The first thing that comes to mind when a friend or loved one passes away is probably not “what should I wear?” Nevertheless, navigating the etiquette surrounding a funeral and mourning can be difficult, and answering simple questions like what to wear can cause a lot of stress. While your main goal should be to show respect to the family and the deceased by wearing something appropriate, it is also important to be able to easily pull something out of your closet.
“It was enough dealing with the grief of losing my father in law, let alone the stress of taking the kids out of town overnight, figuring out how to manage nursing a baby in the middle of a wake. I didn’t even have time to think about what we were all going to wear.” – Anonymous
If you’re wondering what to wear to a wake or funeral service, we’ve put together a few guidelines to help you along.
What is a wake?
A wake is is a type of funeral service that is focused on sharing stories and memories of the deceased. Wakes are generally more casual and interactive than funeral services, which are more structured around certain rituals. Many families will have both a wake and a funeral, with the wake taking place the day before the funeral service or afterward at the families’ home.
For more information on types of funeral services, see our guide.
What should I wear to a wake or funeral service?
Have you ever heard someone say, “wear your Sunday best”? Whether or not you are a church-goer, what they are referring to is looking your best out of respect and honor. And one of the most obvious ways to honor the deceased and their family than to dress the part.
Keep in mind that the dress code may change depending on the situation. Pallbearers, for example, generally wear suits. Specific religions also have specific rituals that they follow, including what they do and do not wear.
The opposite can be true for other kinds of groups, for example, biker burials, where the attire can be more casual. In this case, the most respectful thing considered is wearing their biker gear or something that commemorates the deceased, like a piece of their jewelry.
In most cases, you will want to wear something simple yet nice. Here are some ideas on what to pull out of your closet for the funeral service:
- Wear low-key colors. You don’t have to wear black but a wake isn’t the place to wear your leopard print blouse or salmon-colored khakis. Stick with neutral colors like navy, grey, and dark green.
- Keep your accessories simple. Your accessories should be simple and neutral. In other words, don’t try to bring attention to yourself with your jewelry.
- Keep patterns simple. You can wear a shirt or dress with a pattern, just make sure it is subdued.
- Don’t go too casual. Avoid wearing casual clothes like t-shirts and jeans. Business casual is typically acceptable.
- Stay away from festive or fun attire. Sometimes families choose to encourage the celebration of their loved one’s life at the wake. If that is the case, wearing festive clothing is totally acceptable. On the other hand, if you haven’t been given this specific guidance, stay away from bright, festive clothing, as it may come off as disrespectful to the family and the deceased.
What to wear to a wake? Be respectful.
The most important consideration when you’re choosing what to wear to a wake is respecting the deceased and their family. You don’t want to try and draw attention to yourself; this event isn’t about you. Overall, your attire at a wake should be subdued, avoiding flamboyant colors or patterns, and should be at least business casual in the level of formality.