First of all, every funeral is different.
Yes, your clothes matter, and for the above reason you need to use savvy.
That is, you need to know the rules, so that you know what you should wear - and if and when to break them (which is not often).
You will know when you have done good. And you will know when you have f**ked up.
This is a delicate subject, which people often pussyfoot around. I want to be direct and give you some truthful advice.
I have had my share of funerals in my life. I have got it wrong, I have got it right. So, if you will allow me, I would like to dispense some of what I have learned.
Classic funeral attire - the black suit
Suit: Suitsupply, Shirt: Suitsupply, Tie: Blacksmith Men, Shoes: Beckett Simonon
Ninety-nine percent of funerals, this will be your go-to. You should have:
Yes, there are a variety of cultures who use other colors in periods of mourning, but by in large the Western tradition, and across a broad swathe of cultures, is to wear black. Unless you have reason to think otherwise (perhaps the deceased was from a culture you know little about) generally this can be taken as a given.
Everybody in a funeral should look well dressed, but the strict dress code means that nobody stands out and distracts from the purpose of the day: to mourn the deceased.
The image above is a style guide worth studying. While this is the most common funeral attire choice, it is not necessary to stick with a black suit - you might consider other dark colors. More on that below.
The classic shoes for formal occasions such as this are black oxfords. They simply cannot go wrong.
We all know what a good-fitting dark suit looks like. But what about the details?
You can vary the color slightly with the tie or a pocket square. The golden rule is no bright colors, unless requested.
A black umbrella is also handy. It can come in useful not only in rainy weather but also as a walking aid in snowy, icy weather.
In colder weather wear black (or dark) gloves and scarf. Leather gloves are really smart, and also good if it rains. They should grip well if you are asked to be a pallbearer. You are often given the opportunity to throw earth onto the coffin, so if you are wearing non-leather gloves you will have to take them off, and place them in your overcoat pocket.
Which leads me to the overcoat - I cannot recommend a nice black overcoat enough. In many funerals you will probably be going from a (likely cold) church (or synagogue, or mosque, whatever the deceased’s place of worship might have been) to a (likely cold) graveyard. It is therefore the most visible part of your outfit, and it is likely you won’t take it off for much of the day.
Should you wear a hat? Victorian top hats, although associated with funerals, will obviously look a little ridiculous now-a-days. Unless you are the undertaker. Most often I would say avoid hats at a funeral, however, exceptions might be a smart black or grey fedora, or perhaps a plain black beanie if it is bitterly cold and your ears are going to be freezing off.
Take note! If you do wear a hat to a funeral, take it off when you go into a place of worship. You can hang it on a hook, or hold it in your hands, but this is a convention you should never ignore. You should also take it off when giving condolences or approaching the coffin, to show your respect.
If you want a boutonniere, a simple white flower is probably the best option. White is considered a good mourning color, especially when it comes to flowers.
Sunglasses are another accessory you might consider. Nothing ostentatious, but for sunny weather or bright days many men wear sunglasses. They are a part of many funerals, however, because people want to hide their puffy eyes, caused by tears and sleepless nights. Nothing wrong with that.
Black suit not for you?
Not everybody suits black. If that’s you, there are other options for funerals. It is worth trying on either a grey or dark blue suit.
As an example, here is a charcoal combination, with a white shirt and black shoes.
Suit: Suitsupply, Shirt: Bonobos, Tie: Blacksmith Men, Socks: Drake’s, Shoes: Beckett Simonon
Worn together this option will look smart but sombre.
While with grey, again, the black oxford shoes are infallible, you could equally combine with black brogues or monkstraps.
Another option is a dark blue suit. You can see here how this could work.
Suit: Scotch & Soda, Shirt: Bonobos, Tie: Blacksmith Men, Shoes: Beckett Simonon
With blue, people often pair brown shoes, as you can see in the image, but there is no reason not to go with black.
While this white shirt is the most traditional option, navy suits with grey shirts can also work. The blue tie in the image is perfect, or perhaps a dark burgundy. Try not to use ties with designs.
No suit? Dark pants, and a smart blazer will do the job.
Perhaps try grey pants with a black blazer. You can experiment a little with combinations, but remember to keep it simple, and as toned-down as possible.
Prepare in advance
You might say a dark suit is obvious advice, but I have been caught out on many occasions - funerals happen at any given time, you cannot foreguess when.
My most important advice is to invest in these things now, if you don’t already have them. If you have a nice dark suit, don’t let it be ‘the suit you got for your Dad’s funeral’ - you will never be able to enjoy an evening at the theater in a suit with that tag. Have it in your wardrobe.
If you are reading this because you have a funeral coming up - then clearly you have to either make-do with what is in your wardrobe, or buy something quick. You probably don’t have time, and might not in the state of mind, to buy something you will have for years to come. In that case buy something that ‘will do’ and then afterwards take your time and really arm your wardrobe.
Yes, your clothes matter, but the most important thing is that you are there, and are comfortable enough to talk to the other guests and show respect to the deceased. Keep to the general dress rules and don’t worry too much. Keep this tab open in your browser, or a note in your diary, and after the immediate event is passed, make sure you have good funeral clothes in your closet - that you might also mix up with different accessories to wear to a job interview, or a wedding.
If you have children, again keep this in mind when you are buying their clothes. Although kids clothes tends to be more transitory because they are constantly growing, you might want to always keep at least something sombre and smart in their wardrobe.
The rules are generally the same as adults, although tend to be a little more flexible. Quite often they can get by with a shirt and sweater. Again always err on the side of caution and dress them as smartly as you can.
Usually a wake is not quite as formal as a funeral, but it is best to still dress at least smart casual and with conservative colors. If the wake is in a house, people might go in everyday clothes, but it is best to be safe than sorry.
If the wake is in a funeral home or other place of mourning it might be more formal. It is always good to double check, or simply to go in funeral attire. That way you cannot cause insult, or feel underdressed.
The reception after the funeral doesn’t happen in all cultures, but in most funerals I have been to the mourners meet for a little gathering afterwards. It might be soup and a sandwich, or just a tea or a whisky to remember the dead and spend time with the other guests.
The clothes you wear to the funeral should be comfortable enough to sit and have some food and drink. If you have worn layers it will pay off here, as you may well be sitting in a warm hall.
It’s all gone wrong
My worst funeral experience was my only cremation. Basically, I learnt that at a cremation people wear the same as at a burial. I thought it was more of a practical affair and went in jeans. I felt horrible. I felt like I had insulted the family.
There are so many ways to send off the dead and I now know that, to give the family respect, you should dress as well as you can.
If you have doubts, ask when you are told about the service. If doubts creep in later, phone a relative or friend of the deceased. Try not to bother the immediate family with this type of question. If you cannot ask, then go as smartly as possible.
I was recently at a funeral where the heavens opened.
In the tradition of the islands where I lived, the men carry the coffin towards the graveyard. I was wearing a good overcoat and reasonable shoes, but the rain still got through. Some people got soaked through and looked absolutely miserable.
This can happen, and it is not the time to complain, suck it up and you can dry off later. Just remember that being well dressed for all eventualities is essential.
I would reiterate one thing - invest in two items that are often overlooked in a wardrobe: a good, thick overcoat and high-quality black shoes.
Wacky or out-of-the-norm funerals
The mum of a friend of mine died of cancer. She knew it was coming and requested that her funeral was full of flowers and bright colors.
Always take heed of the wishes of the deceased. You may not feel comfortable wearing a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral - but maybe the deceased didn’t want you to be comfortable! Maybe he or she wanted you to question yourself and think about death in a different way.
Unusual clothes at a funeral are often a way people have of saying, I don’t want any dourness and straight faces, I want laughter and a celebration of my life.
Is your wardrobe ready?
If you have a funeral soon, try to follow this advice. However, like I mentioned, you should also assume this funeral is not going to be the last you will go to.
There will always be at least one more (think about it!).
Try to make sure that your wardrobe always includes high quality attire that you can wear for these situations.
We all have to face death at many points in our lives, so have a look through your clothes and make sure that you have a wardrobe which is ready.
If you have any funeral clothing experiences you would like to share, please leave a comment below.