Wakes are always hard to attend, especially when the person who passed away was someone you were very fond of, so you need to learn how to pay your respects and, most importantly, what to wear to a wake.
Funeral etiquette is not something we wish we learned earlier, but we will have to address it sooner or later in life. When it comes to appropriate funeral attire, there is no such thing as a standard protocol, but this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to wear anything. For those of you who want to mark the occasion with the proper outfit, here is what we suggest.
What to wear to a wake if you’re a man
Traditionally, the wake takes place one day before the funeral, and it is usually held in the mourning family’s home. However, some wakes might be held directly at the funeral home, which means you might have to adjust your dress code according to the location.
That being said, deciding on what to wear to a wake can be challenging. Generally speaking, attire should be modest and respectful, to ensure you pay your respects to the family of the deceased without drawing attention to your outfit.
Even though wakes tend to be less formal than normal funerals, this doesn’t mean that you get to wear whatever you want. Here is a list of clothing items you should wear.
- Business attire
If you own a business suit, it can be your go-to for almost all professional and special events, including company meetings, business trips, funerals, and wakes.
A black suit combined with a button-down white shirt should be on your priority list if you plan on going to a wake. Although the tie is not mandatory, some formal events held inside funeral homes might require you to wear one.
If you don’t own a black suit, any dark color is suitable, from navy to dark gray, and charcoal. A dark brown suit is acceptable too, in case you don’t have any other option.
Additionally, you can replace the dark suit jacket with a sweater or a dark button-down shirt, depending on the season and the location of the wake. However, you should make sure your clothes are clean, fresh, and wrinkle-free at all times.
If the wake is held during the wintertime, add a long dark coat on top of your suit to keep you warm. Dark gloves are also a nice touch and will keep your hands warm, too. The rainy season can be tricky too, so make sure to bring a black umbrella with you to avoid getting wet.
No matter your option, keep in mind that hats and any other head accessories should be avoided unless explicitly mentioned by the mourning family, as they might be seen as disrespectful.
The shoes you are wearing should be matching the rest of the attire, so try keeping them in dark-colored tones as well.
A navy suit and a white/ blue shirt work both with black and brown brogues or Oxford shoes. Other popular choices when it comes to shoes include derby, monk straps, wingtips, and cap toes. Regardless of your choice, the shoes should be in impeccable condition, and should always be cleaned and polished.
In terms of accessories, men are allowed to wear modest ones to complete their outfit. A tie in neutral or dark colors is always welcomed, as well as a leather belt without any flashy parts, cufflinks, and sunglasses.
Man purses should be avoided as they are not considered essential on this occasion. Your jacket and pants pockets should have enough storage room to keep your wallet, phone, and keys with you.
- What not to wear to a wake
The funeral etiquette is rather strict when it comes to the attire required, which means you won’t be able to dress as you would normally do during the weekend or when going out for lunch. That being said, the number one rule is to be humble and modest.
Remember that the wake is about the grieving family and the deceased, so it’s not a good time to stand out with your clothing choice. Therefore, you should avoid flashy accessories.
If you’re a man, you are allowed to wear fine jewelry, such as a ring (wedding band), a watch, and a pair of cufflinks, as long as they can be easily hidden or don’t pose as flashy.
Sandals, boots, and sneakers are out of the equation because they are too relaxed and casual to work with the rest of the attire. Wearing any of these shoes will be disrespectful to the occasion and the family of the deceased. In this case, dress shoes are the only viable option.
Shorts, t-shirts, cargo pants, camouflage print clothes, hoodies, and caps are not allowed either for the same reason. They are the sign of casual or beachwear, which is unacceptable under this restrained event.
Jeans are only acceptable if they are combined with a jacket suit and a clean shirt in a neutral or dark color. However, they shouldn’t be baggy, distressed, or ripped, and shouldn’t have too many pockets or any additional embroidery or bling.
Black skinny or slim jeans are the best option, but you might get away with wearing regular navy jeans or even dark gray ones.
As for color scheme, we have already mentioned that this is a sober event, which means decency, humbleness, and modesty are required.
Avoid wearing any flashy or bright colors, even if it’s just for your accessories. Black should be the main choice, while good-enough alternatives include charcoal gray, dark gray, navy, and even dark brown. Additionally, you can wear a white or pale blue button-down shirt, as long as it is combined with a suit in dark tones and the right type of shoes, belt, and accessories.
What to wear to a wake if you’re a woman
Although similar styling and fashion rules apply to women when it comes to sober occasions, such as wakes and funerals, women still have a lot more liberty in choosing their clothes for these events.
As a general rule, women should dress in the same business style, wearing dark colors. When it comes to skirts and dresses, women should always pick a decent length that doesn’t go above the knees. Ankle-long skirts are allowed, but ankle-long pants, especially those with a skinny cut, should be avoided.
Unlike men, women are allowed to wear a wide array of blouses, tops, skirts, and dresses, alongside the regular button-down shirts and classic pants. However, cuts, fabrics, prints, and patterns still need to be chosen carefully.
As opposed to men, women are allowed to wear sleeveless shirts, blouses, and dresses, as long as they choose to cover their shoulders with a light jacket or a sweater during the wake ceremony or the funeral.
Cocktail dresses represent some of the most inspired and elegant choices, as long as they are kept in knee-length, neutral or dark tones, and without any disturbing cuts or open backs.
Another difference in the funeral etiquette between men and women is the acceptance of sandals. Although not encouraged, women can still choose to wear strappy or peep-toe sandals with middle heels, especially during the summertime. However, the same color rule applies, which means they should be either black, gray, or navy.
Black stilettos, Oxford shoes, ankle boots, and brogues are the most popular women’s footwear options. And, even though the height of the heel or the platform isn’t specified in the wake wardrobe etiquette, we suggest opting for mid-heels instead of chunky platforms.
As for the accessories, they should be limited in number, of good taste, and shouldn’t be too flashy or opulent. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and watches are all accepted, but you shouldn’t wear them all together.
If you opt for a small pair of earrings, you can wear a bracelet and, additionally, your wedding band. If you opt for a necklace, avoid wearing earrings or bracelets too as they might be too much. The same goes for watches – they shouldn’t be too big or flashes.
In terms of makeup, women should keep it classic and minimal. Assuming that you don’t want to stand out, hair and makeup should be neat, clean, and modest.
Use nude or transparent glosses and lipsticks, as well as neutral or nude tones for your eyeshadow. Don’t wear dark, heavy eye makeup such as smokey eyes or false eyelashes as they are not considered professional and worthy of the occasion.
Hats are recommended under certain conditions, but mainly when we’re talking about outdoor funerals. If you are strictly attending the wake, you shouldn’t wear any headpiece, except for a thin headband in black.
Finally, the quality of the fabrics and their choice are also important aspects that need to be taken into account if you’re a woman. That being said, we recommend wearing natural materials, especially cotton and silk, to avoid sweating and overheating. Sheer fabrics like organza should be limited as they might be considered too provocative and revealing for the occasion.