What to wear to a funeral

Choosing a funeral outfit can be difficult, but there is no one universal rule. What’s important is that you follow the event’s dress code as closely as possible and wear clothes that make you feel comfortable.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about what to wear to a funeral: from traditional ceremonies to more modern celebration of life events. It includes advice on what to do if you’re unable to meet the dress code.

Common dress codes

The traditional dress code for funerals in the UK is formal and all-black

This dress code is still very common, but might not be the case for every funeral you attend. Nowadays, more people choose alternative colour schemes for end-of-life events or ask guests to come in more casual clothes.

Some common alternative dress codes include:

  • The favourite colour of the person who’s died

  • Smart-casual clothing, especially for more informal gatherings

  • Darker or more muted tones, such as greys, blacks and browns

  • Anything but black, for more upbeat end-of-life events

Different religions and cultures will have their own customs, and might expect guests to wear different colours - such as white.

Some people might opt for more unusual dress codes, like:

  • Football shirts of the favourite team of the person who’s died

  • Clothing from a particular decade

  • Fancy dress, especially if it’s related to a hobby or interest of the person who’s died

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Using a dress code

The dress code outlines what the people arranging the funeral expect you to wear

This is a good place to start when deciding on your outfit. It will usually give both the colour scheme and the style of clothing - for example, ‘all-black, smart casual’. You can often find this on the invite itself.

Some religious buildings will require guests to dress in a certain way, such as covering their shoulders or wearing head coverings. The organisers will normally state these in the dress code. It’s important to respect peoples’ beliefs, regardless of your feelings.

There might be different expectations for people of different genders, or for adults and children. If it’s at all unclear, you can get in touch with the organisers to double-check.

For a more traditional dress code, some ideas include:

  • A smart black shirt, black trousers and a black blazer, with a tie in a dark, muted colour

  • A knee-length black dress with a plain black belt 

  • A black jumpsuit, with a loose black cardigan and black brogues

Mourning glory

In Victorian Britain, widows had to wear a specific mourning outfit for two years after their spouse died. This outfit included jet black jewellery and a dress made of special non-reflective silk, like parramatta or bombazine.

If you’re unable to follow the dress code, you can usually make small amends

Making a dress code that works for everyone can be difficult, and most funeral organisers will be happy for you to adapt it to suit your needs.

Some common situations where this could come up include:

  • The dress code is specifically gendered, but you’re not comfortable in the clothing assigned to your perceived gender

  • The dress code gives different expectations for adults and children, but you’re unsure what your teenager should wear

  • The dress code requires clothing in a particular style, but you cannot afford to buy it for the event

Try to keep any adjustments minor. If the dress code calls for all-black but you do not own any black shoes, it’s usually better to wear smart brown brogues than neon trainers!

If your outfit will be notably different from the dress code, you could speak to the organisers, or run your plans past a trusted friend or family member.

Things to consider when planning what to wear

You might want to think about practicalities when planning your outfit

Some things to consider include:

  • How long the event is going to last

  • Whether you're sitting or standing

  • Whether you’ll be indoors or outdoors

  • Whether you're going to be standing on grass, cobbles or other uneven surfaces

There are usually small changes you can make to stay comfortable. If you’re planning on wearing heels, but the funeral will be an all-day event, you could bring some flat shoes with you. Or if you’re going to be both indoors and outdoors, you could wear several layers.

Some people worry that thinking practically about their funeral outfit means they’re making the event about them. But for lots of people, being comfortable allows them to focus on the event at hand.

Some items are traditionally inappropriate for funerals

Some people might like that these items set a more casual tone. But for other people, they could be distracting or upsetting.

Unless the dress code says otherwise, it’s normally best to avoid:

  • Bright clothes, or clothing with loud prints or patterns

  • Lots of accessories, jewellery or makeup

  • Revealing clothes, including ripped jeans or vest tops

  • Large hats or headpieces, especially where they might block the view of the person behind you

If you’re unsure about a particular item, especially if the dress code is less traditional, you could check with the organisers or another guest.

Think about what outfit makes both you and the people around you comfortable

The dress code is a useful guide for what the organisers expect you to wear, and what the people around you will be wearing. But it’s important to make sure that your clothes will not take away from your experience of the event either.

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