Dress Code: What To Wear To A Funeral

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: What To Wear To A Funeral

I know, it seems obvious, right? Or at least it did until this week, when I actually had to attend one.


I have a lot of clothes, the fruit of ten years of thrift-shopping and bargain-hunting. And yet, when a family member died this week, I found that literally nothing I owned was appropriate. I didn't want to wear a vintage suit, or an ironic dress, or fashionably high-waisted pants and embellished heels...I just wanted, well, classics. And apparently, these are hard to find on short notice: three hours of listless shopping convinced me I was better off faking something with an evening dress, a slip and a jacket. By the second shivah call, I was totally out of options. So learn from my mistakes! In future, here's what I'm going to do.

  • Have Something On Hand.
    Seriously, thinking about clothes is the last thing you want to worry about when a loved one has died. Have something appropriate ready to go — after all, you may be attending a funeral the very next day, or hopping on a plane. Make sure it's clean and good to go: I was gnashing my teeth with jealousy when my boyfriend just reached into his closet and pulled out a dark suit.

  • What's Appropriate?
    Black always works, obviously. Some funerals will specify all black — otherwise anything dark and respectful should do. (Obviously, if color is specified or it's totally non-traditional, don't sweat this.) I've read that you can dress as you would for a job interview — not that helpful for those of us in the "creative professions," but you get the picture: suits, trousers, skirts all work. Basically, there's no occasion when you want to be more conservative, even if we're not talking about a religious house of worship; the crowd will be varied enough that if there's anyone in the world who could conceivably find your choice inappropriate, they'll probably be there. And you don't want to be worrying about it.

  • Think Basic.
    A few years ago, I decided I didn't need "classics" — the basic pencil skirt, trouser, suit I'd owned in an office job. Like a fool, I gave them away. If no other time, this is when you need them.

  • The jacket is your savior.
    Thank goodness for my one tailored jacket: I threw it over party dresses and was suddenly funeral-ready. A good thing to own in any case, it can really be a lifesaver for occasions when you need to look pulled-together and adult.

  • A Piece of Advice.
    When I was fretting over what to wear, someone told me something wise: she suggested not buying something especially if it can be avoided. Instead, she said, "wear something with good associations." A nice gesture to the occasion — and you'll be able to wear it again.

  • It Doesn't Really Matter.
    At the end of the day, your being there is all that really counts, as I learned. Unless you're in, like, a belly shirt and shredded jeans, you're probably okay. More importantly, this is no time for people to be judgmental. But for your own peace of mind, it's nice to not have to think about it, to know you're ready to go, and that you can devote your energies to grieving — or celebrating — a life.

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.



The last funeral I went to was my fiance's father's. He died suddenly, and I had never met the family before because my fiance was protecting me from his clinically insane mother. The only thing I really knew about her was she had been an abusive parent and that she had accused my fiance of "spending Christmas in bed" with me, when in fact I was on the other side of the country with my mother who had just been diagnosed with cancer.

So I got the email from my deployed fiance to get ready and immediately went shopping since I had nothing appropriate. I knew it had to be completely black, so that the mother couldn't nitpick it, and that it needed to be on the conservative side because, as I told the salespeople at the six stores I went to, I was about to meet a woman who thought I was a whore. It also couldn't be overly fancy because I knew the family wasn't very well off, and again, I didn't want to be accused of anything by this awful woman.

I finally got a black wrap dress that should serve all my summer funeral needs for years, but it was still the most emotionally fraught shopping experience of my life.

Until we got up to his hometown, and found ourselves not only buying clothes for my fiance, but for his entire family. On a Sunday after 5pm. With the service the next day. I swear to God, I found the only age-appropriate, setting-appropriate dress for a plus-size teenager that wasn't a potato sack in the entire county. And when she put it on and was happy, all her mother could say was that knee-length was too short, but she was willing to forgive me.

As for the mother, she chose to wear a dress that had a band right underneath her breasts. Or that's where it would have been had she chosen to wear a bra. As it was, it crossed right over them, in a most unfortunate way. So if anyone is considering forgoing supportive garments, I do not recommend buying anything that will emphasize it like that.