Funerals are a stressful life event, and not knowing what to wear only adds to this anxiety. Etiquette says that men should wear a black or dark-coloured suit to a funeral.
While most men choose to wear a suit to funerals, what do you do if you don't currently have a suit? Or if your suit is the wrong colour? This is a problem that a lot of people struggle with.
Knowing what to wear to a funeral is often very complex, and the answer isn't always straightforward.
Because most people don't attend funerals often, it's not always clear what to wear. Is it okay not to wear a suit? What do you do if you don't own any black clothing that fits the bill?
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If you're asking the dreaded "what should I wear" question, here are a few things men can wear to a funeral if they don't have a suit. Hint: it's not as stressful as it sounds!
Things to Consider
Before you put together an outfit, you'll want to think about a few things. Taking all of these into consideration first will help you better understand how you should dress.
Of course, you'll want to think about the departed. As a rule of thumb, if you were close to them, you'd probably end up dressing a little more formally.
If you're accompanying a spouse, friend or colleague, or if you weren't too close to the departed, then you don't need to dress formally (though doing so would still be appropriate).
Either way, you'll still have a limited dress code to work with. But, of course, you don't want to wear anything casual.
The Time of Year
If you're attending a funeral at the height of summer, you probably won't want to wear a three-piece suit.
Likewise, if it's wintertime, you'll want to layer strategically without calling attention to yourself. (In addition, consider if the funeral will happen mostly inside or outside.)
The Culture of the Family
Many cultures and faiths have specific procedures for funerals. For example, at a Chinese funeral, you may wear white with shades of pink or red if the deceased was 80 or older.
On the other hand, at an Orthodox Christian funeral, you'll almost always want to wear all-black, very modest clothing. When in doubt, check with the family of the deceased.
Wake Vs. Viewing Vs. Funeral
These three types of events are pretty similar but vary in degrees of formality. For example, awake is less formal and structured than at a funeral. All the same, you need to know what to wear to a funeral, viewing or sharp, so that you're prepared no matter the type of ceremony.
With all of that in mind, let's take a look at some potential clothing options.
Sport Coat, Dress Shirt, Necktie and Dress Pants
Perhaps you don't have a suit, but you do have a sports coat or blazer. Great, you are set. Pair your sport coat with a button-down shirt, necktie and dress pants. Keep your tie subtle in a dark colour.
Your dress shirt should be solid white if possible. As far as pants, a sport coat is not designed to be worn with matching trousers.
However, we recommend sticking to the rules of funeral suits for your pants. Black, grey or navy should be your first choices.
Brown or tan coloured pants are okay if this is your only option, and preferably worn with a dark-coloured sport coat. Keep your shoes dark and dressy.
While a full suit is difficult to borrow, you might want to reach out to family or friends to see if anyone of a similar size has a sport coat to loan you.
Sportcoats and blazers fit looser than suit jackets, so it's okay to wear one that's close to your size but not exact for this one-time event.
Button-Down Shirt, Necktie and Dress Pants
So if a sport coat isn't an option either, that's okay. Dress like you would if you were wearing a jacket.
Dark dress pants, a dress shirt and a dark-coloured tie. Since you're not wearing a jacket, you don't have to stick to a white dress shirt.
Still keep the pattern solid, but grey and black shirts are okay, too. (Stay away from bright colours and pastels.)
Opt for a long sleeve dress shirt over a short sleeve and keep the sleeves unrolled. Finish your outfit with dark dress shoes.
If you own a vest or waistcoat, you could add it on top of this ensemble as well. But, again, make sure it's a dark solid colour, even on the back.
Stay away from vests with shiny satin finishes, as this style is better suited for formal occasions like weddings, prom and galas.
Sweater and Dress Pants
Just like a suit, not everyone owns a dress shirt and tie, but this shouldn't stop you from attending a funeral.
A nice sweater and dress pants can be funeral appropriate, weather permitting. Keep both pieces of clothing dark, and any pattern on your shirt should be low key.
A fine knit is more appropriate than a chunky cable sweater, but the colour and pattern are more important than the weave.
Note the distinction between a sweater and a sweatshirt, as these two words are often used interchangeably. For example, a sweatshirt (think fleece, hoodie material) should not be worn to a funeral. A sweater is a knitted or crocheted shirt, often made from cotton or wool.
A sweater can also be worn on top of a button-down shirt and necktie for added warmth in colder temperatures.
Polo and Khakis
If none of the above options is possible, we suggest wearing a polo shirt and the dressiest pants you own, which may be a pair of khakis.
Again, dark colours are best for the polo shirt, and ideally, you should wear a black, dark grey or navy blue polo.
Be sure to tuck in your shirt and wear a black or brown belt and matching dress shoes. This is the most casual dress you should dress to attend a funeral.
You may be tempted to, but don't wear a tie with your polo shirt. A connection will make the polo shirt look more casual.
Be prepared to feel underdressed in this option. However, the reality is that no one is going to remember that you didn't wear a suit or a tie to a funeral. Instead, they will remember that you paid your respects, which is more important than wearing what "etiquette" says.
For your shoes, we highly recommend a pair of Oxfords. High-quality Oxfords will work well for most formal situations, and if you own any formal wear, you probably already own a pair.
Oxfords are classy yet subtle, so they're ideal for severe occasions like funerals. Make sure they're shined and scuff-free––you don't want to be the one guy with dirty shoes.
You might be wondering how much flexibility you have when it comes to shoes. The short answer: not much.
While other formal shoe options do exist, Oxfords are undoubtedly the most appropriate shoe for a funeral.
Sneakers are off-limits.
You should avoid more decorative shoes like brogues and wingtips unless you know for sure they're okay to wear. Derby shoes would work in a pinch, but Oxfords should be your first choice.
No Suit, No Problem
Not owning traditional funeral attire is no reason to skip a funeral.
You won't be kicked out of a funeral for not wearing a suit, but we suggest wearing an outfit that will blend in rather than start a conversation. (I.e. no shorts, tees and flip flops.)
So let's take a look at appropriate funeral attire when you don't have a suit.
Need help in planning a funeral service? Check out Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals in Melbourne.
Look for Neutral Colors
If you do have a suit, but it's not black, you might be in the clear. It's becoming less common to wear black as part of funeral etiquette.
That being said, most of the time, you should wear neutral colours unless instructed otherwise.
If you have a suit that's grey, navy, dark green, brown, or another neutral colour, it's most likely appropriate to wear to a funeral.
In addition, during the summer months, you might be able to get away with lighter coloured suits, especially if it's an outdoor service.
Dress Pants and Dress Shirt
You don't need to wear a suit to a funeral.
This is a common misconception, but you can wear a variety of formal clothing as a man. For example, wearing dark dress pants or slacks is very appropriate.
Pair your dress pants with a dress shirt, preferably a button-down. Long-sleeves are usually the norm unless the funeral is outdoors in the summertime.
The slacks should be neutral coloured or black, and your dress shirt should be white or another complimentary colour.
Add a Simple Tie
If you feel like your clothing isn't upscale enough for the occasion, accessorise. For example, adding a tie is a great way to take dress pants and a button-down up a level.
Just make sure your tie is simple. Avoid any loud patterns or bright colours. Again, a neutral colour is best.
Wear Dress Shoes
Shoes do a lot for an outfit. But, again, you might need to dress up your slacks and button-down, and shoes are a great way to do this.
You should never wear sandals, flip-flops, or sneakers to a funeral unless instructed otherwise.
The best dress shoes are wingtips, loafers, or oxfords. Make sure they're in good shape and that they're clean. Black or brown are the best colours.
Consider the Weather
If the funeral is outdoors or during the summer months, you might not be expected to wear a suit at all.
Many summer funerals are much more casual, especially if there's an outdoor or graveside service.
Always consider the weather when choosing what to wear. For example, wearing short sleeves, such as a polo shirt or short-sleeve button-up, are very common in the summer.
While you shouldn't wear shorts, it might be appropriate to wear lighter pants such as chinos or linen dress pants.
Go Thrift Shopping
If you must wear a suit to the funeral, you don't have to buy it out at the total price. These can cost thousands of dollars, which isn't likely to be an outfit you often wear.
Luckily, many local thrift stores have sections with dress attire, including full suits and blazers.
To make sure your suit looks its best, have it professionally dry cleaned and tailored to your body shape. These small details aren't expensive, but they make a big difference.
Borrow a Suit
Do you have a family member or friend who's similar to your size? If so, a simple solution is to borrow a suit from someone you know.
This is an excellent idea if they're not attending the funeral or if they happen to have more than one formalwear option in their wardrobe.
Rent a Suit
A lot of men choose to rent a suit on formal occasions from a rental outlet. These places specialise in one-time wear clothing that's high-quality and affordable.
If you don't anticipate needing your suit for more than the funeral, this is a money-saving alternative.
At a suit rental outlet, you're sized for a suit by a professional. From there, you can rent the suit for a specific time for a fraction of the cost of a new suit.
In addition, these outlets are a vital resource for finding help with what to wear to a funeral.
Attend the Wake
If you're not particularly close to the deceased but you'd like to pay respects, consider skipping the funeral.
Instead, attend the wake or family visitation. More and more families are keeping the actual funeral a small, intimate affair to keep costs low.
The wake is a great way to show your respects without the same formal wardrobe. Wake attire is less formal, and it's more appropriate to wear clothes you already have around your house.
An alternative to a suit is to wear different types of outerwear. While this depends on the weather, you might be able to wear a simple coat or jacket.
Many of these options are not only appropriate for colder, rainy clients, but they can add a level of sophistication to your outfit.
Wearing these over a white shirt or sweater gives the appearance of looking very put together, even if you're not in a traditional suit.
Depending on the service, however, you may need to remove your outerwear at some point.
Wear a Cardigan or Vest
If you don't have a blazer and it's not cold enough for formal outerwear, you could wear a cardigan or a vest.
These come in various styles, and it's easy to find one that's sophisticated enough for a funeral service.
Not only are these more comfortable, but they're easy to pair with a plain button-down or collared shirt.
You don't have to be over-the-top dressy to look conservative and appropriate for a funeral service.
Tidy Your Appearance
While it doesn't always matter what you wear, it does matter that you look put together and presentable. It's essential to arrive at the service clean and ready.
Your clothing, whatever you choose to wear, should be conservative, clean, and wrinkle-free. If possible, iron or steam your outfit the day before, so it looks its best.
In addition, style your hair and groom yourself, so you look presentable.
This little bit of effort goes a long way to showing the family you care about being there on this important day.
Remember What Matters
Finally, remember that it doesn't matter what you wear. Attending a funeral isn't a fashion show.
This is a chance to pay your respects to the deceased and his or her family. But, of course, most people won't remember what you're wearing, so don't let your wardrobe keep you from attending a funeral.
Unlike other formal events like weddings or celebrations, there isn't much time to plan.
The family will understand if you're caught off guard and might not have a suit ready and available. Your clothing doesn't need to be perfect.
Can You Wear Jeans to a Funeral?
Now unless you've explicitly been told to dress casually, avoid wearing jeans to a funeral at all costs.
A funeral is already uncomfortable, and you don't want to feel completely out of place being the only person wearing jeans.
Do everything you can to find a pair of dress pants or even khakis in time for the funeral.
Borrow a pair from a friend, go shopping at the local big box store, head to a second-hand store, shop online and pay for overnight delivery if you can.
We do understand that situations happen, and sometimes your only option is denim. However, in this case, it is still best to go to the funeral and pay your respects versus not attending. (Not going to a funeral is worse than showing up in jeans.)
So if you must wear jeans, wear your darkest pair of denim or black jeans. Try to pick a team free of holes.
Pair them with a tucked-in dress shirt (and tie) or polo shirt. Wear a sport coat if you have one.
If you don't, consider a nice sweater over the dress shirt or polo. Of course, your shoes will matter here too, so try not to wear sneakers.
Be Mindful of Your Funeral Attire
It's essential to be mindful of what you wear to a funeral, but not in the way you think. While it's easy to put pressure on wearing a suit or formal clothing, that's not what matters.
What matters is that you take the time to consider how to respect the family on this difficult occasion.
Whether that means you wear dress pants and a formal shirt or whatever you can borrow is not essential.
It's okay if you don't have a suit to wear to the funeral. As you can see from the tips above, many alternative options work just as well.
In addition, times are changing. For example, it's less expected to wear a formal suit to a funeral nowadays, so don't let the stress of finding the "perfect" outfit keep you from attending.
What do you want guests to wear to your funeral? This is one of the many questions you can answer when you start end-of-life planning.
The more preparation you can do for your funeral, the better equipped your family will be for this challenge.
And if you're planning a funeral or managing end-of-life details after the death of a loved one, our post-loss checklist may be able to help.
Hopefully, you won't need to consult this guide often, but now you know what to wear to a funeral in almost any situation. Remember: Keep it formal and modest. Let Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals help you select the type of funeral service that best fits your needs and your budget.