April 24, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Do I Have to Wear a Suit to a Funeral?

Considerations to make before you buy

Do I Have to Wear a Suit to a Funeral?
Suits are usually appropriate to wear at a funeral, but not required at most modern funerals. (Getty Images)

The news of a recent death is usually followed by a funeral announcement. For most families, the funeral is held within a week or two, leaving many mourners with limited time to prepare. As a guest, it's important to convey your sorrow in you demeanor, words and attire.

If you're not sure of what to wear to a funeral, you may have a lot of questions about what is expected of you. Do I have to wear black? Can I wear white? What about colors? How formal should my outfit be? These are all questions that can worry those who are recently mourning. 

For people intending to wear pants to a funeral, there is another question to weigh when choosing the ensemble: Do I have to wear a suit? This article will discuss attire, mourning, and how to choose an outfit that is suitable to the specific memorial event.

Funerals and formality

Social events such as weddings, christenings, holidays, balls and academic ceremonies have always called for more elevated attire. Conventions of attire were more clear-cut in the past. All-day events were marked with an outfit change before dinner, clearly differentiating between morning and evening outfits. Different types of events called for different styles, colors and cuts of material. Although this is still the case for many kinds of events today, expectations of formal dress are less rigid today than just a century ago.

"Come as you are"

Some churches also encourage or require formal dress at worship services. Seeing this as a barrier to attendance, Christian churches looking to attract new members have adopted the phrase "come as you are." Believing that poverty or appearance should be no obstacle to participating in worship, these churches make attending religious services more accessible to different types of people. 

Funerals have been slower to adapt to modern trends than other kinds of formal events, like weddings. However, the idea that you should "come as you are" has influenced mourning events, including funerals. Lack of a formal outfit should not prevent devout believers from practicing religion, nor should it prevent anyone from saying goodbye to a loved one who has passed. 

Most funerals do not require full traditional mourning attire, and that includes wearing a suit. If a loved one has recently passed and you have no formal outfit, there is no need to rush out to purchase a full suit for the funeral service. 

Considerations for funeral attire

Just because you don't need a full, formal suit in order to attend a funeral service, it's important to choose your attire carefully. When choosing your outfit, take into consideration the following factors:

  • Is the family religious?

If the hosting family is religious, you may want to check with them before selecting your outfit. Depending on the religion, certain colors or cuts may be more acceptable than others. 

  • Is there a dress code?

Sometimes families will ask guests to respect a certain dress code. From wearing the deceased person's favorite color to having a fully Star Wars-themed funeral, you should respect the wishes of the grieving family and make every attempt to honor a specific dress code. 

  • How formal is the event?

Usually when a funeral is being planned, the invitation will come with a brief itinerary. A home memorial may call for different attire than a graveside service, church funeral or burial at sea

Alternatives to suits

  • Dress pants

Pants that are untattered, clean, neutral or dark in color are perfect for a funeral service. For many services, dark jeans are even considered acceptable. Pants that you would wear for outdoor work or athletics are best avoided. 

  • Shirt

A button-down shirt with a collar is ideal for a memorial service, but you can also wear a t-shirt if it is clean, neutral and plain. If you do opt for a t-shirt, try to dress it up with a blazer. Avoid graphic t-shirts, athletic wear, work clothes, or anything that may be distracting to other mourners.

  • Tie

A tie is not necessary, but can add a formal touch to a collared shirt, particularly if your ensemble won't include a blazer or jacket. If you wear a tie, opt for something discreet.

  • Blazer 

If you have a blazer, you can wear it over a plain t-shirt or collared shirt. However, a blazer is not required at a memorial. You may also wear a nice cardigan or vest. Hoodies, windbreakers or other athletic outerwear aren’t usually appropriate for a memorial. 

  • Shoes

The shoes you wear to an event like a memorial make all the difference in how your outfit will be perceived. While you may be tempted to wear runners, it's well worth investing in a pair of dress shoes instead. A nice pair of simple black dress shoes need not be too expensive, and they will tie the whole outfit together. If this is not possible, at least make sure your shoes blend with your pants. 

  • Outerwear

If the weather is cool, you may need a jacket for warmth. A simple, dressy, black winter coat is a wardrobe staple that everyone should have on hand. A wool peacoat will keep you warm at a graveside service, or when traveling between memorial locations. If you are anticipating a lot of rain, consider a coat with more rain-resistant fabric. 

Dress shoes will go a long way to making an outfit look more formal. (Getty Images)

The takeaway

Funerals are steeped in tradition, faith and sorrow. Because most deaths aren't usually as anticipated and meticulously planned as weddings, there is less opportunity and motivation to plan ahead. While your outfit need not be perfect, it's important to show up to a funeral looking put together. Your clothes should be clean, and without any holes or tears. Iron or steam your outfit in advance to ensure you are presentable at the funeral service.

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