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What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service for Women

Layne lost her father to cancer in her mid-20s. She hopes to help others navigate their experience with loss.

You don't have to go with the standard black for a funeral, but you do want to dress appropriately.

You don't have to go with the standard black for a funeral, but you do want to dress appropriately.

What to Wear to a Funeral: The Dos and Don'ts

First, if you are attending a funeral, wake, memorial service, or celebration of life, I am sorry for your loss. When there is a death in the family, the death of a loved one, friend, or acquaintance, everyone comes together for a celebration of life. You may be wondering what is and what is not appropriate to wear. While there are no definite rules and each celebration of life is different, it is most important to know what kind of group will be in attendance.

A Note About Tradition

I will be giving advice on what is most appropriate for a general celebration of life—this advice is based on North American (of the United States) tradition but does not take into account particular cultural and religious customs. It is always best to ask someone about what is expected if you are unsure, as every ceremony will differ.

The following advice presents standard, appropriate, and tasteful options for both women and girls based on my most recent experience attending a funeral.

Lighter colors can work well if used as a scarf or to offset dark clothing.

Lighter colors can work well if used as a scarf or to offset dark clothing.

What Colors Are Appropriate to Wear to a Funeral?

Black

Forest Green

Muted Gold

Brown

Gray

Muted Silver

Deep Blue

Maroon

Navy

Deep Purple

Muted Bronze

 

Inappropriate Colors

This advice is recommended based on customs in the United States. Colors are acceptable for accessories and accent pieces, but you'll want to use them conservatively if you choose to. For instance, red flowers on a scarf or a yellow handkerchief in the pocket of a navy suit is acceptable. A white undershirt beneath a formal suit is also acceptable.

Colors to Avoid

Bright Blue

Pink

Bright Green

Red

Bright Purple

White

Orange

Yellow

You can make texture, patterns, and lace work, just do so tastefully.

You can make texture, patterns, and lace work, just do so tastefully.

Closed toed shoes are most appropriate, but you must also consider what type of weather you will be in.

Closed toed shoes are most appropriate, but you must also consider what type of weather you will be in.

A Guide for Women on Funeral Attire and Etiquette

This advice is not meant to imply anything about a women's style of dress, but in general, people tend to dress conservatively at celebrations of life. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • Dresses and skirts should fall below the knees or be a few inches above the knee.
  • Consider wearing sheer tights or pantyhose with a dress or skirt for formality.
  • Shoulders are appropriate in outdoor, warm weather, but outfits should generally cover the shoulder and be sleeved. Strappy dresses are best worn with a coverup, shawl, or sweater.
  • Minimize low-cut shirts or wear a scarf to cover your chest area.
  • If wearing a tight-fitting outfit, make sure that it is flattering and tasteful. A well-tailored outfit is fine so long as it is not meant to be sensual.

Do Dress Appropriately for the Weather

Capped and short-sleeved outfits are acceptable, especially for warmer climates.

Capped and short-sleeved outfits are acceptable, especially for warmer climates.

Do Consider Navy Instead of Black

Navy is a beautiful color to consider instead of the standard black.

Navy is a beautiful color to consider instead of the standard black.

Dressing Modestly Is a Sign of Respect

I am all for women dressing as they choose, but I do think there is something to be said about dressing respectfully at a celebration of life. You can certainly look good, but do consider the intent of your outfit. Just as you wouldn't want to out-dress the bride at her wedding, you do not want to be the center of attention. A memorial service is not the time to make a fashion statement.

Many people are mourning, and the whole point of dressing formally is to focus on the celebration of life. I encourage you to "mute" your fun fashion tendencies if you like to stand out. You can stand out in subtle ways—a pop of color, good hair, or unique shoes.

Can I Wear Sunglasses to a Funeral?

Yes. This has become quite mainstream. Many people are crying and emotional—some choose to hide their faces. This is totally acceptable. At the most recent memorial I attended, several men wore sunglasses indoors and even gave speeches indoors wearing sunglasses. I think this trend is becoming more mainstream, but making eye contact is authentic, so unless I'm outdoors, I won't wear sunglasses.

Do Break Up Black With Modest Patterns

Dark prints work if paired with a dark-colored jacket and neutral or dark shoes.

Dark prints work if paired with a dark-colored jacket and neutral or dark shoes.

Do Use Color Tasefully

Color is ok so long as it's used tastefully.

Color is ok so long as it's used tastefully.

How Much Makeup Is Appropriate to Wear to a Funeral?

There's no rule here really. Although I wouldn't recommend showing up with a full face of makeup (you will be crying and often the grieving family doesn't have time to glam), maybe wear makeup on your upper eyelids but avoid makeup on your lower lids in case you start crying. Also, if the family is big on cheek kissing, you might want to pass on the bright red lipstick. Muted makeup tones are often more appropriate.

If you are in a circle of friends or with a family or group that delights in dressing up—go for it. Maybe your circle of friends dress up in rockabilly style. It's totally fine to embrace this and do your usual—just be sure to mind the color tones.

What Not to Wear to a Funeral

As demonstrated above, unless you are super close with the group of friends who are celebrating the life of a loved one with, understand that everyone will be there—if you don't feel comfortable wearing it in front of your boss or your grandparents, it is best not to wear it. Here's what to avoid:

  • Sexy attire.
  • Fashion statements.
  • Vibrant, lively colors.
  • Gaudy attire (don't dress like Wednesday from The Addams Family); too much lace and black and dark makeup can actually be quite offensive (unless the deceased would appreciate your gesture).
  • Don't dress in the customary or traditional wear of the family unless you've received approval or confirmation that this is expected.

How to Act: Be Present and Authentic

Remember that you are there to celebrate the life of a loved one. If you feel moved and need to cry—allow yourself to cry. A funeral and celebration of life is not a time to hold anything back. You are there to support others and be supported yourself. This event is literally once in a lifetime, so show up and be present. It's ok to smile and laugh when engaging with others, but do so after the main ceremony. Most important of all—leave your cell phone at home and silence it!

Sorry for your loss.

Appropriate Funeral Etiquette for Women

© 2018 Layne Holmes