The Decorum Diaries

Unapologetically ladylike.

The Lady's Guide to Funeral Attire

A woman who attends a funeral dressed in a conspicuous manner shows proof of a total lack of good taste and good manners.
— Genevieve Antoine Dariaux

I am 36 years old. At 10:00 this morning I will attend the funeral of 18 month old, Lily Grace. This will be our small community's 4th funeral in eight days time. As we age and build deeper connections, we find that funerals are a heart-wrenching part of life's routine. If anything could be called alarmingly regular, it is death and the funerals that follow. And yet, many of us seem to be caught wholly unprepared for the event. 

You should have in your wardrobe appropriate attire to wear to a funeral held at any time during the year. While you can get away with dark colors, solid black is always an appropriate choice. The comment that, "No one wears black to funerals anymore", is false, and even so, a lady concerns herself with what is proper and dignified, regardless of what others may do.  I've attended funerals held by traditional families, and was thankful to be dressed in conservative, black clothing, as I would have stood out wearing anything else. It is not usually a lady's goal to draw attention to herself, and while attending a funeral this is especially so. 

This set photo of Emma Stone from The Amazing Spider Man 2 is a fine example of classic  and understated funeral attire. 

This set photo of Emma Stone from The Amazing Spider Man 2 is a fine example of classic  and understated funeral attire. 

Because words of comfort often ring hollow, a concerned countenance and our dress is the most unobtrusive, and clear way to convey to those closest to the deceased that we are mourning the passing of their loved one, that the loss matters to us; and that this day, the day they bury a part of themselves, is significant. Wearing black is the same as pulling over when you see a funeral procession approaching. It is a way to display your respect and compassion, simply and beautifully. Below you will find a list of suggestions to get you started. The time to begin assembling your funeral attire is now, and not after you've received news of a loved one's passing. If you are very close to the deceased, thinking through an outfit choice will be the furthest thing from your mind; and if you are a more distantly related to the deceased, you may be busy with other things, or not hear the news in time to prepare.

  1. Lingerie: This should include hosiery (always keep unopened backups in your drawer). Depending on the time of year I either wear nude, sheer black, or opaque black tights, semi-opaque black hose are also appropriate. A slip allows a dress to move and drape the way it was fashioned to,  it allows an unlined dress to glide across hosiery without catching, while adding a layer of warmth in the winter, and providing modest coverage for thin summer dresses. A properly fitted brassiere in black or nude, with secure straps and full coverage cups, which will prevent the unsightly appearance of a demi-cup under a scoop neckline dress. (It should go without saying that funeral dress is not décolleté.) You shouldn't have to give your underclothes another moment's thought once you put your dress on, thinking ahead will prevent fidgeting with bra straps and other no-nos. 
  2. Dress: A black crepe sheath dress with a scoop neckline that hits at the knee or below is one appropriate choice. A black crepe dress can be worn year round and will be easy to find in a wide range of price points. The dress should be adornment free. For the most adaptability, and to stretch a limited budget, a sleeveless dress can be worn underneath a jacket in cooler temperatures, and a dress coat in winter.  I prefer dresses for their simplicity but a suit, or skirt and blouse, if that is your preference, is also an appropriate and elegant choice. 
  3. Shoes: Medium height to low, black wedges are the most versatile funeral shoe. Suede is one option, and an appropriate daytime choice year round. A low wedge is well-suited to the occasion since it is a conservative choice that also supplies a respectable level of formality. But wedges are my go to choice for funeral dress because of their practicality: a quality pair will be comfortable enough for standing throughout the graveside service, and will be secure underfoot while walking in uneven grass, without sinking into the ground like pumps are apt to do. While attending a funeral your attention shouldn't be torn between grief and your feet. Choose a closed toe shoe.
  4. Handbag: A small black clutch or purse without ornamentation, in either calfskin or suede (chosen to match your shoes) is a sound choice. My clutch is imitation suede, while owning quality, timeless pieces is my goal, an imitation piece was the most practical choice for my budget, allowing me to spend more money on quality shoes. Your clutch will hold your keys, a linen handkerchief, and your gloves while indoors. Under no circumstances should your handbag contain your phone.
  5. Jewelry & Makeup: These should be kept minimal and discreet. Avoid perfume on this day; scented soap, lotion or powder will suffice. Fingernails should be of modest length and without polish or in a classic color. Clear or nude polish is always appropriate. A watch is fine if it is your habit to wear one, avoid checking the time during the service.
  6. Hair & Hat: On a windy day you may choose to wear long hair pulled back if you will be attending the graveside service. There will not be time during the funeral to fuss with windblown hair in private. Wearing a modest hat to a funeral is perfectly appropriate. But choose headwear with care. In some regions wearing a hat today would be considered conspicuous and draw attention. In this case wearing a hat should be avoided. Consider the local customs and regional level of formality. 

The following are seasonal additions that should be considered for graveside services:

  1. Sunglasses: If you choose to wear sunglasses they should only be worn on bright days in the car traveling to the funeral, and at the graveside service if you are not under the canopy provided for family. Sunglasses should not be worn indoors, and certainly not inside the church. While offering condolences to the family while outdoors, your sunglasses should be removed and stowed in your handbag. Choose a classic frame in black or tortoiseshell with modestly tinted lenses. If you choose not to wear sunglasses to the graveside service, consider the angle of the sun as you approach, and position yourself accordingly.
  2. Gloves: Simple, black leather, or thick, quality nylon gloves (shine free) are appropriate and even necessary at graveside services during winter months. Gloves should be properly fitted and without trimming. Gloves should be removed upon entering the funeral home or church. Leave gloves on for the entire graveside service; do not remove them to greet others or offer condolences while outside. 
  3. Coat & Scarf: A knee-length tailored dress coat in black will be worn for years as a staple of your wardrobe and is especially nice to have on hand for winter funerals. Choose as timeless and well fitted of a coat as you are able to find, avoiding trends.
  4. Umbrella: A black umbrella may be carried to funerals when there is a potential for rain. Be aware of your position in relation to others while your umbrella is in use, and while it is closed by your side if you are guided to walk through a receiving line to offer condolences.
  5. Parasol: In extreme heat a neutral or black parasol without ornamentation may provide some comfort, allowing you to focus your attention on the service. If you arrive at the service and feel that using the parasol will draw attention, either stand toward the back of those gathered, or leave your parasol closed and by your side, using it only to walk to and from your vehicle. 

If you're just starting out and have a limited budget, I applaud any effort you put forth in presenting yourself appropriately at a funeral. In my early marriage, during our financially lean years, I wore dark brown, navy, or gray to funerals, with conservative, comfortable shoes and whatever peacoat I owned at the time. Doing the best with what you have is not only acceptable, it's gracious and will be received as such. Perhaps the greatest etiquette instruction, and only advice we need while visiting others in their time of grief, can be found, surprisingly enough,  in Romans chapter 12 where we are advised simply to 'rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn'.

*Authors note: Romans 12:17 continues with the dispensation of etiquette tips when we are reminded to not be haughty in mind. Your funeral attire may be impeccable, but if you look down your nose at the woman standing next to you in flip-flops and loud colors, your attempt at elegance and grace has been for naught.