One of my most iconic funeral memories from the 1980s was when Joan Collins made her first appearance in the American Series, Dynasty. She made her debut appearance in great style, arriving late to a family funeral, clearly uninvited, clip clopping into the church in seven-inch heels, a skin tight black designer suit and an exquisite veiled hat. This clearly unexpected entrance was accompanied by shocked gasps and whispers from the assembled congregation. Under the veil you could see her scarlet glossy red lipstick and the sparkly metallic eyeshadow framing her cow like eyelashes. Fabulous! However, much as I would love the dramatic impact of such an appearance, most of us do not feel that such an entrance would be in any way appropriate for a funeral and many of us are left worrying about what on earth we should wear to such an event.
It used to be a very simple rule: if you’re going got a funeral you need to wear black. Up until fairly recently, funeral ceremonies were primarily seen as events where the deceased was mourned and where sadness was the overriding emotion.
However, with our greater understanding of the grieving process and the knowledge of the therapeutic effect of celebrating a life rather than mourning a death, things have also changed in the sartorial department.
Obviously, there are some cultures which will still specifically require you to wear black. Indeed, in the UK, some, and it does tend to be older, more traditional families, would still prefer you to stick to the simple formal black or at least a dark colour in terms of dress code.
However, as our attitude to our own mortality changes, there are a growing number of families who actually ask you to wear bright colours in order to celebrate the deceased’s life. In addition, some might ask if you can wear a certain rugby or football shirt to represent the deceased’s hobbies or interests. At the heart of these requests is a desire for the funeral to truly represent the person who has did and to celebrate what they meant to the people around them.
The only rule now is to respect what the family has asked. They will often specify their wishes in newspaper or social media posts. If they haven’t then it is best to stick to the formal and dark code. Similarly, if they have requested an outfit which you don’t have. There has been a rise in “themed” funerals and, if you don’t have a storm trooper costume handy then it’s probably best to just play safe…
Dress as formally as you feel comfortable in a dark, though not necessarily black, colour. Jeans, no matter how smart, are usually seen as too casual no matter how expensive they might be – the same goes for trainers and flip flops. Funerals are usually multi-generational affairs so keep respectful. This also applies to the amount of flesh on show; you don’t want to detract attention form the person whose life is being celebrated.
In the same spirit of keeping the focus off you, hats are generally to be avoided, unless you are somebody who is known to always wear one.