What Should I Wear to a Funeral?

I anticipate, sadly, attending funerals — older family members, very close relatives and friends — in the coming warm-weather months and, most probably, into the fall and winter, Covid-related and not. Can you advise what to wear? I need to be prepared. — Edith, New York. N.Y.

This is indeed a sad situation but one I think more and more of us may experience as vaccine progress allows us to gather again, not just for celebrations but for the group mourning and memorializing that was denied us last year.

It may seem bizarre to worry at all about what to wear given the tragedy that so many have experienced, but dressing correctly is a mark of respect for the person whose absence is being marked, and a way of honoring their life.

And funeral attire is also no longer as clear, rule-wise, as it once was. As all dress codes have broken down, so, too, the funeral dress code. This is not one of those instances when you can ask the host, unless the host has actually specified a look. (This can happen if the person who has died had a favorite color or some clear requests. Hunter Thompson, for example, got fireworks at his funeral.)

Wearing dark colors, predominantly black, to funerals has been tradition in the West since the Romans, according to a number of funeral parlors that post advice online, but black really became part of the culture when Queen Victoria embraced her widow’s weeds after Prince Albert’s death in 1861.

In other cultures funeral dress can be white (East Asia), red (South Africa) and even purple (Brazil), so do your research on the heritage of the person you are remembering. It’s safe to say neon is probably not a good idea.

Indeed, the single caveat to keep in mind when dressing to mourn is to opt for clothing that does not call attention to yourself. This is one moment that is not about you. No ripped jeans, overexposed body parts or wild animal prints. No jangly accessories.

Men should opt for collars, button-ups and long pants. For women, a wrap dress is a good option, as is a cropped-leg jumpsuit or simply an elegant round-neck dress. (Sleeves are important.) Look for fabrics like silk, gauze and chiffon, which are both light and layerable. Look to the Duchess of Cambridge, who has pretty much written the manual of appropriate dressing, and the coat she wore to Prince Philip’s funeral.

This is one item that unfortunately you are likely to wear again, so it is worthy of investment (this dress for example). Also an option: well-tailored trousers or culottes and a graceful blouse. Or even a patterned tea dress, if the pattern is relatively subtle.

The point is that the goal should be to express your love for those to whom you are saying farewell. Dress for them.

Your Style Questions, Answered

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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