What colors to wear to a funeral

5 min read

Dressing appropriately for funerals around the world

  • In the West, showing respect at a funeral typically requires conservative attire in black or dark colors.

  • However, white is the color of mourning in China, and for Sikh, Hindu, and some Muslim services.

  • For a non-traditional gathering like a celebration of life service, you may be asked to wear bright colors or even a costume.

  • In Thailand, mourners wear purple—and in Ghana and South Africa the color red is important for funeral services.

  • If you are not sure what is expected of you, ask. Adhering to the dress code is an important part of showing support for the surviving family and community.

When attending a funeral, it’s important to wear the appropriate clothing. But what’s considered appropriate can vary between cultures and religions.

While wearing black is the most common way to show respect and sympathy in Western society, the same can’t be said for other countries and some religions.

If someone you know has passed away, especially if you were not particularly close, but close enough to show your respect by attending the funeral, make sure you have at least some idea of what their culture is or what religion they practiced during their life.

In some situations, the family may request something special that’s completely non-traditional, like bright colors or some sort of costume. If that’s the case, then follow the family’s lead and dress how they want the guests to dress.

Wearing the appropriate attire for a funeral isnt so much about the person who has died, but about the surviving family members and letting them know you care enough to make an effort.

When to wear dark colors to a funeral

For the most part in Western society, wearing conservative attire in black—or dark colors like navy blue, burgundy, or dark gray—is best for a funeral.

Men should consider wearing a suit, if they have one or, if they don’t, wearing dress pants, a tie, sweater, or other clothing that one might wear if they worked in an office. Women, too, should dress in dark colors and keep their outfit modest.

There’s a time and a place for flashy clothing and jewelry, but a funeral is certainly not it. At the majority of funerals in the West, unless their religion dictates otherwise, black or dark colors are usually your safest options.

Wearing white to a funeral

If the person who has passed away was Hindu or Sikh, then the appropriate color to wear, for both men and women, is white.

Men can be dressed casually, to a degree, meaning they don’t need to wear a suit. Women, whether they choose to wear a dress or something else relatively conservative, should have their arms and knees covered.

 In China, white is also the color of mourning. However, unless you attend a funeral in China you might want to check with others or the funeral home to see if white will be the expected attire if the funeral is in the U.S. Just because someone has Chinese ancestry, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be having a Chinese funeral.

It’s OK to inquire about what type of funeral is being held. The last thing anyone wants to do is make the family of the deceased feel disrespected or uncomfortable.

Because Muslims consider the color white to be associated with humility, this is a color that’s often worn to their funerals. Although some people choose to wear dark colors, white is also acceptable. Women must also cover their hair at Muslim funerals

Although Jewish funerals don’t demand that attendees wear white, wearing dark colors isn’t necessary. Instead, the attire should be formal and modest, and men should wear yarmulkes. 

When bright colors are encouraged

Although funerals are generally held to mourn someone who has passed away, if the service is a celebration of life instead, then bright colors aren’t just acceptable, but the dress code.

With these services, it’s not about wearing black, formal attire and being somber. Rather, the focus is on being colorful and wearing casual clothing.

While this isn’t to suggest that there won’t be grieving, the focus is on the life of the person who’s gone, as opposed to their death, and all the wonderful things they did while they were alive.

In some African countries, as well as the Caribbean and West Indies, bright colors are also the most appropriate. Because, like celebration of life services, these cultures focus on the life they lived more than their death.

However, just because bright colors are worn, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to show up in revealing clothing or something overly casual like jeans and a t-shirt.

When purple or red is appropriate for a funeral

Attendees of South African funerals sometimes wear bright colors like red. And in Ghana,  red and black are worn by the immediate family, while others wear white and black. Dressing smartly is the expected dress code.

In Brazil, purple is sometimes worn with black or worn instead of black. And in Thailand, purple is the color of mourning. It’s worn during funerals and widows wear it throughout their mourning period.

Adjusting for the temperature

Trying to figure out what to wear to a funeral in the hot weather can feel a bit daunting, especially if you’re attending one in which black is going to be the appropriate color.

But if you keep in mind that fabrics like linen and muslin are breathable, even when they’re dark, then conservative attire in these fabrics is what you want to wear.

On the other hand, dressing for a funeral that’s being held in the cold weather is definitely easier than dressing for hot weather. If the funeral is outside, it’s completely fine to wear gloves, scarves, and hats to stay warm. As long as you adhere to the other appropriate details of the funeral’s attire, bundling up is more than fine. 

It’s OK to inquire about what type of funeral is being held. The last thing anyone wants to do is make the family of the deceased feel disrespected or uncomfortable.

If you’re not sure if the funeral will be traditional based on the person’s faith or culture, confirm with the funeral home before you go. They’re certain to know what kind of services the family has requested.

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