What to Wear to a Funeral and Other Funeral Etiquette
What to wear to a funeral is only the beginning. If you’ve got questions about the etiquette for funerals, we’ve got your back. In this guide, we cover everything from what to wear, to how to offer condolences, to whether to bring flowers.
There are currently about 7.5 billion people on earth. We come in all shapes and sizes, speak thousands of languages, and are spread across hundreds of countries, but we all have one thing in common. Every one of us dies.
So chances are, you’re going to find yourself attending a funeral at some point in your life. Here’s how to handle the situation like a gentleman.
This article refers to the primary traditions of funerals in the United States, where the majority of our readers reside. But traditions vary. Do you follow different customs we didn’t cover here? Add to the article by leaving us a comment below.
Funeral Attire for Men
Dressing for a funeral is pretty simple. In fact, if you just focus on keeping it simple, you’ll steer clear of a lot of pitfalls.
Start with a simple suit. In this context, simple means a dark, solid colored suit. Lots of guys love wearing black suits and we’re often explaining to them how black can be limiting when it comes to dressing your best. For a funeral, however, black is a smart choice. It’s a suit that says “paying my respects” from the moment you arrive.
The shirt should be solid white, the most formal shirt color, and for this outfit, black socks and black shoes are a must. Top off the outfit with tasteful accessories, a solid black or gray tie, a white pocket square. (Though pocket squares can be made flashy, think brightly colored, paisley-patterned ones, they don’t have to be. A neatly folded, white square keeps the look somber and sophisticated. Plus, you never know if your Aunt Deb might need a handkerchief.) Hold the bling. Save the cufflinks and the tie bars for a little more celebratory occasion.
Above: White Broadcloth Custom Dress Shirt
by Black Lapel
A Non-White Dress Shirt
Above: Steel Micro Solid Tie
by Calvin Klein
A Brightly Colored Tie
Above: Solid White Pocket Square
by Black Lapel
A Flashy Pocket Square
Above: Solid Men’s Socks
by The Tie Bar
Bling of Any Kind
Above: Mac Oxford
by To Boot New York
“Don’t have a black suit… go with a dark suit like a navy blue or charcoal gray…”
Don’t have a black suit. Do not, repeat DO NOT, try something creative like wearing a black tuxedo. That says festive and that’s not the vibe we’re after. Instead, go with a dark suit like a navy blue or charcoal gray and finish it off with solemn accessories as we described above in shades of gray or dark blue.
More funeral etiquette
With the clothing out of the way, you may still be wondering about how to act at a funeral. Here are some of the questions that come up frequently.
What to say at a funeral
Traditional phrases like “my condolences” might sound a little wooden coming out of your mouth. While you’re attending a wedding to be respectful, you don’t have to suddenly become a Shakespearean actor and start using words that are not part of your normal vocabulary. Instead, take a more natural approach.
What’s natural? That depends, but an easy way to figure out what to say to the loved ones of the deceased is to break things down by your greeting, are you giving hugs or handshakes?
“…focus on empathy. A simple “this must be tough,” or “we’ll miss him,” shows that you are in the same boat as the other mourners. The key is to try to name the feeling, rather than fix the situation or advise people on how to grieve.”
If you are greeting the loved ones of the deceased with hugs, you may be one of the loved ones, a family member, or close friend, say. In that case, you really don’t have to say anything. A hug conveys a lot.
If you do want to say something and find yourself at a loss for words, focus on empathy. A simple “this must be tough,” or “we’ll miss him,” shows that you are in the same boat as the other mourners. The key is to try to name the feeling, rather than fix the situation or advise people on how to grieve. Resist the urge to add a command like, “keep his memory alive by…” to the above statements. If people want your advice on what to do after the passing of a loved one, they’ll ask for it, but the funeral is probably not the time or place to play grief counselor.
If you’re on a handshake level with the loved ones, focus more on giving context at the funeral. For example, the last thing your high school basketball coach’s widow needs to worry about at his funeral is remembering all the faces and names of every player he ever coached. Something simple like “I’m sorry for your loss, I played for Coach Thompson,” succinctly lets everybody know why you’re there. A short follow-up highlighting your connection to the deceased is appropriate, “He taught me a lot about leadership on that team and I still use those lessons every day in my work.”
Should You Bring Flowers?
No. Bringing flowers to a funeral is not appropriate. Sending flowers ahead of time is an acceptable, and thoughtful, way of expressing your sympathy. Be careful to follow the family’s customs, though. Sending flowers after the death of someone of the Orthodox Jewish faith would be considered inappropriate, for example.
Check the death notice or obituary that appears in the local newspaper (or on the local newspaper’s website) for guidelines. You’ll get guidance on whether to send flowers at all (some families will request that, in lieu of flowers a donation be made in the name of the deceased) and where to send them.
Where to sit at a funeral
The rules here are pretty straightforward, if you’re family, you sit in the very front. Close friends sit just behind the family. Acquaintances and co-workers fill in behind.
Should You Sign the Guestbook?
Yes, the guestbook is a way for the family of the deceased to note who attended the funeral, so don’t be bashful about signing. If you’re not sure the close family members will recognize your name, add some context by writing down how you know the deceased by adding words like “coworker” or in our basketball coach example from above “former player.”
It’s important to note, however, that the guestbook is not the place to offer condolences. If you’d like to send a note along, do that separately. The guestbook should be just that, a record of the guests.
The most important thing about funerals
Woody Allen famously quipped that “showing up is 80 percent of life.” That applies to funerals too. What you wear, how you act, these things show respect, but showing up to pay your respects and show sympathy for the grieving is the important thing.
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