Each funeral home cares for and dresses the deceased through a number of thoughtful, practical processes as a part of restorative art. The skilled funeral directors or morticians are specially trained to not only honor the dead but also to ensure they’re ready for their final resting place.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Are Bodies Dressed for Funerals?
- Who Dresses the Deceased for a Funeral?
- Who Brings the Clothing?
- Steps for Dressing the Deceased
In the case of a burial or casket viewing, this means dressing them in burial clothing. Because most of this happens behind the scenes at the funeral home, there is often confusion about how these facilities dress the deceased.
After death, bodies undergo a number of natural changes. These make dressing the deceased a bit more challenging, but it’s still a necessary process. In this guide, we’ll explain exactly how funeral homes dress the deceased step-by-step.
While it’s hard to ask questions about what happens after we die, education is important. The more you understand about this process, the more comfortable you’ll feel about your own mortality. It’s also helpful to know that our deceased loved ones are in respectful, capable hands.
Why Are Bodies Dressed for Funerals?
First, why are bodies dressed for funerals? Since we don’t really have anywhere to go or anyone to impress, what’s the importance of burial clothing?
In different cultures throughout the world, burial clothes carry a lot of significance. They’re a way to help the individual transition to the afterlife, or they’re simply a form of respect. We all want our bodies treated with the utmost care, so this is part of the final goodbye for many families.
In addition, for those who plan to hold an open or closed casket funeral, the right clothing ensures the body is presentable. We don’t all pass wearing our favorite outfits, so the funeral director has the task of ensuring the body is presented well in these final moments.
Some even have their own wishes about the type of clothes they’d like to be buried in. A favorite ballgown or beloved sports jersey could be a part of someone’s final wishes, and it’s important to honor these requests.
Who Dresses the Deceased for a Funeral?
Each state has different laws and regulations about who can handle dead bodies. In most cases, this process needs to be handled by a funeral director and certified embalmer. Though the body doesn’t necessarily need to be embalmed to be dressed, this is the most common situation.
In the case of a home funeral or green funeral, the family might dress the deceased themselves. However, it’s important to recognize the body’s natural changes after death. Rigor mortis sets in quickly, and dressing a body is easier said than done. Regardless of local rules and regulations, it’s best to leave this to the professionals.
Funeral directors and embalmers are skilled in the best ways to dress a body for a funeral or burial. They know how to handle the body with respect and care. Some modifications to the clothing might need to be made to ensure the deceased fits the clothing properly.
One of the most important steps in finding a funeral home is finding a funeral director you trust. The right director gives the family peace of mind throughout this process, and he or she can assist with choosing the right burial clothing.
Who Brings the Clothing?
While the funeral director or mortician is charged with actually dressing the body, the clothing is selected by the family. Some families have preferences for what they want their loved ones to wear, and some individuals also include their burial clothing as part of their final wishes.
Funeral homes are also a great resource for helping families through the process of choosing someone’s clothing. Most deceased are buried in finer clothes, like a dress, suit, or favorite outfit. This can be a highly personal decision for families, and it’s also a powerful part of the grieving process to make these final choices about loved ones.
Steps for Dressing the Deceased
When it’s time to dress the deceased, the funeral director continues through the following steps. While they might sound harsh, the funeral director handles each step with care, compassion, and respect.
It’s important to maintain the dignity and modesty of the body throughout, and the focus is always on honoring the family’s wishes. Here is how the mortician or funeral director dresses the deceased.
1. Embalm the body
Many states require the body to be embalmed if it’s to appear in an open casket funeral. This is common if the family is choosing to have their loved one dressed in specific burial clothes.
Before the body can be dressed, it needs to be embalmed. This is the process of preserving human remains to slow down the natural decomposition process. While it won’t stop the process, it can help the body appear more life-like, especially if it’s to be shown at a casket viewing.
2. Dry the body
Because embalming requires a lot of different chemicals and fluids, the body is then dried and moved to a dressing table. This ensures the clothing is protected from any of the harsher chemicals used to preserve the body. It also gives the professional more space to handle the body.
Next, the undergarments are put on the body. These are supplied by the family, but the funeral director can provide suggestions to ensure they choose something suitable. These are put on first to protect the outer clothing and provide modesty for the deceased.
4. Cut the clothing
It’s now time to put on any outer clothing like a dress, suit, shirt, and so on. Instead of putting it directly on the body like you would a living individual, the clothing is typically cut straight down the back.
Why is it cut? After death, even after embalming, the body becomes stiff and swollen. Clothing that might have fit perfectly during life likely doesn’t fit the same now. In addition, it’s difficult to maneuver clothing around stiff limbs.
By cutting the clothing down the back, it looks more natural and can be tailored to the body. When laying flat in the casket, there’s no way to tell that the clothing has been altered in any way.
5. Shoes or socks
Not everyone brings shoes for their deceased loved ones. The casket doesn’t always open fully, and it’s normal to only see the upper half of a body during a viewing. As such, shoes are considered optional when it comes to burial attire.
For those who don’t bring shoes, it’s common to provide socks or slippers, which are much easier to have put on. Otherwise, the family is welcome to bring specific shoes, especially if they were a favorite of the deceased. These would be secured to the feet without any alterations.
6. Hair and makeup styling
The last part of this dressing process is the hair and makeup styling. This is done for both men and women to give the body a more life-like appearance.
After death, the skin can appear pale and lacks its normal color. To fight this, professionals apply a thick cosmetic cream to the skin to give it a consistent shade. In addition, lip color is applied to the mouth. General cosmetics that the family brings in can also be applied, including nail colors.
The hair is also done in a similar way. Sometimes, the family hires a professional hairdresser to prepare their loved one’s hair in a particular style. Otherwise, the hair is arranged simply and neatly to ensure there are no tangles.
7. Placed in the casket
Last but not least, the body is lifted and placed in the casket. There are specific body lifts designed to move the body safely and securely into the casket.
From there, the professional arranges the body positioning and clothing to make sure everything is presentable and ready for the family.
The Final Dressing and Sendoff
Dressing the body is one of its final journeys before reaching its final resting place. Funeral directors handle the dressing of the body with extreme care and respect, and they help meet the family’s final wishes for saying goodbye to their loved ones. Because the funeral process is very much behind closed doors, it’s natural to have some curiosity about how this works.
This guide shined a bit of light on what happens after someone’s under the care of a funeral home. Though it’s a skilled, complicated process, funeral directors navigate each stage of dressing respectfully. What someone chooses to be dressed in after death is a personal decision, and it’s the role of the funeral director to bring this to life.
- Northey, Kari. “Dressing and casketing a body at the funeral home.” Kari the Mortician. Youtube.com.