How to Dress Appropriately for a Wake or Viewing

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When it comes to appropriate funeral attire, wearing dressy, formal attire in muted colors is recommended. This is also a standard protocol for a memorial service. But what is the appropriate clothing for attending a wake?

Jump ahead to these sections:

Should the clothing worn to a wake be more formal or less formal than what you wear to a funeral? Do you have to wear black? Can you wear jeans to a wake? All these situations, and more, will be discussed in this article.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle all the aspects of their unfinished business such as the wake and funeral. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

Points to Consider When Choosing Attire for a Wake 

Dress clothes are still the most appropriate choice for people attending a wake. That being said, there are a few things to consider.

Our society does not dress as formally as we used to. People used to dress up for flights, religious services, graduations, and work. Now, people wear athletic or leisure clothing before going to the grocery store. However, funerals and wakes seem to be among the last strongholds for dressier attire.

Most people dress more casually for a wake than for a funeral. Maybe that is because some people view wakes as a time to comfort the bereaved. And funerals are a time to honor the dead. It may be that some you only have only an appropriate outfit, so you save it to wear to the funeral. Regardless of the reasoning, wakes tend to be less formal than memorial services.

Sometimes the situation may call for less formal attire. Here are some examples.

  • Everyone knew the deceased loved a particular sports team, or band, or superhero. Their family members request that everyone dresses in a specific way to honor their loved one’s memory. This is an appropriate time to wear casual attire.
  • The deceased had a particular aversion to dressy clothes. It might feel weird to honor the dead by dressing up since it wasn’t something they cared about. Wait for an indication from the family that casual clothes are okay. Don’t make this judgment call on your own.

Some people may not have the appropriate dressy clothing to wear to a funeral or a wake. Perhaps a recent weight fluctuation left you unable to fit in your more formal clothes. Or you can’t afford to buy a new outfit to wear to a funeral. If this is the case, consider borrowing clothes or purchasing an outfit from a thrift store. 

When choosing clothing to wear to a wake, avoid wearing anything too ostentatious out of respect for the bereaved family and friends. Stick with muted and neutral tones, which may include comfortable dress shoes, and avoid prints on blouses, button-down shirts, and blazers.

Finally, the most important thing about attending a wake is being there. It is more important to go to the wake rather than stay home because you have “nothing to wear.” If you find yourself in a time crunch or if you are not able to afford new clothes, wear the best that you have. Remember, the wake is about offering support to those in mourning and celebrating the life of the deceased.

Are you looking for more specific information on what to wear to a wake? We’ve broken it down based on gender and age. 

Want people to wear whatever they'd like to your wake or funeral?

Or your favorite color? Or in black-tie only? Let your loved ones know. Share your end-of-life wishes, including your funeral preferences, with a free Cake profile. 

What Men Should Wear to a Wake

Tip of what to wear to a wake with an image of clothes in the background

It is still expected that men wear a suit with a tie and well-polished shoes to a funeral. Here are some alternatives to consider when deciding what to wear to a wake: 

  • A sports coat, dark pants, a button-down shirt with a tie, and dress shoes with dark socks.
  • Dark pants with a long-sleeved button-down shirt and a tie, and dress shoes with dark socks.
  • Dark pants with a long-sleeved button-down shirt, and dress shoes with dark socks.
  • Dark pants, a polo shirt, and dress shoes with dark socks.
  • Wear a belt.
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum.

What men should avoid

Don’t wear anything to a wake that will draw attention to yourself. Dress as conservatively as you can. Here are some other tips. Try to avoid wearing the following:

  • Clothing with words or graphics
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • Baseball caps or hats
  • Athletic shoes or flip flops
  • Dirty or wrinkled clothing

What Women Should Wear to a Wake

Like men, women should wear somewhat formal attire to a wake. “Formal attire” doesn't necessarily mean a dress or a skirt.

When deciding what to wear to a wake, think about what you would wear to a job interview and err on the conservative side when deciding on colors. Here are some outfits to consider when deciding what to wear to a wake:

  • A simple, solid-colored dress in muted colors and dark shoes
  • A dark skirt with a formal top and dark shoes
  • Dress pants with a dressy top or a sweater
  • Simple, classic jewelry such as a pearl necklace or stud earrings

What women should avoid

  • Jeans or shorts
  • Clothing that has words on it
  • Skirts or dresses at an uncomfortable length
  • Flip flops or athletic shoes
  • Dirty or wrinkled clothing

What Children Should Wear to a Wake

Children tend to have more leeway in dressing for a wake. In most households, young children do not have dress clothes for multiple occasions. Children grow out of clothes quickly. And finding appropriate dress clothes for children can take a lot of time and money.

Although adults tend to wear muted colors when dressing for a wake, this may not be as easy for children. Although designers make formal attire for young people, these clothes can be expensive. And are difficult to find at second-hand stores. No one will care If your eight-year-old daughter wears a light-blue dress to your cousin’s wake.

Here are some things to consider when dressing a child for a wake:

  • Dress your children more formally when attending the wake of a family member or close friend.
  • Almost anything goes when dressing young kids for a wake.

What children should avoid

  • Clothing that has words on it
  • Casual hats
  • Dirty or wrinkled clothing

Wake Attire: Frequently Asked Questions

Tip on what to wear to a wake with an image of clothes in the background

More questions about appropriate funeral attire? Here are some other things to consider:

1. What should I wear to a wake in the summer?

Most of the time, wakes are held inside climate-controlled buildings. It shouldn’t matter whether a wake is held on a hot day or a cold one. You should still wear formal clothing. Consider perhaps materials that offer wicking moisture protection, or wear lighter fabrics such as linen.

2. What should I wear to a wake when it’s cold out?

Again, wakes are usually held inside climate-controlled buildings. If you are concerned, wearing undergarments that keep warmth may be an option. People may want to consider wearing pants instead of dresses if it is unusually cold.

3. Is it okay if I wear jeans for a wake?

In most communities, jeans are not considered appropriate attire for a wake. There may be extenuating circumstances that would call for wearing jeans. But for most wakes, dress pants are preferred.

4. I have to go to a viewing soon and have nothing to wear. What can I buy quickly to look more put together?

Dark pants, a sweater, and/or formal top are easy to find and will fit the occasion. Don’t forget to find clean, dark shoes to wear with the outfit.

5. Should I wear pantyhose to a wake?

The answer to this is up for debate. It used to be that women wouldn't consider having bare legs, but that fashion rule has been broken for years. It’s up to you. If you feel more comfortable wearing pantyhose, go for it. If you don’t own stockings and have never worn them, don’t worry about it.

6. Do I have to wear black to a wake?

Don’t feel as if you have to dress in head-to-toe black when attending a wake. While it is best to wear darker or muted colors, it does not have to be black.

Looking Your Best for a Wake or Viewing

As you dress for a wake, think about why you are attending the event. If you are going to offer your support for the bereaved, part of this means looking your best. Your loved one deserves respect. You can convey that in your outfit. And you don’t want the people attending the wake to be more formally dressed than you.

However, do not let your concern over clothes keep you from attending a wake. While this advice encourages formal dress, it is better to dress casually and attend a wake than not go at all.

Looking for more? Read our guide on how to dress babies or kids for a funeral.

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