While people may imagine white as the opposite color of black, things are not so cut-and-dry in the world of funeral clothing etiquette.
Tip: Dressing appropriately is just a small part of planning or attending a funeral. If you need a little help navigating the post-death process, check out our post-loss checklist.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Wear White to a Funeral?
- How to Pull Off Wearing White to a Funeral
- 3 Quick Tips for Getting a Last-Minute Funeral Outfit Together
In fact, many cultures around the world use the color white as a mourning color, just as black is a common color to signify grief in the United States.
There are certainly times when wearing white might actually be the preferred color. Here are some ways to navigate wearing white clothing 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. bright colors or busy patterns) on the computer screen.
Can You Wear White to a Funeral?
The truth of whether wearing white to a funeral is likely to offend anyone has to do with the circumstances. It’s more likely to be offensive if:
- You're very close family, such as a parent, child, grandchild, or spouse, of the person who has died.
- You're wearing white with lettering or prints on it.
- You're wearing white without any dark colors to offset it.
On the other hand, you're less likely to offend if:
- Your family or the family of the deceased are extremely casual.
- Your family or the family of the person who died are focusing on this event being a celebration of life, deliberately avoiding a somber tone.
- The person who passed away is from a culture where white is a typical color of mourning and you’ve been encouraged to be one of those who wears white.
- You're wearing some white but have muted it with other, darker elements of your outfit.
- You're wearing tasteful, plain white, such as a white shirt or a white dress, preferably paired with a dark blazer or dark slacks.
It's important not to draw a lot of attention to one’s outfit at a funeral. Sometimes, though, the most appropriate thing you have is white or contains some stripes of white.
Don’t assume that the family expects every single person to wear head-to-toe black unless they’ve told you this directly. Some white, as part of an otherwise simple, relatively dressed-up and conservative outfit, is usually fine.
How to Pull Off Wearing White to a Funeral
Wearing white to a funeral is all about how you find ways to offset it. If, for instance, one part of your outfit has to be white, consider these tips for making the rest of your outfit more typical for a funeral.
- Wearing a white dress shirt is generally fine along with a grey, black, or navy suit and a toned-down tie—no bright colors or prints.
- Wearing a white blouse can be mitigated with a black or dark blazer or cardigan, especially if you can also wear a dark scarf with it. Dark slacks or skirts will also help.
- If you need to wear white, aim for a white top, or at most a white dress. White slacks or skirts are going to stand out much more since they aren’t typically white parts of an outfit.
- Remember that the main point of not wearing white to a funeral is to avoid standing out. Everyone is trying to think about the life of the person who died. If you can avoid a bright white hat, scarf, gloves, or other accessories that might draw attention, consider doing so.
- On the other hand, accessories can be part of toning down the intensity of a white element in your outfit. A black belt with a plain white dress, for instance, would not necessarily draw undue attention to you.
3 Quick Tips for Getting a Last-Minute Funeral Outfit Together
A white shirt with a suit is typical for a funeral, but avoiding white in most other elements is usually possible. If you're scrambling for a last-minute outfit, here are some things to check.
1. Avoid casual/athletic wear first, then aim for dark colors.
If you’re worrying that your available clothes are too casual, start by eliminating athletic wear and casual items. Distressed jeans, cargo shorts, t-shirts that have writing on them, and flip flops or sneakers all fall into the category of “too casual” or “too athletic” for a funeral.
There may be some last-effort options that wouldn’t be so bad. Even if these items are too casual in general, they can fit in the “discreet and simple” category of funeral wear.
This could include simple black tennis shoes or a pair of black jeans. If you're wearing a sweater over it, a nice t-shirt that fits well can be an acceptable bottom layer. Start with what you do have, and figure out where to go from there.
2. Check with friends and family for simple separates you could incorporate into your outfit.
While you may not have a full wardrobe to choose from, someone else your age or build is usually nearby. Ask about borrowing clothes that can supplement your wardrobe. Do they have a button-down shirt they aren’t planning to wear? Could you borrow a dress, especially a darker one with a simple design?
If few people have options for you, ask about outerwear. For women, borrowing a cardigan or sweater may be enough to dress up the clothing you do have. For men, a button-down shirt is great, but a blazer, as long as it isn’t too ill-fitting, may work well to add some formality to your outfit.
If your options are still awkward enough to draw stares, take this opportunity to go to a store and invest in a few simple items that will make for a more formal and toned-down outfit. You’re likely to use business-casual clothing again in the future, so it’s not a waste.
3. If you have a variety of options but just aren’t sure, ask a slightly older family member what they’re wearing.
Maybe you have two or three outfits that are almost right, but just a little off. Pick between your options with the help of a slightly older friend or family member.
Get creative if no one is around to help: text pictures of your items to a knowledgeable friend back home and ask them to pick your outfit. It’s a simple request, and most friends are happy to offer their expertise in levels of formality to help a grieving friend.
Avoiding Second-Guessing With White at a Funeral
There are ways to wear white to a funeral whenever it's part of a tasteful, conservative outfit made up of mostly neutral tones.
If you're worried, simply avoid it. Focus more on avoiding excessive jewelry, being very casual or wearing athletic clothes, or choosing clothing that will be uncomfortable and cause you to fidget. A white outfit may even be expected, depending on the cultural traditions involved in the funeral.
Want to learn more about end-of-life planning and the ins and outs of planning a funeral? Join Cake today.