In most Western cultures, it’s a basic rule of thumb to always wear black to funerals. This is a longstanding tradition that dates back to as far as the Roman Empire. In Roman times, people often wore a toga pulla (a toga in a dark color) in times of mourning.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is It Ever Okay to Wear Red to a Funeral or Memorial Service?
- How to Wear Red Clothing to a Funeral
- 4 More Quick Tips for Getting Dressed
During the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, she was known for wearing black to funerals. She also established more elaborate mourning rituals. When her husband died, she wore black mourning clothes for her husband for the last forty years of her life.
These days, the rules have relaxed a little. Now when you pick out what to wear to a funeral, you can get away with nonblack clothing in darker, more muted colors. But what about brighter colors like red? Here we’ll delve into whether it’s ever appropriate to wear red to a funeral.
COVID-19 tip: If you're attending or planning a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, wear your normal funeral attire (including the top and bottom half of your body) and follow the advice below. Make sure you wear something you can sit comfortably in for a couple of hours and doesn't look distracting or distorted (e.g. super bright colors or busy patterns) on the computer screen.
Is It Ever Okay to Wear Red to a Funeral or Memorial Service?
There are certain occasions when it’s acceptable to wear red to funerals. It all essentially boils down to the expected rules. If you show up to a funeral with a standard dress code in a bright red dress it would be seen as breaking a major funeral etiquette rule. If you made that choice because you had a personal problem with the deceased or one of their family members, it would be considered inflammatory.
However, there are several exceptions to this rule. At many celebration of life ceremonies, people are encouraged to wear bright, cheerful colors like red. Additionally, when people start end-of-life planning, they sometimes include specific directions. That could include things like wearing red clothing.
In some cultures, red is the preferred color to wear to funerals. In South Africa and Ghana specifically, red is very commonly worn to funerals. In South Africa, red is considered the color of mourning as it represents the blood spilled during the Apartheid era.
When beloved South African footballer Senzo Meyiwa was killed, many mourning fans wore red to the public memorial. In Ghanian culture, red clothing is often worn by family members to funeral services to signify their sense of deep loss. More distant relatives and friends wear black to show their own grief and to express support for the immediate family.
How to Wear Red Clothing to a Funeral
If you have to attend a funeral and don’t have any appropriate black funeral attire, you don’t necessarily have to sit it out. While you should avoid a scarlet or crimson dress, there are some shades of red that could be acceptable.
Deeper, darker shades of red like burgundy or garnet may blend in well enough to work. Try not to dress in this shade from head to toe, though. Pairing a wine-colored blouse with black slacks and a gray cardigan is a great way to wear a shade of red in a way that is still somber and respectful.
4 More Quick Tips for Getting Dressed
Now that we know the rules for funeral wear aren’t always written in stone, let’s delve into some quick tips to guide you in picking out funeral or wake attire.
This is especially true now that people incorporate nonstandard dress codes into their funeral wishes. These guidelines should help you ensure that you’re appropriately dressed, no matter what event you’re attending.
1. Read the invitation or funeral announcement
Ceremonies like celebration of life services that don’t require standard funeral attire will generally spell out any specific requests for unconventional dress.
For instance, a celebration of life ceremony that’s held outdoors may specify that clothing should be comfortable and appropriate for the outdoors. Or a funeral for someone who planned their own service ahead of time may request that mourners wear the deceased’s favorite color as a tribute.
If an invitation or newspaper announcement doesn’t delineate any special clothing requests, it’s safe to assume that you can just wear standard funeral attire.
2. Dress conservatively
Even if you’ve established that the funeral has a traditional dress code, there’s still room for interpretation. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, which means dressing conservatively.
Clothes should fit well, but shouldn’t be overly tight or revealing. Skin should largely be covered. A good rule of thumb is to dress like you’re going to a business meeting or an important job interview.
3. Keep colors muted and styles simple
While you don’t need to necessarily wear black to a traditional funeral, your color palette should generally consist of dark, muted tones. Colors like navy blue, charcoal gray and dark brown can all work in a pinch.
You should also avoid patterns and prints if at all possible. Solid colors tend to be the best option. If you do need to have a pattern, make sure it’s subtle. A pinstripe or something similar may be appropriate when necessary.
4. Pay attention to the small details
Even if you have an all-black, funeral-appropriate outfit, there are still details you’ll need to pay attention to.
Your clothes should be clean, neat, and free of wrinkles. You should make an effort to wear close-toed shoes. If the service is graveside and you need to bring an umbrella, you shouldn’t bring a neon pink umbrella. Use one in black, navy, or another dark shade.
These small details can also help if your clothing isn’t all black. People likely won’t notice or mind that you’re not wearing all black if you’ve made every effort to be presentable.
5. Follow the rules of the location
If you attend a funeral in an unfamiliar religious venue, take the time to research expectations of clothing requirements.
For example, if you’re a non-Muslim woman attending a Muslim funeral you should wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your entire body, leaving only your face and hands visible. You should also bring a headscarf in case you’re required to cover your hair. Men who attend a Jewish funeral may wear a yarmulke or kippah to wear during prayer as a sign of respect.
Essentially, the venue adds another layer of consideration to your wardrobe.
The Etiquette of Wearing Red and Other Funeral Clothing Tips
The rules surrounding funerals are changing all the time. This even includes the rules of fashion. At the end of the day, your intent is the most important aspect to consider.
As long as you truly wish to honor the deceased and pay respects to their family, you’ll probably choose the right thing. When you put in the effort, it really shows. And if you’re planning your own funeral, consider what kind of dress code requirements you might leave behind.
Looking for more? Read our guide on child and baby funeral attire.
- “Colors of Ghanian Funeral Attire Explained.” Ghanaweb.com, GhanaWeb, 13 February 2014, ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/entertainment/Colors-of-Ghanaian-funeral-attire-explained-300572.