Does it have to be black? No. But it is still a good idea to play it safe when it comes to choosing clothes for a funeral. Whatever you decide to wear – and dress codes do vary these days – this isn’t the right time to draw attention to yourself. These tips will help…
Funerals and black clothing – they sort of go together, don’t they. Black clothing is a tradition that dates back to Roman times. The Romans would wear darker togas or another dark color is almost always appropriate. Today – other colours may be more appropriate.
There may also be religious or cultural preferences to think about. But we’ll cover some of those here, which should help if you’ve been invited to a service you’re not familiar with. Our top tip? If in doubt, ask a friend or a close member of the family what the dress code will be and, if in doubt, clean your shoes and dress a little bit more formally than you would normally.
People come together at a funeral to pay their respects, so as long as you choose something respectful and in line with the person’s life experience, you won’t go far wrong. If the funeral is for someone who had seen active service, for example, then you may be invited to wear dress uniform.
However for different families, tradition and respect may mean different things. If Grandad was a huge football fan for example, then Nana might ask close friends of the family to wear football scarves as they walk from their cars to a church. If in doubt, make sure your shoes are sensible and choose something dark to wear – an outfit you might put on for a serious job interview, for example.
• Do dress so you won’t stand out in the crowd.
• Do wear sensible shoes – you may need to walk across grass or gravel.
• Do make sure what you’re wearing is clean, don’t leave it all to the last minute.
• Do cover up – this isn’t the time for crop-tops, plunging necklines or short skirts.
• Do pop a couple of clean tissues in your pocket.
• Do – if you wear a hat – make it simple (but baseball caps aren’t ideal).
• Don’t over-do it with perfume or cologne.
• Don’t panic about wearing a tie. A smart, clean shirt goes a long way.
• Don’t think you’ve got to have perfect hair (or make-up).
• Don’t wear noisy jewellery – bangles, or beeping watches.
• Don’t worry. People aren’t looking at you.
Exceptions to ‘the rules’
There are always exceptions, and many funerals today take place as a joyous celebration of a person’s life – the ‘rules’ around clothing are relaxed completely. If this is the case for the funeral you’re going to, you’ll probably be given guidelines around what the family or the person who’s died had in mind. It might be colourful shirts – it could even be colour-coded.
Clothing for different faiths
Formal, simple clothes are a good general rule. Again, if in doubt, do take the time to ask a friend of the family for advice on what’s most appropriate.
• At an Islamic funeral, men should wear a closed neck shirt and plain trousers; women should wear a headscarf, an ankle-length skirt at least, and a shirt with long sleeves and a high neck. Whatever you’re wearing, you should make sure you have clean socks (hole-free), as you’ll be asked to take your shoes off before prayers.
• For a Buddhist service, it’s best to ask the family directly – each traditional form of Buddhism has different guidance around what’s most appropriate. For some families it’s black, for others it’s white.
• At a Jewish funeral, it’s not uncommon to see women wearing a headscarf; men will need a skullcap – you may be offered a yarmulke or kippah if you don’t have one – and it’s commonplace to wear a jacket and tie. For women, skirts should be below the knee, and darker colours are traditional for both sexes.
• At a Hindu funeral – again, traditions vary – you’ll see most people wearing simple, casual, white clothing. White signifies purity, it shows respect for the person who’s died and for their family. In fact, it would be disrespectful to wear black.
A last thought…
Finally, we’re all used to carrying them around with us, but there is one small accessory you might want to think about leaving at home or in the car. This isn’t the time to be updating social media feeds.
Unless smartphone photos have clearly been approved by the closest family – and that may be the case – you might want to encourage youngsters around you to show their respects, by making sure yours is switched to silent or left somewhere safe during the service.