What do I wear to a funeral? Unlike any other major life occasion, it’s rare to get a personal invitation – let alone a dress code – to a traditional funeral. Knowing what to wear to a funeral is wrapped up in traditions that have been carried on from one generation to the next.
While it’s traditional to wear dark sombre clothing, the ways we mark someone’s death are changing, with personalised funerals and celebrations of life often reflecting how someone lived their life.
As Australia becomes more culturally diverse, funeral tradition – and funeral attire – can vary according to faith and lifestyle. You’ll find more detailed guides to funerals of faith and culture on the Funeral Guide website.
What to wear to a funeral
At the traditional funeral most Australians are familiar with, it is respectful to wear smart, well-pressed clothes in a dark colour.
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Black has long been typically worn by mourners at a traditional funeral, but dark shades such as navy or grey are also appropriate. A smart work suit or outfit is usually acceptable.
Whether you have a designer suit, or pick out an outfit from the clothes you have in a subdued colour, what’s really important is to look smart and well-groomed. It’s a gesture of respect to the bereaved family and to the person who has died.
Funeral attire should not draw attention to you. At a traditional funeral, it’s proper to wear conservative clothing in muted colours to maintain a focus on who the service is all about.
Even if the funeral you’re attending has a specified dress code that is more relaxed, it’s still important to ensure that your funeral attire won’t make you the centre of attention.
Funeral dress code – what men should wear to a funeral
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A dark suit is most appropriate for a funeral, worn with a tie. If you don’t have a black tie, a plain or muted-patterned tie in a dark colour is acceptable these days.
It’s tradition to wear a white shirt at a funeral, but a plain, unpatterned buttoned shirt in a muted colour is okay. Shoes should be dark, clean and polished.
Funeral dress code – What women should wear to a funeral
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Dresses, skirts and trouser suits can be all be worn to a funeral – the focus is on conservatism. Skirts should be worn below the knee at a traditional funeral, while dresses and tops should have short or full sleeves – or with a sleeved jacket worn on top.
Try to avoid clothes which expose too much bare flesh or cling to curves. Subdued and sober is key, with any jewellery or accessories kept to a minimum and in muted tones.
Some women still choose to wear wear dark hats to a funeral. Mind your heels: if you are attending a graveside funeral ceremony, be aware of footwear that could sink into the ground and leave you stuck or shoeless.
What to wear to a funeral in the summer
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Conservative funeral attire is key, but in the summer it makes sense to wear clothes in lighter fabrics. For women, a plain sleeveless dress that exposes the shoulders may be appropriate, if it’s a formal cut.
Avoid beach-ready wear, bright prints or party outfits, unless the obituary has specified a funeral dress code. It’s proper to wear hosiery and closed-toe shoes to funerals, but dress sandals may be acceptable for women to wear in summer months, if they conservatively complement the outfit.
What to wear to a funeral – by invitation
Serving members or the armed forces or civilian services, may be asked to wear uniform to the funeral of a comrade or a veteran.
Once upon a time, the funeral was a time for mourners to reflect on their own mortality. Now, more than half of Australians view funerals as an opportunity to honour and reflect on someone’s life, according to research.
It’s becoming increasingly common for families to request that mourners wear a certain colour to reflect someone’s passion, lifestyle or a charitable cause they had a connection with.
This could be anything from an accessory in a certain hue, to a request that mourners dress from head to toe in bright colours to celebrate someone’s life, details of which you’ll find in the obituary or death notice.
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Themed funerals and memorials, although more unusual, are increasing in popularity, too. Funeral directors have played a part – by request – in arranging Star Wars, superhero and other themed ceremonies in fancy dress.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to dress up in full character – but could set the tone for an accessory or token to bring along, that reflects the spirit in which the person’s life is being celebrated.
- If you are still uncertain about what to wear to a funeral, the funeral director making the arrangements on behalf of the family should be happy to advise you.