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What to Wear: Funerals

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
I know you get a zillion emails, so I doubt you would be able to get to this one in time to even solve this particular conundrum for me, but it’d also be helpful to get your advice for the future.
A relative of mine just passed away and I will be attending her funeral next week. Quite fortunately for me, I suppose, I have only had to attend two other funerals in my life, when I was 8 and 12. My question is this — what do I wear? My reference here is pretty much just from movies and television shows… Steel Magnolias immediately comes to mind. Do I really wear all black? I understand this is a somber occasion, but I seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere that only immediate family members are expected to wear all black. But the other thing is, I don’t think it is exactly appropriate to wear the lively and bright colors of summer, either. And then there’s the shoes… my dress shoes all have heels, but I don’t know how well that would work in a grassy cemetery. I have visions of getting my heel caught in the ground and tumbling into an empty 6′ hole. I don’t want to go out and buy anything specifically to wear to this, but I’m more looking for general ideas I might be able to pull out of my closet.
I know in the grand scheme of things, what I wear to a funeral is not important… it’s not a fashion show, there’s no photographs taken, and no one will remember what I wore (unless it’s completely inappropriate). But at the same time, I feel like this is one of those “what to wear?” situations I’ve never quite figured out and to which I should probably know the answer, so any help would be much appreciated.

Like everything else these days — weddings, white after Labor Day — appropriate funeral dress can vary wildly, depending on the occasion, religion and family of the deceased’s wishes. It used to be that for church funerals, you were expected to wear head to toe black, including a hat and hose and closed-toe shoes, and I think in some churches you were expected to keep your arms covered, no matter what the weather.
Today…not so much. Panty hose and hats and shawls are no longer required. Dressy sandals are fine, and even the wearing-of-black is pretty flexible. Navy and other dark colors are generally considered perfectly fine. Sometimes the family prefers the affair to be more celebratory than somber, so no one wears black or anything traditionally funeral-ly. (This preference is usually made clear ahead of time, however.) The last funeral I attended was my grandmother’s, and I wore a black business/interview suit, with a jacket and skirt. I don’t remember what anyone else wore, at all, although I’m not really remembering scanning the congregation and seeing a sea of black. It looked more like a typical Sunday morning service, if I recall it correctly.
So for a general dressing guide, I’d go with the Church Rule (or religious services). Modest hemlines and bodices, no excess exposed skin or bra straps, no red patent leather hooker heels. I’d also pretend I was attending this particular church for the first time, and perhaps it’s where my new boyfriend’s parents attend, so I’d probably keep the bright, summery prints and spaghetti straps in the closet as well. Basically, you’re just looking to blend in, and there will be plenty of people who suddenly realize they don’t own a black dress or suit and will simply go with their darkest or plainest option.
target%20black%20dress.jpgA black or navy (or dark brown, or gray) sheath dress would be a surefire safe choice, or perhaps the skirt from a black suit paired with a dark top. Conservative patterns are fine too, so don’t agonize over that lone bright pink stripe on a plaid skirt or a dress trimmed in black-and-white floral. Wear shoes you’ll feel comfortable in, depending on how much standing you’ll be doing. For an outside service, yeah, flats are best, but if you own a pair of shoes with a thick, chunky heel, you probably won’t sink into the ground too badly. (Unless it’s raining.) Bring some wet wipes in your bag to clean up your shoes afterwards so you aren’t tracking mud and grass through the reception or wake. Don’t stress about open toes or backless sandals — provided your shoes aren’t lucite gladiator sandals that lace up to your thigh, you’ll be fine in pretty much anything.
If, after rifling through even the very back confines of your closet, you realize you simply have nothing to wear, head to Target, or at least their website. Pick up a simple black dress for $25 like this one or this one. No one likes to anticipate funerals, but they are a part of life and it’s best to just go ahead and make sure you’ve got something to wear on hand — something you know you can just pull out of the closet that morning and put on without a second thought or worried queries to online advice columnists. (I myself just did a little morbid fashion inventory of my own and yes, I have a black-and-white patterned maternity dress that would would work if I suddenly had to attend a funeral next week.) (Which I do not.) (Knock on wood.) (Okaaaaay, next question!)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Good advice Amy. I am an oncologist and as a job hazard I attend a lot of funerals. I am frequently shocked at what some people will wear. I think a nice grey or navy dress would be perfect without feeling too morose. As you suggested, services held in the funeral home or graveside are a bit looser than those held in a church. And, one of my pet peeves, NO JEANS please. (yes, people do wear jeans to funerals….and shorts and tank tops, too).

Liz C

Lucite gladiator sandals… (snort!) That’s a good one!


I’ll throw in my two cents: pick up the $25 Target dress, and tuck it in the back of your closet. My friend once had to borrow a simple black dress from me to wear to her friend’s funeral and she now calls it my “funeral dress.” Yeah, I can’t really wear that one out to dinner with her anymore. So, it’s useful to have one item that has all the sadness stuck to it, without tainting the rest of my black dresses (I have, um, six. They’re classic!)


Thanks for answering my question. I ended up going with a black pencil skirt and a patterned grey and black top, which I think is right along what you recommended. (I had to go with the black heels, though, and was just very careful when walking on the damp grass.) I was actually a little more dressed up than some other women there, but I think that was mostly due to the fact that it was 95 degrees outside. (No shorts, jeans, or tank tops, though.) I think the Church Rule is a good rule, except the church I went… Read more »


When my dad was dying of cancer, I distinctly remember trying to shop for the dress I knew I would soon need. I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. So when his funeral came around, I wore a navy dress with some sort of hideous pattern on it, found in the back of my closet. I guarantee you that I have no idea what anyone else there wore. Believe me, the mourners won’t notice. They’ll just appreciate you being there.


I’ve got a one stop shop for you…
Ann Taylor Loft
I buy EVERYTHING there… in fact, I’ve found that the size 8 petite pants fit me so amazingly I just cruise the clearance racks in that size and buy my dress pants, jeans, and casual khakis/capris too.
I mix as well of course – I do the same thing with the cheap T under a clearance cropped jacket with my nice ann taylor pants.
But – if you’re looking for quality and not crazy prices (but definitely a few price points above gap etc…) I’d go Ann Taylor Loft.


I buy ALL of my professional work clothes from Express and The Limited. Not too expensive, cute cuts but not too revealing or young, and very well made (their pants will last YEARS). I try desperately to look older or at least my age and I think the clothes at these stores helps – I’m 22, been married for two years, and have been out of college for three years and yet people tell me every week that I look 14, 15, or 16 years old! Hrm… now I’m thinking I need to submit my own question to Amalah about… Read more »