For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing what to wear for a variety of occasions and activities this spring. It’s tempting to write such posts only for the joyful and fun occasions in life. But indeed we do want to dress appropriately and feel our best when participating in life’s more solemn noevents as well. So today I’m sharing my thoughts on what to wear to a funeral or memorial service this spring and summer.
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You’d think that as a pastor’s wife I have been to lots of funerals and know this niche exceptionally well. You’d be wrong. My husband has certainly preached hundreds of funerals. And, honestly, this may sound strange, but memorial messages are definitely one of his fortes. He does a beautiful job of honoring the deceased, comforting and encouraging the grieving family and pointing us all to Jesus.
I, on the other hand, generally feel awkward and a little nervous at funerals or memorial services. I haven’t experienced a lot of loss in my own life, so I feel out of my element at these services.
But what I’ve learned over time is that people simply appreciate the honor of your presence. They want you to be there. To show up.
And that’s why my theory is that what you wear doesn’t matter nearly as much as your presence. Don’t ever let not having the right thing to wear keep you from showing up for a friend or loved one who is grieving.
Having said that, I do think there are some social cues to consider when dressing for a funeral. If nothing else, we want to be dressed appropriately. Most importantly, as I mentioned in this YouTube video on dressing appropriately, I suggest we consider our role at a memorial service. We are there to pay homage and respect. We’re there to comfort and share the grief. Hopefully we’re also there to celebrate a life well-lived. And preferably we’re there to worship the Lord through it all.
So the focus isn’t on us, is it? To that end I suggest we consider these factors when choosing our attire for a memorial service:
- If the service will be held in a church other than one we are familiar with, we might do well to cover our shoulders and maybe even our arms. Some religions and denominations prefer this, and we want to be respectful of that.
- While we don’t have to wear black, it’s usually considered across-the-board appropriate and safe. Otherwise, I’d just steer clear of anything ostentatious.
- Consider the family. Do you know the family well or barely at all? What do you think they will be wearing?
- Unless you are the widow or other immediate family member of the deceased, attempt to fall in line with what others will be wearing. This is not the day to stand out.
- If you were close to the deceased and know his or her favorite color, you might consider wearing that shade.
- If you’ll be attending a committal service at a cemetery, you might want to wear wedge or block heels or flats since they’ll be easier to walk in on grassy or gravel surfaces.
- Since it’s a worship service, I try not to wear jingly bracelets or anything else that might cause distracting noise with movement. Oh, and don’t forget to silence your cell phone.
For today’s post I forced myself to find something appropriate to wear to a funeral from my closet – no shopping allowed. Why? Because I believe it’s important to have something in your closet at all times that would serve you well in the event that you needed to attend a memorial service with little notice. And I’ll be honest, it wasn’t as easy as I had assumed it would be for me to decide on an appropriate outfit. Some things felt too morose while others felt too casual or colorful.
I’ve inserted another video above that you might want to watch if you haven’t already. It will help you consider what you might need in your closet so that you can dress appropriately for a variety of situations, including funerals.
The first thing I mentioned in that video that will help you have an “appropriate wardrobe” is a blazer. And indeed my navy blazer (more economical option) turned out to be the central in the outfit that I put together for a funeral or memorial service. That’s not to say that you have to wear a blazer, but it certainly made it a little easier for me to put something together on the fly. And it helped that I have coordinating navy pants (more economical option) to wear with this Veronica Beard Miller dickey blazer.
For my funeral appropriate outfit I chose to wear basically a navy pants suit. But that’s not to imply that your only option is pants and a blazer. A dress or skirt would be nice choices, too. I think the maxi dress below would even be a nice choice. And that dress does come in black as well, so that would make a great dress to keep in your closet for such occasions.
Do you have to wear dark colors? No, not necessarily, unless you know that is the custom of the church where you will be attending the service or you believe that would be the family’s wishes. But if you do choose to wear something lighter I’d still keep the overall tone of the ensemble subdued and classy. Something like the outfit below might even be appropriate during the spring or summer.
Of course if you are the closest family member – the widow, child or parent – of the deceased, I believe you have the privilege of setting the tone for the service with what you wear. You may want to wear your loved one’s favorite color or a dress he or she especially loved to see you in.
But you’ll also want to wear something that you feel comfortable in. It may be a long and hard day, so you want to have on clothing that allows you to be at your best.
In the end, I think it’s best we agree that the grieving family probably will not remember what we wear – unless we foolishly wear something truly inappropriate – but they will remember our presence. The key is simply to wear something that doesn’t distract or dishonor so that we can participate in this meaningful day in a positive way.
One final thought. You can dress more casually for a funeral or memorial service than I have done here. In general our world is dressing much less formally these days, and I’ve been to memorial services where people were dressed very casually. But in this situation I do think it is wiser to err on the side of being more dressed up rather than too casual.
Take the Challenge: I created a funeral-appropriate outfit straight from my closet. See if you can do the same.
Do you have other tips for what to wear (or not to wear) to a memorial service? Or maybe you’d like to share a personal experience about dressing appropriately for a funeral. I’d love for you to join the conversation today.
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Blessed for My Day
Sometimes Job’s three friends get a bad rap. Yes, they said a lot of things to their grieving friend that would have best been not said. And we can learn from them what not to say at a funeral. A memorial service is no place for blame or pious platitudes or simplistic formulas for life.
But one thing Job’s friends got right: they showed up. They sat in Job’s grief with him. He didn’t have to grieve alone. And for seven days and nights they didn’t say a word. Don’t ever think that you have to say just the right thing to your grieving friend or family member. Most of the time all you have to do is show up.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite … Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. ~ Job 2:11-13
20 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Funeral or Memorial Service”
Very good advice. Thank you for this post as we all face these difficult situations. And for the reminder to have something appropriate in our own closet for these times.
I really appreciated this post. I subscribe to several fashion bloggers, but you have the unique niche of being a minister’s wife, and I appreciate your advice from your perspective. Until somewhat recently, I had never lost anyone close to me and so lacked that experience to help me know what to wear and what to say. My father passed away suddenly about a year and a half ago. We had just left home that morning on a trip and I only had one outfit that was remotely appropriate for the turn my day took. I truly didn’t care what people were wearing, but WHO came will be forever etched in my memory. Hugs, their presence, and precious memories, were what were most comforting.
I am wondering how the VB pants run? I know you usually wear an 8 or 10 so what size fit best in this pant? Thank you!
Hi Barb. I’m wearing a 10, which is what I should wear according to their size guide. So I’d say they run true to size. They have a lot of stretch.
I keep a sleeveless black sheath dress just for somber occasions because I can add a jacket or coat depending on the season/weather. I think dressing for the occasion is a way of showing the family my support. Keep in mind memorial color in some cultures are not black.
Thank you for your Post today it was Spot on and so was the Blessing of the Day , as a Retired Palliative Care Nurse , I found peoples biggest fear was what to say to either the person who was terminally ill or to the bereaved family , and really to Just be there! Even if you just sit saying nothing but listen , hold a hand , touch an arm/shoulder as long as its a comfortable and empathetic silence its OK , just be there and don’t be scared. Kay Im pleased you showed a Navy Blue outfit for Funeral , I own nothing Black and its always worried me a little when I wear Navy if its appropriate . When my brother was dying last July , Bless him he always thought of others , he said “Kym I hate Black so ask people to wear any of my favourite colours , they can wear Blue from the lightest Sky to the deepest Night Blue , or Sage Green is another favourite of mine , or Mustard or Tan , but tell people to really not worry , just come to my funeral and relax” , He was such a Lovely young man❤️Xx
Excellent post! I have been to many funerals and I tell my daughters to have appropriate attire for this occasion. If someone close to you dies, the last thing you want to do is go shopping. I remember having to shop for an outfit for my mother to be buried in. Not fun. No one thinks of having something to be buried in either-too morbid!
Kay some very kind and appropriate words about funerals and just being there for the family of the loved ones. I have lost many close family members, and loved ones and kind words and being there are more appreciated than they could ever imagine. Very nice choices for dress attire too. God bless.
Thank you for this beautifully written article. As the wife of a second generation funeral director I see so many people come to visitations and funerals dressed far too casually. (Shorts and flip flops). I feel more people should view attending a funeral like they would a church service.
Hi Kay, I think dark or subdued colors are most appropriate to wear to a funeral, especially if you are not a close family member. Floral dresses seem a bit “off” to me. I also feel it is best to dress up a little to show respect. In the summer a simple linen or cotton dress in a solid, darker color is fine. I would avoid bright florals and exuberant colors. Same those for weddings you attend.
Hi Melissa. I generally agree, but I still think we have to consider more than tradition. The floral dress I showed was mentioned as an option for the widow or other close family member. I distinctly remember a treasures youth choir director – whose young husband died suddenly – wearing a white dress to his memorial service. Generally she wore very bold, bright colors. She was young and had young children, too. Her white dress seemed perfect for her and appropriate for her godly husband’s homecoming. So I do believe that while we certainly need to consider tradition, the church setting and the type of service, in the end the choices are personal and sometimes unique.
My best friend’s mother died while I was out of town on vacation. I had packed very casual clothes for the trip, and just had time to go directly to the funeral from the airport. While I might have received some strange looks for showing up in vacation attire, my friend just grabbed me in a big hug and thanked me so much for coming. She still remembers to this day that I was there fir her that day and in the days since, and we’ve had a chuckle since over my it since.
Sometimes there may be more to the story of how someone is dressed – just sayin’
I absolutely agree, Nancy. And your presence was a treasure I’m sure.
I lost my Mom in 2020, right in the pandemic. Because of that, we could only do a graveside service. Mom never wore black, and as she was almost 95, I had heard it frequently so I knew she would not want me in black that day. I wore a Tommy Bahama dress that was very colorful, with flowers and birds on it, 2 of her favorite things. I felt that dress honored her memory more than a black one would.
Thank you for this post, Kay. This was very timely for us, unfortunately. I love your message regarding showing up for a service or celebration. It’s sometimes easy to back out if you think you don’t have the right outfit. We all have basics, and attending is what matters most.
Thank you for this post. You have obviously put a lot of time, energy and thought into this matter. And you’re absolutely right that we need clothing already in our wardrobe to wear at such a time as this. Everything you said — ALL are such good reminders, tips and advice — humbly stated. Thank you again.
Having an outfit you know is appropriate for funerals and other serious occasions is completely necessary. About 5 years ago I found a wonderful navy small pinstriped blazer, dress and pants. It certainly has served me well for these important occasions. I also have black faux suede dress, which I wear with black tights and flat booties that is also a go-to piece. I have found myself at an age where I attend funerals and memorials services and I need to be able to shop my closet. My mother believed in having a “uniform” in her closet that she could go to and immediately know that she looked sharp and polished. My parents were wonderful in how they prepared my sister and me to show-up for these difficult occasions. my mother taught us to follow-up with a note of condolence after the memorial. I believe this is an important practice in showing we care.
I love your posts and videos but this post on how to dress for a memorial service upset me. We know how to wear black and we don’t need fashion advice on this. I recently went through this with my beautiful mom in 2022. I just don’t think we need this advice because it is not fashion. Just so sad for Mr to see that you had to write you dressed for my day pointed toward a grieving event. I’m saddened to see this and it took me a while to put this out there.
It’s a shame this blog post upset you. But please don’t speak for others when you say “we” don’t need this advice. I found it very helpful myself. Kay has talked about this before and it inspired me to finally buy some blazers and appropriate skirts/pants. I now am truly prepared for ANY occasion. You say the advice isn’t about fashion but i’m sorry, you are wrong. Here is just one definition of “fashion” from my dictionary: “The prevailing style or custom, as in dress or behavior”. Sounds like the advice here IS indeed about fashion. Maybe next time, just skip reading a blog post that bothers you or doesn’t apply to you? Just a thought. Have a great day!
I’m so grateful that you’ve helped us think through the pieces we might need for various occasions. While I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, I do want to look current, age-appropriate, and have the clothes I need when I need them. Your posts are helping me evolve my closet and prepare so I’m not stressed to find something at the last minute, forced to buy something I don’t really like, or spend more than I want to. I’m finding it helps me take the focus off myself because I’m not worried about my clothes. I was privileged to sing in an Easter choir, and with your guidance, felt confident in what I was wearing and able to celebrate and focus on Christ’s resurrection. Thank you!