What to Wear to a Wake

what to wear to a wake: proper funeral attire

Written by Ben Chuang

In the delicate moments surrounding a wake, the choice of attire becomes a poignant expression of respect and solemnity. Navigating the realm of men's fashion for such somber occasions requires a delicate balance between traditional conventions and personal style.

As we delve into the nuanced considerations of "What to Wear to a Wake," this article aims to provide guidance on clothing choices that pay homage to the gravity of the event while allowing individuals to express their condolences with dignity and grace.

In exploring the subtle nuances of wake attire for men, we'll discuss timeless wardrobe staples and subtle sartorial cues that honor the occasion with a tasteful blend of reverence and sophistication.

What is a Wake?

what is a wake

Before we discuss attire, it's important to understand what exactly is a wake, and what the difference is between a wake, a funeral, and a memorial service. A wake is a gathering or ceremony that typically takes place before a funeral or memorial service, providing an opportunity for friends and family to come together to mourn and remember the deceased.

It is a customary practice in many cultures and is often characterized by a subdued and reflective atmosphere. During a wake, attendees may share stories, offer condolences, and celebrate the life of the deceased with food and drink. Check out our other guide on what to wear to a celebration of life.

The term "wake" is derived from the Middle English word "wak," meaning to stay awake, as it historically referred to a vigil held at the bedside of a deceased person before burial. Wakes vary in format and customs across different cultures and religious traditions, but their common purpose is to offer a communal space for grieving and remembrance.

History of Wake Attire

wake attire: wear black

Historically, the attire worn to wakes has varied across cultures and time periods, but common themes have persisted. In many Western traditions, people traditionally wear black as a symbol of mourning.

Dark colors were chosen to convey a sense of solemnity and respect for the deceased. Men typically wore suits, often with black ties, while women donned black dresses or veils. These sartorial choices were not only a sign of mourning but also a visual expression of empathy and solidarity with the grieving family.

In some cultures, traditional funeral attire included specific garments or accessories symbolizing mourning or respect. Veils, armbands, or black ribbons might be worn to indicate a person's bereavement.

Over time, societal norms and attitudes towards mourning attire have evolved, leading to more flexibility in color choices and styles. However, the historical influence of emphasizing modesty, formality, and respect in one's attire for wakes continues to shape contemporary funeral customs.

Is Wake Attire the Same as Funeral Attire?

wake vs funeral attire

Traditionally, people often wear similar or even the same clothes to both a wake and a funeral service. The attire for these occasions tends to be somber, formal, and respectful. Dark colors, particularly black, are commonly chosen to symbolize mourning and convey a sense of solemnity for affected family members. Men typically wear suits, and women opt for dresses or suits, often with subdued accessories.

However, in more contemporary settings, there is often greater flexibility in wake attire, and the distinctions between what is worn to a wake versus a funeral can be less rigid. Some individuals might choose to wear slightly less formal attire to a wake, reserving their most formal and traditional funeral attire for the actual funeral service or memorial service.

The key consideration is to ensure that the chosen clothing reflects a respectful and dignified demeanor, acknowledging the solemnity of the occasion. Ultimately, cultural and personal preferences play a role in determining the appropriateness of attire for both events.

How to Dress Appropriately for a Wake

proper wake attire: dark suit

To dress appropriately for a wake involves choosing formal attire that reflects respect and acknowledges the solemn nature of the occasion. For men, a dark suit, dress shirt, and tie are traditional choices. If a suit is unavailable, dress in dark, formal clothing such as dress pants and a collared shirt. Women often opt for modest dresses, skirts, or dress suits, keeping accessories and colors subdued.

It's crucial to avoid overly casual or flashy clothing, as well as vibrant colors. The aim is to convey a sense of mourning and support for the grieving and bereaved family. Avoid wearing white, which is generally associated with celebrations. Additionally, choose clothing that is neat, clean, and well-presented.

While contemporary norms allow for some flexibility, the key is to strike a balance between personal style and the respectful tone of the formal event itself. Conservative and understated clothing choices help create an atmosphere of dignity and empathy, allowing attendees to focus on offering condolences and supporting one another during this difficult time.

What to Wear to a Wake for Men

1. Suit and Tie:

In the Western tradition, men typically wear black for wake or funeral service. The most traditional and widely accepted choice for men attending a wake is a dark suit paired with a dress shirt and tie, since a wake calls for formal attire. The dark colors, often black, navy blue, or charcoal gray, symbolize mourning and convey a sense of formality. Opt for a well-fitted suit in a conservative style, avoiding overly flashy or trendy elements to fit the dress code. A white dress shirt complements the dark suit, and a subdued tie adds a touch of formality without being too ostentatious.

2. Dress Shirt and Dress Pants:

If a full suit is unavailable, a combination of dark pants and a dress shirt is a suitable alternative for formal attire. Choose to wear dark-colored dress pants, preferably black or charcoal gray, and pair them with a neatly pressed, solid-colored dress shirt. Tuck in the shirt for a polished look. While a tie is not mandatory in this case, adding one can enhance the overall appearance, demonstrating a thoughtful level of respect for the occasion.

3. Shoes and Accessories:

Complete the look with formal and polished dress shoes, preferably in black or dark brown. Avoid overly casual footwear such as sneakers or flip-flops. Accessories should be minimal and understated. A conservative watch, cufflinks, or a tie clip can add a touch of refinement without drawing undue attention. Ensure that the dress shoes you choose to wear match the dark colors of your outfit.

4. Grooming and Personal Care:

In addition to clothing, attention to personal grooming is essential. Ensure your hair is neatly styled, and facial hair, if present, is well-groomed. Keep cologne subtle, as strong scents may be overwhelming in the close quarters of a wake. Maintaining a respectful and composed demeanor contributes to the overall tone of the event.

5. Weather Considerations:

Take into account the weather conditions when selecting your outfit. In colder weather, a dark overcoat or trench coat can be a practical and stylish addition. However, be mindful of removing your coat upon entering the venue to show respect for the occasion.

6. Cultural Sensitivity:

Be aware of any specific cultural or religious customs related to mourning attire that may influence your choice of clothing. Some cultures have unique expectations regarding colors, accessories, or specific garments during mourning periods.

7. Personal Expression:

personal expression in attire

While the emphasis is on modesty and formality, there is room for subtle personal expression. Consider incorporating a pocket square or a tie with a subtle pattern that aligns with your personal style while remaining appropriate for the occasion.

By combining these considerations, you can create an outfit that pays homage to the gravity of the event, demonstrating both respect for the deceased and empathy for those in mourning.

Men's Accessories to Wear to a Wake

When selecting accessories to wear to a wake, it's important to choose items that are subtle, respectful, and contribute to an overall appearance of dignity. Here are some appropriate men's accessories for a wake:

1. A Tie:

A tie is a classic and essential accessory for a formal and respectful look. Opt for a dark-colored tie that complements your suit or outfit. Solid colors or subtle patterns are ideal, avoiding anything too bright or flashy.

2. Classy Cufflinks:

If you choose to wear a dress shirt with French cuffs, consider adding understated cufflinks. Simple and elegant designs, such as plain silver or black, can enhance the formality of your attire without drawing undue attention.

3. Tie Bar or Tie Clip:

A tie bar or tie clip can be a small yet thoughtful addition to your outfit. Choose a discreet design that complements your tie, helping to keep it in place and adding a touch of sophistication.

4. A Nice Watch:

Wearing a watch is a practical and traditional accessory. Opt for a subdued and classic timepiece that aligns with the formality of the occasion. Avoid overly sporty or flashy designs.

5. Pocket Square:

A pocket square adds a touch of refinement to a suit jacket. Choose a solid color or a subtle pattern that complements your overall attire. Ensure it is neatly folded for a polished look.

6. Subtle Lapel Pin or Boutonnière:

A small lapel pin or boutonnière can be a discreet way to honor the occasion. Choose a simple design, such as a black or white flower, or a small emblem that holds personal significance.

7. Leather Belt:

A classic leather belt in a dark color, such as black or brown, is a functional accessory that completes your look. Ensure it is in good condition, pairs well with your overall attire, and is the correct belt size.

8. Subdued Ring or Religious Symbol:

If you regularly wear a ring or have a piece of jewelry with sentimental value, consider wearing it to the wake. Ensure that it is subtle and does not detract from the overall tone of the event. Religious symbols or small crosses can also be appropriate if they hold personal significance.


9. Minimalist Lapel Pin or Brooch:

A small and minimalist lapel pin or brooch can add a touch of elegance to your jacket. Choose a design that is understated and complements your overall look without being too ostentatious.

10. Minimalistic Bracelet:

If you regularly wear a bracelet, opt for one that is discreet and inoffensive. Avoid anything overly flashy or noisy to maintain a quiet and respectful atmosphere.

Remember, the key is to choose accessories that enhance your overall appearance while demonstrating respect for the solemn nature of the wake. Keep in mind cultural or religious considerations that may influence your accessory choices.

What to Wear to a Wake for Women

1. Dress or Suit:

For women attending a wake, the customary choice for formal attire is a dress or a suit that exudes modesty and sophistication. In Western tradition, women typically wear black, navy blue, or charcoal gray, as they symbolize mourning and convey a respectful dress code. Dresses should be knee-length or longer, with a modest neckline. Suits can consist of a well-fitted blazer and tailored pants or a skirt, with dark-colored dress shoes to match.

dress for wake

2. Blouse and Skirt or Dress Pants:

If a dress or suit is not preferred, a blouse paired with a skirt or dark pants is a suitable alternative. Choose a blouse in a dark and subdued color and pair it with a knee-length or longer skirt, or tailored dark pants. This combination strikes a balance between formality and comfort.

3. Shoes and Accessories:

Complete the ensemble with closed-toe, formal and comfortable dress shoes, in a dark color, such as black or dark brown. Avoid overly embellished or casual footwear like flip flops. Minimal and understated accessories are recommended for a wake. Opt for simple jewelry, such as stud earrings or a delicate necklace, to maintain an air of elegance without drawing excessive attention. Make sure your dress shoes are an appropriately dark color.

4. Hair and Makeup:

Keep hairstyles neat and polished, whether in an updo or down. Avoid overly elaborate or distracting hairstyles. Makeup should be subtle, enhancing natural features without being too dramatic. Consider the tone of the event when choosing makeup colors, opting for more neutral tones and subdued shades.

5. Weather-Appropriate Clothing:

Consider the weather when selecting your outfit. In colder temperatures, a tailored coat or shawl in a dark color can provide warmth without compromising on the dress code. Ensure that your outerwear is appropriate for the setting, and remove it upon entering the venue as a sign of respect.

6. Cultural Considerations:

Be aware of any cultural or religious expectations regarding mourning attire. Some cultures have specific guidelines regarding the colors, lengths, or styles of clothing during periods of mourning. Adhering to these customs demonstrates cultural sensitivity and respect for traditions.

culture appropriate wake attire women

7. Personal Style and Expression:

While maintaining an overall tone of modesty and formality, there is room for personal expression. Consider incorporating subtle patterns or textures into your outfit to reflect your individual style. However, it's important to strike a balance that aligns with the somber nature of the occasion.

8. Handbag and Clutch:

Choose a handbag or clutch that is elegant and proportionate to the outfit. Opt for dark colors that complement the rest of your attire. Keep the contents of your bag minimal, bringing only the essentials, and choose a style that is respectful and understated.

By considering these elements and blending them with personal preferences, women can choose an outfit that conveys empathy and respect at a wake. The goal is to strike a balance between cultural appropriateness, modesty, and individual expression while honoring the significance of the occasion.

What Should Children Wear to a Wake

Dressing children for a wake involves striking a balance between the respectful nature of the occasion and the comfort of the child. Here are some considerations for appropriate wake clothing and for your child to dress appropriately for a wake:

1. Dark-Colored Clothing:

While the formal attire may vary depending on the cultural context and personal preferences, choosing dark-colored clothing for children is generally considered appropriate. Dark shades like black, navy, or charcoal gray are common choices to symbolize mourning.

child at funeral

2. Modest and Comfortable Outfits:

Select outfits that are both modest and comfortable for the child. Avoid overly elaborate or fussy clothing that might cause discomfort. Comfort is especially important for children who may be less familiar with formal events.

3. Casual Formalwear:

For children, casual formalwear, such as a simple dark dress or dress shirt with dress pants for boys, can strike the right balance. Girls might also wear jeans with a modest dress or a skirt paired with a top. It's essential to consider the child's age and what they feel comfortable wearing.

4. Closed-Toe Shoes:

Opt for closed-toe dress shoes for both boys and girls, ensuring they are suitable for the formality of the occasion. Avoid overly casual footwear like flip flops and opt for something more than semi-formal attire, like dress shoes.

5. Cultural Sensitivity:

Take into account any cultural or religious customs related to mourning attire that may influence your choice of clothing for children. Some cultures have specific expectations regarding the colors, styles, or accessories considered appropriate during mourning periods.

6. Weather-Appropriate Attire:

Consider the weather when selecting outfits. If the wake is in a colder season, provide a jacket or sweater that complements the child's attire. Ensure they dress appropriately for the temperature while maintaining a respectful appearance.

7. Avoiding Bright Colors and Graphic Prints:

appropriate colors for kids

It's advisable to avoid bright colors and graphic prints, as they may be considered too cheerful for the solemn atmosphere of a wake. Stick to muted and dark tones to align with the overall tone of the event.

8. Emphasize the Importance of Behavior:

While attire is important, it's equally crucial to emphasize the significance of behavior. Teach children about the somber nature of wakes, the importance of being respectful, and the need to express condolences appropriately.

By considering these factors, parents or caregivers can choose clothing that ensures children are appropriately dressed for a wake while also prioritizing their comfort and understanding of the event's significance.

What Not to Wear to a Wake

When attending a wake, it's essential to choose attire that reflects the solemnity of the occasion and dressing appropriately shows respect for the grieving family. To maintain a respectful atmosphere, it's important to ensure that you dress appropriately when considering what to wear to a wake. Here's a list of what not to wear to a wake:

1. Casual or Athletic Attire:

Avoid wearing casual clothing, such as jeans, T-shirts, hoodies dark socks, or sneakers. These items may be too informal for the somber nature of a wake.

avoid casual clothing

2. Overly Bright or Vibrant Colors:

Avoid clothing in overly bright or vibrant colors, as these can be perceived as too cheerful for a mourning setting. Stick to muted and dark tones, such as black, navy, or gray.

3. Excessively Casual Footwear:

Avoid wearing overly casual footwear like flip-flops, sandals, or sneakers. Opt for closed-toe shoes that are more formal and respectful of the occasion.

4. Flashy or Elaborate Outfits:

Avoid outfits with flashy accessories, excessive embellishments, or elaborate patterns. The focus should be on modesty and simplicity rather than drawing attention to one's attire.

5. Revealing or Inappropriately Casual Attire:

Choose clothing that is modest and respectful. Avoid outfits that are too revealing, overly casual, or have a beachwear vibe.

6. Noisy or Distracting Accessories:

distracting accessories

Steer clear of accessories that may be noisy or distracting, such as large, jingling jewelry. Keep accessories subtle and understated to maintain a quiet and respectful environment.

7. Strong Fragrances:

Refrain from wearing strong perfumes or colognes. In close quarters, overpowering scents can be distracting or even uncomfortable for those attending the wake.

8. Clothing with Offensive Graphics or Slogans:

Avoid clothing with offensive graphics or slogans. Clothing should be chosen with the understanding that a wake is a place for reflection, sympathy, and support, and offensive or inappropriate messaging is inappropriate.

9. Overly Casual Outerwear:

Choose outerwear that complements the formality of the occasion. Avoid overly casual jackets or coats and opt for something more traditional and subdued.

10. Clothing that Doesn't Reflect the Mood:

Ultimately, any clothing that does not reflect the somber and respectful mood of the event should be avoided. The goal is to express condolences and support through both appearance and demeanor.

By adhering to these guidelines, attendees can ensure that their clothing choices contribute to a respectful and dignified atmosphere at the wake, allowing the focus of funeral services to remain on paying tribute to the deceased and providing comfort to grieving loved ones. Don't forget to check out our article on what to wear to a conference for more outfit inspiration.

Frequently asked questions about what to wear to a wake

What is appropriate attire for a wake?

Appropriate attire for a wake is generally subdued and respectful, reflecting the solemn nature of the occasion. Men often opt for dark suits, dress shirts, and ties, while women choose modest dresses or suits. It's essential to prioritize a neat and conservative appearance to convey a sense of reverence for the grieving family.

What is the etiquette for attending a wake?

When attending a wake, it is crucial to adhere to proper funeral etiquette throughout. Express your condolences with sincerity, keeping conversations subdued and focused on the deceased. Be mindful of the grieving family's emotions and avoid inappropriate topics. Offer a comforting presence, and if there's a guestbook, take a moment to share a brief message or memory.

What do you wear to a wake if you don't have a suit?

If you don't have a suit for a wake, it's still possible to dress respectfully convey respect through alternative attire. Opt for dark-colored, formal clothing such as dress pants and a collared shirt for men, or a modest dress or blouse with dress pants or a skirt for women. The key is to prioritize modesty and a respectful appearance, even if a traditional suit is unavailable.

Do you wear white to a wake?

Wearing white to a wake is generally discouraged when considering what to wear to a wake, as white is often associated with celebrations and can be perceived as too cheerful for a somber occasion. It's advisable to stick to darker, more muted colors to convey a sense of mourning and respect. Choosing subdued hues such as black, gray, or navy is a thoughtful way to dress appropriately for a wake.

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