How to dress for a wake or viewing ceremony

4 min read

Appropriate attire to wear to a wake, viewing, or visitation

  • A viewing ceremony or a wake is a mourning ritual that is held to view your loved one after they have passed.

  • This type of ceremony is a part of the funeral and mourning traditions of a number of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.

  • Hindus typically wear all white to traditional funerals but with any ceremony it is best to check with the family to confirm the dress code.

  • Western wakes, visitations, and viewing ceremonies typically require staid, dark-colored clothing, but it is less formal than a funeral service.

When you’ve been invited to attend a wake or viewing, it’s important to dress appropriately. Of course, different religions have different definitions of appropriate dress for these occasions.

Many different cultures and religions—from Buddhists to Hindus to Catholics—hold viewings as part of their funeral and mourning traditions. One can’t assume that the same attire is appropriate for all of them. That said, even if you know the family’s religious affiliation, they may not be holding a religious ceremony for the wake or viewing.

Follow the family’s lead

Wait for their cue before using your own judgment to plan your outfit. For example, at traditional Hindu ceremonies it is customary to wear all white. But don’t assume that is the dress code for a Hindu family’s viewing ceremony.

If they specify that they will be holding a traditional antyesti ceremony then the dress code more than likely will be all white. If not, that may not be the case. And of course, always follow any advice the family offers on attire. 

If the wake is coming up and the family has not provided any information on the requested attire, it’s OK to ask. While they’re sure to be dealing with a lot right now, they will appreciate you wanting to respect their cultural traditions.

If you don’t want to ask the family directly—if you don’t know them well enough but still want to pay your respects, for instance—you can also ask the funeral home or venue where the wake or viewing will be held. They will be able to tell you what kind of ceremony will be taking place, and you can use your best judgment from there. 

Wake attire in the West

If the family is following traditional Western customs for the ceremony, you should plan to dress in dark, muted colors (like black, gray, navy, dark red, or brown) and conservative style.

Both Catholic and Protestant denominations hold wakes and visitations to view their loved ones.

Viewing ceremonies can also be a part of Buddhist death rituals, with a portrait of the loved one placed in front of the casket along with an image of Buddha as well as candles, fruits, and incense. 

Generally, a wake calls for less dressy attire than a funeral, but it should still be formal and modest. This is not the occasion to wear any flashy items, and jewelry can be worn but should be modest and minimal.

Avoid wearing bright colors or anything that draws attention to yourself.

Men can wear a suit and tie, or a long sleeve button-down shirt with dark-colored pants and dress shoes. If it’s cold, a dark-colored sport coat is appropriate.

Women can wear a dress or skirt, but of course, formal dress pants, a long-sleeve blouse or button-up, or a blazer with dark-colored shoes are equally OK. 

No matter your gender expression, the bottom line is to dress in dark colors with simple, modest, formal, clean clothing. 

What not to wear

Avoid wearing bright colors or anything that draws attention to yourself. Similarly, don’t wear anything too casual like a baseball cap, jeans, or shorts, or clothing with a wild pattern, text, or logo on it. 

Of course, children may not have as many clothing options as adults, and if you are bringing a little one, you don’t have to agonize over their clothing, as long as it’s a dark color and somewhat less casual than everyday attire. 

If the family is holding an alternative type of ceremony—for instance, a celebration of life—and they ask you to dress in a different way, then, by all means, follow their lead.

If they are holding a culturally specific ceremony, even if you don’t get it 100% right, they will surely appreciate your effort to honor their customs. After all, dressing appropriately at a wake is about showing respect to the deceased and their loved ones. 

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.