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What to Wear to a Wake, Viewing, or Funeral Service January 21, 2021

funeral etiquette

Funerals have historically been fairly formal events. However, like many things in Western culture, it’s not always about having the right attire, but rather showing up and showing support. That being said, there are times to dress up and times to be a bit more casual when it comes to funerals.

If you’re rushing to work ahead of a funeral and need to wear your scrubs or whatever your work uniform is, that’s okay. What’s important is showing your support for the family. However, if someone is hosting a full funeral mass at church, you might want to consider dressing up.

If you’re unsure, read the obituary. Many families will include a dress code or attire suggestion there. Some might say, “Grandpa would never wear a suit, so come in your favorite Eagles jersey.” Or perhaps they request everyone wear a purple tie or accessory to support Alzheimer’s research. 

While there are many variances when it comes to funeral attire, we have some general suggestions for what you should wear to a wake, viewing, or funeral service.

what to wear to a wake

What to Wear to a Wake

A wake is similar to a funeral service with an emphasis on visiting with the friends and family of the deceased. Wakes are typically held the day before the funeral service, but the same dress code applies to them both, so if you’re wondering what to wear to a viewing, wake, or funeral service, here are a few tips.

Clothing

When it comes to dressing for proper funeral etiquette, it’s best to err on the conservative side. Opt for more neutral colors like black, gray, navy, or dark green instead of something more colorful or flashy. Darker, muted colors reflect the somber mood of a service or visitation.

For men, a black or dark-colored suit paired with a neutral tie is a great option. Women can wear dark pants, skirts, dresses, suits, and/or shirts. If you’re not sure which items in your closet are appropriate to wear to a funeral, think about what you would choose to wear to a job interview.

Avoid complex patterns, flashy fabrics, sequins, and even strongly-scented perfume or cologne. It’s not that these things are terrible, but they can be incredibly distracting for both the family and any other funeral-goers who are trying to mourn.

Other clothing options to avoid include casual items such as activewear, t-shirts, or sneakers. Think business casual, and you’ll probably be good to go.

Remember to choose clothing that is functional, too. Oftentimes, funerals are followed by outdoor graveside services, so you’ll want to dress appropriately for the weather and any rough terrain.

Don’t fret—there are many exceptions to the suggestions above. Many times families choose a celebration of life over a typical funeral service and might request that you wear the deceased’s favorite color or a jersey from their favorite team. In those cases, it’s perfectly fine to break tradition.

For veteran funerals, attendees may dress in military uniforms. Or if there are certain religious practices you follow during the mourning period that require a certain style of dress, that’s acceptable, too.

Accessories

Similar to the clothing suggestions above, opt for simple accessories that are neutral and not too flashy or distracting. A simple pearl necklace, single ring band, or stud earrings are all great choices for a funeral.

Funeral Makeup

Keep your funeral makeup minimal. Not only will simple makeup match the neutral and somber tone of the rest of your funeral attire, but it will also prevent too much streaking or smearing from tears. 

Opt for neutral tones for your eyeshadow and lip color. Eye colors such as light brown or soft, sheer pink are great options. Choose a lipstick that is close to your actual lip color to keep everything soft and blended.

To prevent any streaking from tears, use a long-lasting foundation, waterproof mascara, and avoid setting your makeup with powder.

An easy way to keep tears from streaming down your face is to dab them with a tissue around your eyes and nose to keep from smearing your makeup.

what to wear to a viewing

FAQs

Why do people wear black to funerals?

The tradition of wearing black to funerals dates back to the Roman empire and continued through medieval times, though it was actually Queen Victoria of England who popularized wearing black to the funeral and during a four-year mourning period after the death of a loved one.

Do you have to wear black to a funeral?

As explained above, you are not required to wear black to a funeral. While black or dark, neutral colors are recommended, there are many exceptions to the rule, including cultural traditions that call for other colors to be worn.

Wearing white to a funeral

Prior to Queen Victoria’s influence, many women in continental Europe wore white while they were in mourning through much of the 1500s.

People still wear white as a mourning color today. In fact, it is the traditional color for funerals in China. In Thailand, it is common for widows to wear purple while in mourning, while in Egypt yellow is a common color for grieving.

Wearing red to a funeral

Wearing red to a funeral, especially in Western cultures, is often seen as too festive and disrespectful for mourning. However, red is actually a common mourning color for native cultures to wear in Ghana.

Can you wear jeans to a funeral?

It’s general practice not to wear jeans to a funeral. However, if the family has requested a more casual dress code, it’s perfectly fine to pair jeans with a nice, collared shirt and/or blazer.

Remember these general guidelines for dressing for a funeral, and you’ll probably be good to go, but if you have a question about anything you’re thinking about wearing, you can always call the funeral home or venue and ask or ask a friend or family member who is attending the funeral what they’re going to wear.