What to Wear to a Funeral in the UK
Many people take pleasure in dressing well and picking the perfect outfit for significant occasions. However, when it comes to planning what to wear for a funeral, it’s usually a sombre affair, guided more by sadness and tradition than sartorial snappiness.
The core purpose of any funeral is to honour the deceased; to respect their wishes - and those of their family - in mourning their passing and celebrating their life. There is a bittersweet irony in the essence of a funeral too. Despite the inner turmoil, grief and sadness that mourners are experiencing, they come together as one, projecting a stoic respect for the deceased - and their appearance is key in showing this unity.
While there are many different types of funerals, each with their own dress code and requirements, looking respectful and smart is the common thread. A funeral outfit doesn’t have to cost a fortune as long as it meets these two core requirements and is in keeping with the wishes of the family of the deceased.
In this guide, we take a look at the established traditions around funeral attire and also the situations when a departure from dark colours and conservative dress are the order of the day.
Do I have to wear black for a funeral?
For most traditional funerals in the UK, the widely accepted dress code is a combination of black and other dark colours with modestly tailored cuts that show respect for the departed. Suits for men and long dresses for women. While this is a safe ‘fall-back’ for a funeral where the dress code is not specified, it is not universal. In fact, wearing black to a Sikh or Hindu funeral is considered inappropriate and white garments are the norm.
These days, more people are requesting mourners wear brightly coloured clothing or sometimes even fancy dress. And of course, many religions and cultures traditionally wear colours other than black at funerals.
How black became the colour of mourning in the UK and Western cultures
In Western and European cultures, black is still considered the traditional colour of mourning. The origins of this can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire, where black garments - or toga pulla - were worn to funerals and sombre events.
Historians have noted that as this custom became more prevalent in Roman society, the family of the deceased would also wear black togas during an extended period of mourning.
Because of the Roman Empire’s lasting influence on Britain, this tradition continued, though to a lesser extent, throughout mediaeval times. White was actually a more common colour for mourning attire in Britain and Europe as it symbolises purity and rebirth - and perhaps more significantly - was the cheapest possible fabric as it did not need dyeing.
It was undeniably the dramatic, extended mourning period of Queen Victoria - which lasted from the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, until her own death 40 years later - that really took the trend for black mainstream again.
Fast forward to the early 20th century, the First World War and the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918-19 brought so many deaths in Western Europe that black was perhaps the most commonly worn colour, as mourners dominated the streets of Europe’s cities and towns. Ironically this in effect led to the decline of the ‘official mourning period’, but cemented black as the colour of funeral fashion for the century ahead.
These days the colour black is a catwalk staple and is no longer associated only with mourning. It’s easier than ever to put together an outfit that combines fashion with a respectful and classic look that is suitable for a funeral.
Funeral fashion for women
Victoria Beckham was praised for her classy and respectful outfit at the funeral of iconic fashion designer, Dame Vivienne Westwood in 2022. At a service steeped in fashion history, she wore a simple black dress with a high neckline and long sleeves, accessorised with a black hat and a black clutch bag.
While not everyone has the budget (and the personal stylists) to conjure up such a cohesive look at short notice, the convenience of online shopping and the affordability of ready to wear fashion means that putting together your own funeral outfit doesn’t have to break the bank - or mean a day-long shopping trip.
Best types of womens dresses for a funeral
Unless the dress code specifies something else, it’s usually best to play it safe when planning a funeral outfit. Mini skirts, strapless dresses and the like are probably off the menu, with a longer hemline being more appropriate on this occasion. An elegant, modest dress - usually black or another dark colour and with some length to it - is the order of the day. Classic options for a funeral dress for women would be a black or navy
- sleeveless dress (perhaps with a shawl covering the shoulders)
- knee-length or longer dress
- long-sleeved dress.
Another great option for women attending a funeral is a smart trouser suit or a turtleneck jumper paired with trousers. By combining items here you can create a classic, contemporary outfit that is respectful and comfortable.
Adding a neatly-tailored blazer into the mix can also add propriety and a sharp look. The important thing to remember is to keep it classic and simple. It’s far better to turn up to a funeral in an understated outfit than something attention-seeking and extravagant.
Younger girls and teenagers may not have a huge collection of formal wear in their wardrobe, but should be able to piece together a smart and respectful outfit from what they do have in most cases. Choosing to work with a subtle colour palette of black, navy or grey is a good start as always. A pencil skirt, longer dress or smart trousers and a smart shirt in a neutral colour could be a good option.
Funerals come in all shapes and sizes - and so does funeral fashion
The fashion industry is waking up to the importance of body positivity and diversity, which is good news for those of us who are looking for the best plus size outfit for a funeral. It’s important to find a combination of clothes that is respectful, comfortable and makes you feel confident and strong.
Some of the top recommendations for a plus size funeral outfit are:
- A cape dress
- Black trousers paired with a coordinating tunic top
- A long black or navy dress
- A smart black jumpsuit
What about a summer funeral?
Long black dresses aren’t a natural wardrobe choice for most women in the summer months and attending a funeral during the hotter months can bring unique style challenges. It’s all about balancing an outfit that is cool and comfortable, yet not too revealing.
At a summer funeral, there will be more leniency in what is acceptable, and it should not cause offence to expand the colour palette as long as you stick to neutral colours like navy blue, grey, beige and maybe, even, white.
It could be a good call to wear a light cotton blouse in a lighter colour with a knee length skirt, maybe with a blazer or shawl in case you feel self conscious if others are in more traditional mourning attire. These days, however, as long as your outfit is not wildly outlandish, dress codes are fairly forgiving, especially as the summers seem to keep getting hotter in the UK.
Also, think about the fit of the garment and the fabric it is made from. A loose and floaty cotton dress or blouse will be much more comfortable than a tight dress or top made from synthetic fabric or wool.
If you are dressing in a light outfit meant for warm weather but feel the cold, remember to still take a shawl or scarf in case you feel cold inside the venue. Churches and air-conditioned chapels of rest can feel chilly away from the sunlight outside.
Five of the best fabrics to keep cool at a summer funeral
- Cotton - classic lightweight, breathable, and absorbent fabric.
- Linen- another natural fibre that is breathable and perfect for hot weather
- Silk - luxurious and cool to wear, great for formal occasions
- Bamboo - sustainable, soft, breathable, and absorbent and naturally UV resistant
- Rayon - a man-made fabric similar to linen. It is soft, lightweight, and breathable.
If there is an outdoor element to a summer funeral then it’s a good idea to wear a hat to provide some protection from the sun. Accessorise with a simple black fan and dark sunglasses.
The main thing to remember when putting together an outfit for a summer funeral is this - you want to be cool, but you also don’t want to feel out of place at a serious and sombre event.
Dressing for a funeral in winter
Because of their sombre nature, we associate funerals more with the bleaker winter months. In terms of planning an outfit for a winter funeral, it’s perhaps simpler than preparing for a summer funeral. Most people will have a variety of dark coats, trousers and jackets already in their wardrobe. A hat is also a good idea for a winter funeral - for further weather-proofing.
Try to retain a formal look so consider layering up with vests and jumpers and a smart overcoat rather than bringing out your skiing jacket and boots.
Dark and neutral coloured accessories like gloves and hats are totally fine, and if there is an outside service, it’s important to be protected from the elements so that honouring the deceased remains the focus, not the terrible weather.
It’s always good to be prepared, so take an umbrella - but of course, make sure it is not brightly coloured or patterned and is in keeping with the rest of your outfit.
Classic funeral clothing options for men
For men wondering what to wear to a funeral, the advice is the same as for women - dress on the side of modesty in dark, muted colours and make sure you will feel comfortable that you are hitting the dress code.
- Black suit: the most traditional and appropriate choice for a funeral. Make sure the suit is well-tailored and fits properly.
- White shirt: the most common choice for funerals. Make sure the shirt is clean and pressed.
- Black tie: the traditional choice for funerals.
- Black shoes: again, the most classic choice for funerals, though dark brown are also popular.
Can men wear navy or grey suits to a funeral?
Yes. These days, a dark navy or charcoal grey suit blends into a funeral setting almost as naturally as black. Again, paired with a simple white shirt and dark tie, a dark coloured suit is a perfectly acceptable outfit for a man to wear to a funeral in the UK.
What can men who don’t have a suit wear to a funeral?
Some people don’t own a suit and may find it hard (or financially impossible) to get hold of one in time for a funeral. In this instance it’s more than fine to wear a smart pair of dark coloured trousers and shoes (black if possible, but not essential) and a white or pale blue shirt.
If it’s during the winter months a dark overcoat may add gravitas to the look, but in the summer no coat or jacket and an open-necked shirt is fine.
Teenage (and younger) boys who are attending a funeral can follow most of the same established guidelines for mens’ funeral attire. If they don’t yet have a suit, then smart trousers and a freshly ironed shirt with, or without, a tie should do the trick.
Teenagers do not have to wear a fancy suit or incredibly formal outfit to a funeral, but it should always be smart, clean and respectful. It’s best to stick to the standard formula of black, navy or neutral colours.
If you MUST have a suit for a funeral… borrow or hire
If you feel that you will stand out too much without a suit at a funeral, you can always borrow or hire one, which is more sustainable and budget-friendly than buying an item of clothing that’s only going to be used a handful of times in the coming years.
Best foot forward: choosing the perfect funeral footwear
Attending a funeral can make for a long day, with a lot of time spent on your feet and possibly walking between venues. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that your footwear is comfortable - as well as being smart and suitable for the occasion.
The best shoes for women to wear to a funeral
When choosing shoes for a funeral consider the following:
- Solemnity: the shoes should be appropriate for a sombre occasion. Avoid anything too flashy or revealing.
- Comfort: You will likely be standing for long periods of time during the funeral, so make sure the shoes are comfortable and won't cause pain.
- Weather: Consider the weather conditions on the day of the funeral. If it is cold, you may want to wear boots or flats. If it is warm, you may want to wear simple sandals or loafers.
Five womens footwear options for a funeral
- Pumps or low heel shoes - a good allrounder with some ‘non-showy’ height
- Ballet flats - feminine and elegant but not ostentatious
- Ankle boots - a good option in the winter or paired with a long dress
- Mary Jane - buckled shoes that are understated but smart
- Loafers - perhaps more casual, but can be dressed up or down
Walk on by….. It’s generally best not to wear: excessively high stiletto heels, strappy heels, gold, silver or red heels, most open toe styles
The best shoes for men to wear to a funeral
For men attending a funeral the considerations are the same as for women - balancing propriety and comfort for a long day where you need to look smart throughout.
Three classic mens shoe styles to wear at a funeral
- Oxfords - classic and versatile, look great in black
- Brogues - another comfortable option for funerals. They are perfect for walking around and standing for long periods of time.
- Smart boots - comfortable and can be dressed up or down.
Is it ok to wear jewellery at a funeral?
A well-chosen brooch or pair of earrings can really complete the look when paired with certain outfits. When attending a funeral there is no reason you should not wear jewellery, as long as it is not overly flashy or attention-grabbing.
Remember, the funeral day is not about you - the focus is on honouring the deceased, and it’s important not to distract from this reverent act of respect.
Understated and classic is always the look to shoot for. Simple gold and silver bands, bracelets or necklaces are a safe choice as are pieces that relate to religious faith, a crucifix for a Christian, for example.
Pearls in particular have an association with mourning wear and funeral jewellery. The British Royal Family have followed a tradition of wearing pearls at funerals over the centuries. Both Catherine (Kate), Princess of Wales and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex were seen wearing pearls at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022.
This longstanding royal trend can again be traced back to the extended mourning of Queen Victoria, who wore pearls along with a black mourning dress for 40 years, until the end of her own life in 1901.
It’s also possible that your loved one had a piece of jewellery with a strong emotional or nostalgic significance which may have been passed down through the family upon death. Wearing such a piece at the funeral can be a personal and heartfelt tribute.
Looking to brighter days - colourful funerals with no black clothes
Although black is still the colour that dominates funeral garb in Western Europe, it’s becoming more common for some people to turn traditional funeral colour etiquette on its head and request that only bright colours are worn to their funeral.
This can be for many reasons; perhaps the deceased was a ‘larger than life’ personality, or the family would rather focus on a joyous celebration of life rather than a sad and sombre traditional mourning service. After all, surely life is not a black and white experience - but a kaleidoscopic journey of many colours and emotions?
Some funeral invitations may request that no black be worn, whereas others may state that black is merely ‘not necessary’ - leaving those who would rather dress traditionally able to do so without feeling they are not honouring the wishes of the deceased. It’s important you check with the family beforehand if you’re uncertain about any aspect of the dress code.
Unless there are very specific requests, it’s unlikely that you will be expected to attend a funeral in a neon pink or canary yellow dress suit or beach wear. Some more likely combinations might be:
- Smart trousers and a colourful shirt
- A vibrant, flowery dress or skirt
- A blue or green suit rather than the usual black
People who are exploring colours other than black for a funeral outfit may find that the colours white and purple often appear. White is the customary colour of mourning for many countries and religions around the world; Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, for example, and symbolises purity, rebirth and hope.
Purple is an emotive colour and has deep running associations with spirituality, royalty, trustworthiness and strength. Along with these associations, its lush, deep hue is reverent enough for a sombre occasion like a funeral where style is at the forefront.
It’s good to keep this in mind - unless there is a very specific request that guests wear something outlandish that reflects the deceased’s unique personality, it usually pays to keep your outfit smart, classic and not too revealing, but with a dash of colour thrown in.
Just as when attending a funeral with a traditional dress code, it’s paramount to honour the wishes of the deceased and their family.
A winning formula for the perfect funeral outfit
As we’ve seen in this guide, the most important aspect to any funeral - regardless of the type of service, culture or religion - is to stick to the dress code on the invitation and to keep the focus on honouring the memory of the deceased.
If you are unsure of what to wear, or don’t have time to buy a new outfit, stick with an outfit that uses dark colours, is smart and clean and will not draw undue attention to you in a crowd. Make sure your outfit is comfortable, matched to the weather forecast and that you will not feel self conscious.
On a day of many emotions, you want to be able to put all your energy into supporting the family of the deceased and your loved ones - not worrying about your wardrobe.
And remember, Fenix are here to help you arrange and plan any aspect of a funeral For a non binding and completely transparent quote, or even just advice, contact us today.