Memorial services are a time for remembrance and respectful gathering, and it is not uncommon to be uncertain what to wear. Most people adhere to tradition, dressing conservatively in dark colors, but modern dress codes are changing while maintaining respect for the occasion. Rather than buying a funeral outfit that will inevitably go out of style and season, it's usually possible to put something together from your existing wardrobe. By following some general guidelines, you'll find an appropriate and comfortable outfit in no time.
Funeral services most often occur shortly after the decedent's passing, when family is still reeling from their loss. Your attire should reflect care and respect for family and traditions, so keep it on the conservative, formal side. Unless you know otherwise, avoid loud patterns or distracting ensembles. Black is the universal color of choice, especially for the immediate family of the deceased. Dark colors like navy, charcoal, and deep earth tones are also appropriate choices, as well as subdued patterns.
Think of funeral attire as similar to what you'd wear to a professional job interview. That means a dark suit with a collared shirt and understated tie. A dark jacket and slacks combo is also acceptable, with a tie and belt to complete the look. If you're attending a less formal event, it's okay to wear a long-sleeved, collared shirt without a tie, if it's neatly pressed. Comfortable, dark dress shoes are standard; athletic shoes are not. Jeans, short-sleeved shirts, and baseball caps are also not appropriate in most cases.
Women can rely on a modest skirt or pantsuit to pay their respects, though business casual is an option for less formal affairs. Pair neutral-toned slacks or a skirt with an understated blouse. A knee-length dark or black dress is also appropriate, just be sure to cover your shoulders if you'll be in a church or other religious center. Avoid flashy clothes, save the lowcut neckline and fringe for a more festive occasion, and wear comfortable shoes. Heels can get stuck in grass at the gravesite, so leave them at home or bring a pair of dressy flats for that part of the day.
In the summertime, select loose-fitting cottons and linens to stay cool during outdoor services. Don't wear shorts; the hemline is likely too high, so opt for cropped pants or a long skirt paired with flats or low wedges. Casual sandals or flip flops are never appropriate. In cold weather, choose an understated blazer or a nice sweater to keep you warm.
If the weather is chilly, avoid hooded sweatshirts or graphic sweaters. Find a dark jacket or sweater to stay warm, and a fedora or newsboy cap to cover your head. A dark or black beanie is acceptable, but it may flatten your hairstyle. Wear a pair of boots or non-slip shoes in the rain, though dark sneakers are acceptable when paired with dark socks. In the hot summer months, dress up a polo or nice shirt with a sport coat.
If you're traveling to a funeral, consider luggage and comfort as well as dress codes. Take your outfit on a hanger if you're driving into town, and change right before the ceremony to avoid wrinkles. If changing is not an option, hang just your blazer to keep it crisp. Those flying in should play it safe and dress in business casual attire, complete with loafers or slip-on flats to speed the check-in process.
A celebration of life ceremony is less somber than a memorial service. Though these events are often more contemporary casual than funerals, it's not unusual for organizers to request formal attire. The family might even request that attendees dress in the decedent's favorite color or theme, in which case, bright colors and patterns could be acceptable. Attire should still reflect a respectful attitude, so don't be liberal with hemlines and fabric choices. When in doubt, dress up and dress conservatively. Overdressed is usually better than underdressed if you're unsure.
Religious services, such as a wake or shiva, are somber occasions reserved for close family and friends. Whether they happen at a place of worship or a loved one's home, the traditional dress code for a funeral still applies. You can never go wrong dressing formally from head to toe. Avoid casual dress or dirty shoes, and stay away from tank tops, spaghetti straps, or too-tight clothing.
Flip flops, sandals, or sneakers are not acceptable just because you're attending an outdoor service. Choose comfortable walking shoes with a non-slip sole if you're going somewhere muddy, and feel free to wear clean, dark jeans. Also, remember to bring sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat to shield your eyes, but avoid donning a baseball cap. Always pack sunscreen regardless of the seasons, as sun reflecting off of water and snow can still cause a sunburn.
Be mindful of jewelry choices when putting your outfit together. Avoid noisy charm bracelets or necklaces, which can be distracting in small chapels or during somber conversation. A funeral is no place to display flashy accessories, unless you're choosing sentimental pieces gifted by the decedent. If you're expecting rain or bright sun, bring a dark or black umbrella.