Thinking about what to wear to a funeral isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. When it comes time to pay your respects, you absolutely need to be dressed appropriately.
Wearing the wrong thing to a funeral isn’t just a fashion faux pas––it can be downright disrespectful. If you wear something too casual or too loud, you’ll likely draw attention to yourself, and that’s the last thing you want to do at a funeral.
While there are some dress guidelines that most funerals follow, there’s not a universal dress code. There are many factors to take into consideration, such as the culture of the family of the deceased and the time of year. You have to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.
So what do you wear to a funeral? In this guide, I’ll go over the most important factors to keep in mind and some general guidelines for what to wear to a funeral.
Things to Consider
Before you put together an outfit, you’ll want to think about a few things. Taking all of these into consideration first will help you get a better idea of how you should dress.
Of course, you’ll want to think about the departed. As a rule of thumb, if you were close to them, you’ll probably end up dressing a little more formally.
If you’re accompanying a spouse, friend or colleague, or if you weren’t too close to the departed, then you don’t need to dress as formally (though doing so would still be appropriate).
Either way, you’ll still have a limited dress code to work with. You don’t want to wear anything casual.
The Time of Year
If you’re attending a funeral at the height of summer, you probably won’t want to wear a three-piece suit.
Likewise, if it’s wintertime, you’ll want to layer strategically without calling attention to yourself. (In addition, consider if the funeral will happen mostly inside or outside.)
The Culture of the Family
Many cultures and faiths have specific procedures for funerals. For example, at a Chinese funeral, you may wear white with shades of pink or red if the deceased was 80 or older.
On the other hand, at an Orthodox Christian funeral, you’ll almost always want to wear all-black, very modest clothing. When in doubt, check with the family of the deceased.
Wake vs. Viewing vs. Funeral
These three types of events are fairly similar but vary in degrees of formality. For example, a wake is less formal and structured than a funeral. All the same, you need to know what to wear to a funeral, viewing or a wake so that you’re prepared no matter the type of ceremony.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential clothing options.
(Full disclaimer: These garments will work well at the majority of most American funerals. However, as mentioned above, you definitely need to make sure that your attire will be appropriate.)
This is most men’s go-to outfit for a funeral and for good reason. A conservative two-piece suit is formal but also understated, so you’ll be presentable without standing out.
Your suit should be mostly black. That means a solid black or other dark color (like charcoal) for the main suit as well as a black tie. A black shirt is also ideal, though a white one can also be appropriate.
You can also add a handkerchief if you’d like, and this could actually serve a useful purpose: offering to someone in mourning.
In terms of color, opt for mostly black unless you know for sure that the funeral has a different dress code. Neutral colors like grey and navy might be okay, but you’ll definitely need to make sure beforehand. When in doubt, stick to black.
Your tie should also be simple and subtle, though you have a little more leeway when it comes to tie color as long as it’s not too loud.
Even though a funeral isn’t the place to show off your personal style, you will want to get your suit tailored. An ill-fitting suit could be construed as lazy or disrespectful. It might even be worth getting a custom suit for the occasion, especially if you were very close to the departed.
Dress Shirt & Tie
Knowing what to wear to a funeral in the summer is tricky. If it’s too hot for a suit, you need to choose your outfit carefully so you don’t look too casual.
It’s sometimes a safe bet to just ditch the suit jacket and wear a dress shirt and tie, so you’re effectively still wearing 2/3 of a suit. If you go this route, definitely wear a solid white shirt. For your tie, you can go with black (obviously) or a dark grey/charcoal, navy or burgundy.
This outfit is also appropriate if you’re going to a wake or viewing, where the environment is a little less formal. But to be safe, always bring along a jacket if you can (even if it’s just a sportcoat and not a full suit).
Shirt, Tie & Sweater
If it’s colder out, you’ll probably want to layer. Thankfully, layering tends to look more formal, so you have some flexibility.
Wearing a dark sweater (black, burgundy, navy) over a dress shirt and tie is a good option for chilly weather.
A sweater is a good substitute for a suit jacket that provides some insulation while still looking quite formal. Choose a sweater with minimal to no branding. You can opt for either a crewneck or v-neck, though a crewneck is more modest and will probably suit the occasion more.
If the dress code is a bit less formal, you could also wear a structured cardigan over a shirt and tie. This is also a serviceable option if you don’t have anything else to wear. However, a cardigan is a more casual look, so you’d have to be 100% sure it would be appropriate.
Finally, if it’s winter, you can add a thick coat (like a topcoat) for more warmth.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, your pants will also need to be formal. Jeans and shorts (yikes) are off-limits.
While you might be able to get away with a nice ironed pair of chinos, you’re much better off wearing tailored dress pants.
Check out the difference tailoring makes when it comes to pants:
In terms of color, black is obviously best, although a very dark grey would be acceptable. Avoid louder colors or fabrics (like Donegal tweed). Remember, you’re aiming for modest and respectful, not fashionable and showy.
For your shoes, we highly recommend a pair of Oxfords. High quality Oxfords will work well for most formal situations, and if you own any formal wear, you probably already own a pair.
Oxfords are classy yet subtle, so they’re ideal for serious occasions like funerals. Make sure they’re shined and scuff-free––you don’t want to be the one guy with dirty shoes.
You might be wondering how much flexibility you have when it comes to shoes. The short answer: not much. While other formal shoe options do exist, Oxfords are undoubtedly the most appropriate shoe for a funeral.
Hopefully you won’t need to consult this guide often, but now you know what to wear to a funeral in almost any situation. Remember: Keep it formal and modest.
If you have any tips, share them below in the comments!