What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Wear to a Celebration of Life

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As more people have an open mind about death, traditional boundaries around funerals fall away. Today, more people than ever are choosing to have a celebration of life. A celebration of life is a type of ceremony that is often experienced in place of a funeral, but it could also be a separate event in addition to a funeral. 

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Unlike a traditional funeral, a celebration of life isn’t a time for sorrow and sadness. It’s a personalized, joyous occasion for laughter, storytelling, and happiness. The focus becomes on the person’s life, not on their death, and this is a powerful way for many grieving family members to find closure. 

However, because this type of event is so different from a traditional funeral, it’s not always clear what you should (and shouldn’t) wear to a celebration of life ceremony. We’re here to help with this guide below. Before picking out your clothes, make sure you’re following the unspoken guidelines.

Tip: You might be invited to a celebration of life, or you might be planning one for your own departed loved one. If you're in charge of planning a service and taking care of other end-of-life tasks, our post-loss checklist can help.

5 Things to Consider Before You Get Dressed

While it’s true most celebrations of life are less formal than a typical funeral, there are still a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. When in doubt, ask the family or host of the experience what to expect, so you’re able to dress appropriately. 

  • Type of event: What type of celebration of life will this event be? Is it a formal party with a strict dress code, or will you all join together at a local park for a picnic? This information is the biggest clue for how to dress. 
  • Location: It goes without saying that the location matters. If it’s in a funeral home or other upscale venue, you’ll likely need to pay closer attention to the dress code. 
  • Colors: While most celebrations of life don’t require guests to wear black, they sometimes request another color, usually the favorite of the deceased. 
  • Activities: Will there be any activities? It’s common to take part in some type of group activity, whether that’s storytelling, gardening, or bowling. 
  • Weather: Of course, also take the weather and time of year into consideration. 
ยป MORE: Honor your loved one's memory by taking the right next steps. Here is your free post-loss checklist.

 

What You Should Wear to a Celebration of Life Ceremony

Now let’s talk about what to actually wear to a celebration of life ceremony. Depending on the type of event, this might not be too different from what to wear to a funeral.

However, many of these celebrations are very casual in nature. It’s important to find the right balance between being respectful and staying casual. 

For adults

Because most celebrations of life steer clear from the color black, it’s important to dress in a lively fashion. If the family gives a dress code (e.g. black true, casual, etc.), make sure to stick to that. If not, it’s better to err on the side of caution by wearing respectful, conservative clothing. 

When it comes to colors, choose something lively like blue, pink, red, green, or yellow. Don’t wear black unless you’re told to by the family. In most cases, wearing jeans is perfectly acceptable. However, make sure it’s a nice pair. A good rule of thumb is to consider what you’d wear to work on a more casual day. If it’s appropriate for a casual workday, it’s likely a good fit for a celebration of life. 

What should women wear?

  • Nice jeans or pants
  • Colorful skirt
  • Blouse
  • Flowy top
  • Button-down top
  • A respectful dress
  • Heels, flats, boots, or nice sneakers
  • Simple accessories

What should men wear?

  • Jeans or slacks
  • Shorts (if outside in a warm month)
  • Button-down shirt
  • Polo shirt
  • Nice t-shirt
  • Dress shoes, boots, or nice sneakers
  • Simple accessories

For kids

Kids have more flexibility in the dress code than adults. Most people understand that kids don’t like to wear stiff, formal clothing, so it’s easier to find outfits that work for a celebration of life. 

Like with adult attire, it’s best to keep the clothing lively and colorful. Most kid clothing already fits this description, but make sure it’s in good quality and clean. Their clothing resembles the adult options above. 

What You Shouldn’t Wear to a Celebration of Life Ceremony

While celebrations of life are very open with the dress code, there are still some things to consider when choosing your outfit. Most importantly, you want to be respectful. There are some things to avoid wearing unless you’re specified otherwise by the family hosting the event. 

Anything that might be too distracting

Super bright colors are a fun addition to any style, but they don’t have a place in most celebrations of life. Wearing something that’s too distracting takes the attention away from the occasion, and that’s never a good idea when honoring someone’s life. While you should wear colors, stick with solid prints and subdued tones when possible. 

Accessories are a great way to complement your outfit, but don’t overdo it. Similar to neon clothing, too many sparkly accessories are a distraction. 

While the family might ask guests to wear sparkly accessories if it’s a way to honor the deceased, you should keep your accessories minimal otherwise.

Flip flops or sandals

In regards to footwear, it’s also important to be conservative. Flip flops and sandals might be okay if it’s an outdoor event or at the beach, it’s best to wear closed-toed shoes. Not only might you be doing a bit of running around, but you also want to present a put-together image. 

Keep your sandals at home, and instead wear closed-toe shoes. If you’re not sure what the activity for the event is, bring a pair of sneakers just in case. 

Graphic t-shirts

Finally, avoid wearing graphic t-shirts. While a t-shirt might be a good fit depending on the occasion, keep these shirts simple. Having any distracting images may take away from the event and could stand out in a bad way. 

Themed Celebration Exceptions

There are occasions when it might be appropriate to wear any of these things above. Because these days are different from funerals and wakes, you might have to adhere to a theme. These are a way for the family and guests to honor the deceased loved one. Common themes that affect the dress include:

  • Uniforms (especially for military or public service individuals)
  • Sports teams 
  • Era-specific clothing
  • Fitness clothing
  • Movie costumes
  • Comic book characters

If you see a specific request on an invitation, pay close attention. The family asks you to dress a certain way for a reason. It likely ties into the events of the day, and it makes a touching tribute to the deceased. Regardless, be mindful of your respectfulness no matter the dress code. 

Attending a Celebration of Life

Are you attending a celebration of life or hosting one for a loved one? Remember, this event isn’t just about the deceased. It’s also about paying respects to the family. You want to ensure the family feels your support, and that means dressing appropriately. Honoring their wishes by taking part in a celebration of life is an amazing way to bring families closer together and remember the good times. 

Have you given any thought to how you’d like your family and friends to remember you? Start end-of-life planning to determine whether a celebration of life, traditional funeral, or other memorial event is right for you. Your impact and legacy don’t end with your life. If these celebrations prove anything, it’s that those we love carry our memories and joy with them long after we’re gone. 

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