It used to be easy to dress for a funeral. I took out my black skirt suit – or navy blue, on occasion – and paired it with a solid-colored or muted-print dress blouse. And donned the pantyhose and pumps I wore every day to work.
But I’ve noticed that almost no woman wears a skirt suit to funerals anymore. A pants suit – or more likely, slacks and a pretty or striking jacket or sweater – is as dressy as most women get these days. “Business casual” seems to have morphed into “funeral casual.”
Still, each time I psych myself up for a memorial service (“yes, this is one you have to attend”), I carefully consider what I will wear. After all, I want to show respect for the departed and for the grief of those left behind. I ask myself:
- How did I know the deceased, and what did he or she typically wear when we met?
- What friends and relations of the deceased do I know, and what are they likely to expect of me?
- What are my fellow attendees likely to wear, particularly those whom I know and with whom I might sit?
My husband hasn’t gotten the memo yet about “funeral casual.” If he is going to the memorial with me, he will almost certainly wear a suit and tie. So I have to dress up enough to look like I belong with him.
If my legal friends will be present, I’ll dress like I’m going to court, in tailored pants and a jacket instead of a sweater.
But if I am likely to encounter fellow retirees or other non-corporate types, I can go pretty casual indeed.
I recently attended the memorial service of a writer friend. He usually wore jeans or shorts with a T-shirt to our critique group meetings. Many of our mutual friends wear “garret chic” of some ilk. I was fairly confident that I would see a variety of garb at his memorial.
And so I did.
There were a couple of men in jackets at the funeral, but not many. A few women had nicely tailored skirts or pretty dresses, but many wore more casual attire. I had decided on navy pants, a knit top, a blue floral sweater, and my favorite ballerina flats – neat, and a step up from what I usually wear to writing meetings, but not fancy.
The male presider at this service wore slacks and a blazer, as did the female presider. That is, until the male presider left the podium for a while, and returned wearing a Cinderella costume, complete with tiara.
And I realized at the moment the presider changed garb that I had worried way too much about what to wear for this service.
What’s important at a funeral is not what we wear, but that we show up to honor the dead and give comfort to the living. That’s what I should tell myself next time I’m psyching myself up to attend.
How do you feel about “funeral casual” attire?