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What Should You Wear to a Funeral?

There are many different types of funerals, from the traditional to the unique, which can influence the dress code. Typically, British funerals require a formal attire of black clothing, with other dark, muted colours generally accepted. However, in recent years, colourful clothing has become more commonly worn to funerals. But is this considered appropriate? 

Distinct Cremations surveyed Brits, asking for their opinions on funeral attire, to find out whether the strict etiquette around the topic has relaxed or is still intact. In this blog post, you’ll also find out where these traditions come from and the definitive dos and don’ts of funeral clothing.

The tradition of funeral attire 

Black clothing has long been associated with funerals in the Western world. This tradition is often first connected to the Roman Empire, as it’s believed they wore dark-coloured togas when mourning. During the Victorian period, mourners wore black clothing for the funeral and close relatives continued to for one full year after the date of death. To signify a ‘half-mourning period’, people would introduce other dark colours, such as dark green. In 1861, Queen Victoria took this further and wore dark, sombre colours to show respect for her late husband, Prince Albert, until the day of her death 40 years later. It’s still customary for members of the royal family to wear black for the mourning period. For the funerals, working royals must wear military uniforms while attendees wear black, with royal women often wearing black veils. Many other cultures mourn wearing different colours. In Hong Kong, people traditionally wear white to funerals, which is often associated with death in many Asian cultures. Wearing white is also common for those who practice Hinduism, as it symbolises purity and spiritual enlightenment. White is customary for many Muslim funerals, too — associating the colour with humility, purity of the soul and hope that Allah will accept it.

What do Brits wear to funerals today? 

Black is still the top choice for funeral attire, with over one in six Brits opting for the option in our survey. A tenth of Brits said mourners should wear colour to funerals — nearly half of those who preferred black funeral clothing. However, over two-thirds of respondents didn’t have a preference, suggesting the strict etiquette around funeral attire has relaxed. 

Why do people prefer black funeral attire? 

Of the people who said mourners should wear black, 66% believed it was the most respectful option, and another 53% said it was the most traditional in Western society. Only 6% of respondents choosing black funeral attire said it would be offensive to wear anything else, but 47% said that black clothing was an appropriate way to express grief. In 2018, Sky News presenter Colin Brazier politely asked attendees to wear black instead of bright colours to his wife’s funeral, stating it was “unfair on children to insist that a funeral should mean rejoicing in a life now passed”. He added that wearing black gave people a licence to get upset while wearing colour can “inhibit the necessary catharsis of the grieving process”.

Why do people prefer colourful funeral attire? 

In the past year, online searches for ‘colourful funeral’ and ‘colourful funeral outfit’ increased by 25% and 16% respectively, indicating a growing trend. Of the survey respondents who said mourners should wear colour to a funeral, the top reason (chosen by 85%) was that it celebrated the deceased person’s life, followed by four in ten who believed it made funerals less depressing. Additionally, just over one in 20 said they wouldn’t feel like themselves wearing black for the service. A celebratory funeral often includes bright colours, upbeat music, funny tales about the deceased’s life, and a celebrant leading the service in a personal and positive tone. This funeral style can also help mourners honour the personality of the deceased. At the funeral of Dame Vivienne Westwood, several attendees honoured the British fashion designer’s famous punk aesthetic with bright colours and patterns. However, several other people opted to continue the tradition of wearing black. 

Distinct Cremations found that online searches for 'funeral celebrants near me' grew by 30% in the past year worldwide, and searches for ‘celebration of life funeral’ grew by 17% in the UK, suggesting this funeral style continues to grow in popularity. A small percentage also chose colour because it’s the most traditional or appropriate in certain cultures. For example, red has been adopted as a colour of mourning in the Republic of South Africa since the Apartheid era. 

What type of clothing is most appropriate? 

As well as the colour, the type of clothing to wear to funerals is also important. Wearing the wrong thing can cause offence, divert attention from the ceremony to yourself, or simply cause you discomfort throughout the day. In early 2023, a Reddit user asked for advice on UK funeral etiquette and what to wear. The most-liked comment recommended a black suit and tie or a dark jacket and trousers for men. For women, the commenter cited a black dress, black skirt, black top or black trousers as suitable options. Another commenter, claiming to be an undertaker, advised not to be the person ‘who thinks it’s some kind of fashion parade’ and to instead ‘dress neatly and conservatively’. Last year, the business owner of clothing store EdgyLittlePieces, received online criticism for suggesting a ‘disrespectful’ funeral outfit option — branding a black mini dress with extreme cut-out features as ‘perfect for a funeral fit’. When talking to the Huffington Post, Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, said athletic wear was at the top of the list of what not to wear to funerals. Other items cited as inappropriate for funerals in the article include: 

- Short clothing 

- Jeans 

- Glitter/sequins 

- Flip-flops 

- Trainers 

- Spaghetti straps 

- Low-cut dresses 

When dressing for a funeral, it’s most important to take on any requests from the deceased or their loved ones. If there isn’t a dress code and you want to wear something untraditional, consider reaching out to other attendees for guidance. However, if this isn’t possible, the safest option is to dress in formal, black, and modest attire.

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