A funeral is a time of remembrance. You gather with your family and friends to remember the precious times spent with your loved one: their smile, their laughter, and all the ways they made your lives special, and the world a better place.
A funeral isn’t a time to fuss over what you are wearing. The tradition of wearing black to a funeral goes back hundreds of years, and for many people, makes dressing for funeral services easy. However, this tradition is evolving. Below is the history of this custom, and how it is changing to reflect our new funeral traditions.
In the United States, it is common for black clothing to be worn to a wake, funeral, or other mourning service. But where did this custom come from? Many of our funeral customs come from England, where wearing black while in mourning was common by the 19th century. This was made popular in part by Queen Victoria, who wore black mourning dress for the decades following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, until her own death in 1901.
During the 19th century, mourning dress wasn’t confined to the funeral itself, and often lasted months, if not years. It was considered appropriate to wear black for a full year following the funeral. Mourners could then ease into wearing other colors, such as green or purple, before coming fully out of mourning and wearing bright colors again. How long mourning lasted depended on how closely related the mourner was to the deceased. Widows, for example, were expected to wear mourning dress longer than anyone else.
These customs carried over into American life. However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, mourning was often expensive for everyone but the upper echelons of society. It wasn’t common for working-class families to keep clothing that could only be worn for one specific occasion, and many families had to dye their existing clothing black for funerals.
Thankfully, our ideas around funeral attire has changed. Not only do we no longer have to wear black for months following the death of a loved one, but it is becoming common to not wear black at all for funerals. As we embrace new traditions like ash scattering ceremonies, and celebrations of life, brighter colors that celebrate our loved one’s personalities and lives have become popular.
However, in many cases, black is still appropriate. One of the advantages to an all- or mostly-black outfit for a funeral is that it takes attention off the mourners, and puts it onto the deceased. It also makes it relatively easy to decide on an outfit, as you won’t have to decide between colors, patterns, and whether something matches with something else.
That said, in most instances, it is no longer a faux pas to wear colorful clothing to a funeral. When deciding on a funeral outfit it’s important to keep in mind the personality of the deceased, and the expectations of the family.
Outdoor funeral services during winter, such as graveside services, pose the extra challenge of staying warm. In this case, layering is key. What keeps you warm in cold weather is less about the thickness of each layer, and more about creating several layers of air in between each layer of clothing.
For example, it’s smart to begin with a base layer of polyester, wool or silk. This will wick away any skin moisture and will continue to keep you warm and dry, unlike cotton, which takes a long time to dry and doesn’t keep you warm while wet.
Then, you can add additional layers, like a shirt, sweater, vest, and coat. The more layers, the better, even if they are thin. You should pay special attention to keeping your ears, hands, and feet warm. Wool is a good choice for socks, gloves, and hats.
It doesn’t matter if your under layers aren’t black. No one will see them, and what matters most is staying warm. If you don’t own a black coat, neutral colors like camel, gray, lilac or olive are good choices.
If you are unsure what to wear to a funeral, reach out to whoever invited you, and ask what they will be wearing. If you are close to the person closest to the deceased, you can ask them, too. Funerals are for honoring your loved one. They are not a time to be stressing about what you are wearing. To avoid this, don’t feel shy about reaching out, and asking what you should wear.
Horan & McConaty is here to help you every step of the way. We can provide guidance about what to wear to a funeral, and answer any other questions you might have about planning or attending funeral services. If you have any questions or want to learn more about our funeral services, please give us a call at any of our seven Denver Metro locations. We are available 24/7.
This article references the following:
"English Funeral and mourning clothing" England: The Other Within: Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford University.
"Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire" www.metmuseum.org.