What to Wear to a Memorial Service | From Casual to Formal Services

Memorial service candles

Written by Sonia Su

In moments of grief and remembrance, the choice of attire for a memorial service holds significant meaning. It is not merely a matter of fashion but a heartfelt gesture of respect and empathy for the departed and their grieving loved ones.

To help individuals navigate this somber yet deeply meaningful occasion with grace and sensitivity, this article explores the nuanced considerations and thoughtful guidelines on what to wear to a memorial service—including differences between a memorial, a wake, and a funeral service and appropriate outfit ideas for both men and women.


History of Memorial Service Attire

The history of memorial service attire reflects the evolving customs and cultural shifts surrounding mourning practices. Traditionally, in Western cultures, black clothing was the predominant choice for mourning attire, dating back to the Victorian era when Queen Victoria set the trend after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. This somber dress code gradually softened over the 20th century, with mourners embracing more subdued colors like gray, navy, and dark blue.

In recent years, there has been a shift towards allowing more personal expressions of grief through attire, with an emphasis on dressing respectfully rather than strictly adhering to a specific color code. This evolution in memorial service attire mirrors changing societal attitudes towards grief and mourning, emphasizing individual choice and comfort while still maintaining a tone of solemnity and respect.

Memorial Service vs. Funeral

A memorial service and a funeral are both events held to remember and honor a deceased person, but they differ in several ways.

Funeral service

Here are the main distinctions, with special emphasis on attire:

Appropriate Outfit Attire

  1. Color Choice:
    • Funeral Attire: Typically, funeral attire leans towards more traditional and somber colors, with black being the most common choice. Dark gray, navy blue, or deep shades of purple may also be acceptable. Here are a few tips on pairing a grey suit with a black shirt and blue suit with brown shoes.
    • Memorial Service Attire: While dark colors are still appropriate, there is often more flexibility with color choices at memorial services. Families may encourage attendees to wear colors that reflect the personality or preferences of the deceased, allowing for a wider range of subdued hues.
  2. Formality:
    • Funeral Attire: Funeral attire tends to be more formal and conservative, with a preference for suits, dresses, or formal blouses and skirts. Conservative and modest styles are the norm.
    • Memorial Service Attire: While still respectful, memorial service attire can vary in formality. Depending on the family's wishes and the location of the service, it may allow for slightly more relaxed clothing choices, such as smart-casual attirebusiness casual attire, or black tie optional, without sacrificing respect for the occasion.
  3. Personalization:
    • Funeral Attire: Funeral attire generally follows a more standardized and traditional dress code, emphasizing uniformity and adherence to cultural or religious norms.
    • Memorial Service Attire: Memorial services often encourage personalization and individual expressions of grief. Families may suggest attire that reflects the unique character and interests of the deceased, allowing attendees to wear clothing that symbolizes the person's life and passions.
  4. Cultural and Religious Considerations:
    • Funeral Attire: Cultural and religious customs may play a significant role in dictating funeral attire. Specific attire or symbols may be required or recommended based on these traditions.
    • Memorial Service Attire: While cultural and religious customs can still influence attire at memorial services, there is typically more room for flexibility and accommodation of diverse beliefs and practices.

    Timing and Scheduling

    • Funeral: Typically occurs shortly after the death, often within a few days.
    • Memorial Service: Can take place at any time after the death, allowing for more flexibility in scheduling.

    Body Presence

    • Funeral: The deceased person's body is usually present for viewing in a casket.
    • Memorial Service: The body may or may not be present, as it can take place without the physical remains.

    Location and Venue

    • Funeral: Often held at a funeral home, church, or chapel.
    • Memorial Service: Can take place in various locations, such as homes, parks, community centers, or places with personal significance to the deceased.

    Religious or Secular

    • Funeral: Often has religious elements or rituals, depending on the deceased person's faith and the family's preferences.
    • Memorial Service: Can be religious, secular, or a combination of both, catering to the beliefs and wishes of the family.

    Format and Flexibility

    • Funeral: Typically follows a more structured and traditional format.
    • Memorial Service: Offers greater flexibility in terms of format, allowing for a more personalized and unique event.

    Service Purpose

    • Funeral: Focuses on the formalities of saying goodbye, including the burial or cremation.
    • Memorial Service: Primarily focuses on celebrating the life, achievements, and memories of the deceased.

    Emphasis on the Individual

    • Funeral: Emphasizes the finality of death and the transition from life to death.
    • Memorial Service: Emphasizes the positive aspects of the person's life and the impact they had on others.

    It's important to note that these distinctions can vary widely based on cultural, religious, and personal preferences. Some families may choose to have both a funeral and a memorial service, while others may opt for one or the other. Ultimately, both types of gatherings serve as important opportunities for grieving, remembering, and paying tribute to the deceased.


    Is There a Dress Code for a Memorial Service?

    There isn't a universal dress code for memorial services, but there are general guidelines that people often follow to show respect for the occasion. Traditionally, dark and subdued colors like black, gray, navy, or dark brown have been preferred, along with formal attire.

    However, modern memorial services may allow for more flexibility, with some families even suggesting specific dress codes or preferences. It's advisable to consider the family's wishes and the tone of the service when choosing your attire, aiming for clothing that is respectful and appropriate for a somber occasion.

    Whether attending a casual or formal memorial service, when selecting a funeral or memorial service, consider these tips to ensure you dress appropriately:

    1. Opt for Subdued Colors: Dark colors like black, gray, navy blue, or dark brown are traditional choices that convey a sense of solemnity and respect. A few tips on wearing a black suit with brown shoes.
      Navy suit
    2. Choose Conservative and Formal Clothing: Select modest and formal clothing, such as suits, dresses, dress shirts, and blouses. Avoid casual clothes and flashy or revealing outfits even for a more casual service.
    3. Avoid Bright Colors and Patterns: Steer clear of vibrant or attention-grabbing colors and patterns. These can be distracting in a somber setting.
    4. Keep Accessories Simple: Minimalistic jewelry and accessories are preferred. Avoid large or flashy jewelry that may detract from the gravity of the occasion.
    5. Comfort and Dress Code: If the family has specified a dress code, respect their wishes and adhere to it. If not, use your best judgment based on the expected formality of the service.
      dark gray suit jacket with blue pocket square and blue tie
    6. Weather Considerations: If the memorial service is outdoors or during inclement weather, plan your attire accordingly. Bring a coat or shawl if needed.
    7. Shoes: Wear closed-toe, comfortable shoes, preferably in dark colors. Avoid flip-flops, sneakers, or overly casual footwear.
    8. Grooming: Pay attention to personal grooming and hygiene. Neatly styled hair and clean, well-kept attire demonstrate your respect for the event.
    9. Consider Cultural and Religious Customs: Be aware of any specific cultural or religious customs that may influence your clothing choices.
    10. Bring Tissues and Essentials: Memorial services can be emotionally charged. Consider bringing tissues or other essentials discreetly in your pocket or bag.
    11. Respect Personal Expressions of Grief: Remember that some families may encourage more personal expressions of grief through attire. Be understanding and respectful of these choices if they differ from traditional expectations.

    Ultimately, the goal when choosing your attire for a memorial service is to pay your respects to the deceased and offer support to the grieving family while maintaining a sense of dignity and solemnity.


    What is Memorial Service Attire for Men?

    Memorial service attire for men typically includes clothing that is respectful, subdued, and formal. Here's a breakdown of suitable options:

    1. Suits: A dark suit is a classic choice. Black, charcoal gray, navy blue, or dark brown suits are all appropriate. Choose a well-fitted suit jacket and matching trousers.
      dark black suit with white dress shirt and matching tie for men
    2. Shirt: Wear a crisp, long-sleeved dress shirt in a solid color, such as a formal white dress shirt or a light blue dress shirt. Avoid shirts with bold patterns or bright colors.
      Light blue dress shirt
    3. Necktie: A conservative necktie complements the suit. Opt for subdued colors or simple patterns. A solid black tie is a safe choice for a memorial service.
    4. Footwear: Choose formal dress shoes in darker colors such as black or brown. Ensure they are polished and in good condition.
    5. Socks: Wear dark-colored socks that match your trousers and shoes.
    6. Belt: If you wear a belt, it should coordinate with your shoes in color and be understated in design.
    7. Optional Accessories: While minimalism is key, you can add a discreet pocket square or a simple tie clip or pin for a subtle touch of elegance.
    8. Outerwear: If needed due to weather, select a dark-colored overcoat or trench coat that complements your suit.

    Remember that the goal is to convey a sense of respect and formality. Avoid casual items like jeans, sneakers, or brightly colored clothing. Additionally, it's essential to ensure your clothing is clean, well-maintained, and properly fitted to present a polished appearance at the memorial service.


    Memorial Service Outfit Ideas for Men

    Here are some memorial service outfit ideas for men to help you choose appropriate funeral or memorial service attire:

    • Classic Black Suit: A well-fitted black suit paired with a white dress shirt and a simple black tie is a timeless and respectful choice for a memorial service.
    • Charcoal Gray Suit: A charcoal gray suit with a white or light blue shirt and a subtle patterned tie adds a touch of formality while still maintaining a respectful tone.
    • Navy Blue Suit: A navy blue suit can convey a sense of respect and sophistication. Pair it with a white shirt and a solid-colored tie in a muted shade.
      Gray denim tie
    • Dark Brown Suit: For a slightly less traditional option, a dark brown suit with a white or light-colored shirt can be appropriate, especially if the service has a more relaxed dress code.
    • Blazer and Slacks: If a full suit feels too formal, consider wearing a dark blazer with dress pants. Pair it with a dress shirt and tie for a polished look.
    • Tweed Jacket: In some cases, a tweed jacket with dress slacks can be suitable, especially for a more casual memorial service. Ensure the jacket is in a color.
    • Accessories: Keep accessories simple, with a minimalistic tie clip, cufflinks, and a discreet pocket square. Choose dark dress shoes and matching socks.
    • Overcoat: If the weather requires it, top off your outfit with a dark overcoat that complements your attire.

    Remember to choose attire that aligns with the formality and cultural context of the memorial service. While the color black is a traditional choice, other dark, subdued colors can also convey respect and empathy. Always prioritize clean, well-fitted clothing and understated accessories to maintain a dignified appearance.


    What to Wear to a Memorial Service in Winter

    When attending a winter memorial service, it's essential to dress warmly while still maintaining a respectful and somber appearance. Here are some clothing and accessory suggestions:

    1. Overcoat: Choose a dark-colored, formal overcoat that complements your outfit. A wool or cashmere coat provides warmth and sophistication.
    2. Suit or Dress Outfit: Wear a dark suit or a formal dress outfit as mentioned earlier, with a long-sleeved shirt or dress that provides additional warmth.
    3. Turtleneck Sweater: Underneath your suit jacket or blazer, consider a fine-gauge, solid-color turtleneck sweater for extra insulation. Here are guides on how to wear a sweater over a dress shirt and a turtleneck with a suit.
      Sweater over dress shirt
    4. Warm Accessories: Opt for warm accessories like a cashmere scarf, gloves, and a hat that coordinates with your outfit but still keeps you comfortable in cold weather.
    5. Thermal Layers: If the weather is exceptionally cold, consider wearing thermal undergarments or undershirts beneath your clothing to keep warm discreetly.
    6. Dress Shoes: Ensure your dress shoes are comfortable and insulated to protect your feet from the cold. Wool dress socks can provide additional warmth.
    7. Umbrella: If there's a chance of rain or snow, bring a compact, dark-colored umbrella that complements your attire.
    8. Tissues: Cold weather can lead to a runny nose, so keep tissues discreetly in your pocket or bag.
    9. Comfortable Footwear: If the memorial service involves outdoor activities like a graveside ceremony, consider wearing appropriate winter boots and changing into your dress shoes once inside.

    Remember that while it's important to stay warm, maintaining a respectful and somber appearance remains the primary consideration when choosing your winter attire for a memorial service. Choose dark, subdued colors and avoid overly casual or flashy clothing.


    What Should a Woman Wear to a Memorial Service

    A woman should wear clothing that is respectful, modest, and understated when attending a memorial service. Here are some guidelines for appropriate attire:

    1. Dress or Suit: A simple, dark-colored dress or a well-coordinated skirt and blouse or pantsuit is a suitable choice. Dresses with knee-length or longer hemlines are often preferred.
    2. Color Choice: Black is a traditional choice for memorial services, but dark, subdued colors like navy blue, charcoal gray, or deep plum are also appropriate. Avoid bright or flashy colors.
    3. Sleeve Length: Choose a dress or top with at least short sleeves or three-quarter sleeves. Sleeveless attire can be acceptable if paired with a cardigan or blazer.
    4. Neckline: Opt for a modest neckline that is not too low-cut or revealing. Avoid dresses or blouses with plunging necklines.
    5. Accessories: Keep jewelry and accessories minimal and understated. A simple necklace, stud earrings, and a discreet bracelet are appropriate.
    6. Footwear: Wear closed-toe, modest heels, or flats. Choose shoes in dark or muted colors that complement your outfit.
    7. Tights or Hosiery: If you choose to wear a dress or skirt, consider wearing tights or hosiery to add warmth and a polished look.
    8. Outerwear: In colder weather, select a dark-colored, formal coat or trench coat to layer over your outfit.
    9. Hair and Makeup: Keep your hair and makeup natural and not overly dramatic. Avoid brightly colored or bold makeup.
    10. Handbag: Choose a simple, dark-colored handbag that complements your outfit. Avoid flashy or oversized bags.

    Remember that the goal is to show respect for the occasion and the deceased while maintaining a dignified appearance. While black is a traditional choice, dark, subdued colors are also appropriate, and individual expressions of grief and cultural considerations may influence attire choices.

     black suit and white dress shirt on a man

    Bottom Line

    Choosing the right attire for a memorial service is not just a matter of fashion but a gesture of respect and empathy toward the grieving family and the memory of the departed. Whether opting for classic black or other dark, subdued colors, the key is to strike a balance between formal and understated, allowing the focus to remain on the solemnity of the occasion rather than one's attire.

    By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can ensure that your clothing choice honors the memory of the deceased and provides support and comfort to those in mourning during this solemn event.


    Frequently Asked Questions about What to Wear at a Memorial Service

    What not to wear to a memorial service?

    Avoid wearing casual or brightly colored clothing to a memorial service; instead, opt for subdued and respectful attire, such as dark-colored or formal clothing. Additionally, it's important to refrain from wearing clothing with offensive slogans or graphics that could be considered disrespectful in a somber setting.

    Do you have to wear black to a memorial service?

    While black is a traditional and respectful choice for a memorial service, it is not mandatory. Wearing dark, subdued colors or formal attire is generally appropriate to show respect for the occasion.

    What is the best color to wear to a memorial service?

    The best color to wear to a memorial service is typically dark and subdued, such as black, navy blue, gray, or dark brown. These colors convey a sense of solemnity and respect for the occasion.

    Are you supposed to bring anything to a memorial service?

    It's not always necessary to bring something to a memorial service, but it's considerate to bring a sympathy card, flowers, or a small token of remembrance if you wish to offer your condolences and support to the grieving family. If the memorial service has specific requests or guidelines regarding gifts or contributions, it's advisable to follow those instructions.

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