older boys.
  • Coats and ties are nice but not necessary, that's a personal choice for parents
  • Pants and shirts should be wrinkle-free, shirts can be short-sleeved knit if it's warm
  • Shoes should be clean, and polished if they are leather.
  • Jewelry stays home.

In The End

Funeral Clothes

Funerals are difficult days whether you are gathering around a casket or a cremation urn. In the end, you'll want to respect the deceased and honor their wishes for their service - if that means tropical prints and Jimmy Buffett instead of dark suits and organ music, that's what you do. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that you get through the day in one piece. When you know ahead of time what needs to be in your closets, that's one less thing hanging over your head when you do have to make a lot of decisions quickly.

Nat Juchems
About Nat Juchems

Nat Juchems is a Co-Founder at Green Meadow Memorials and helps those grieving the loss of a loved one find the right memorial to cherish. Over the past seven years, Nat has worked in the online memorial industry and has helped thousands of families find and purchase the right cremation urn for their needs and budgets.

Outside of work, you can find Nat with his family enjoying being active outdoors, playing games indoors or training for Triathlons. Read more details on Nat's years of experience on LinkedIn.