Memorial services and funeral services are similar in that both are events where the living pay tribute to a deceased individual. The distinction between the two is that the body of the deceased is not present at a memorial service. From an etiquette standpoint, a memorial service should be treated with the same lrespect and reverence as a funeral, and the first etiquette decision a memorial service attendee makes is what to wear. For men, proper dress for a memorial service is little more than a combination of good taste and good sense.
There is not a standard outfit specifically for funerals and memorial services, so simply dressing like you would for church or a white-collar office job is appropriate. If you have a suit, that works perfectly. If you do not, there are alternatives. Even men who may not own a full suit probably own a sport coat, slacks, a collared shirt and dress shoes. That is an acceptable outfit, too. No sport coat? Slacks and a tucked-in collared shirt with dress shoes is not an outfit likely to attract judgmental stares.
Keep Colors and Patterns at Bay
Pastel shirts, seersucker suits and two-tone wingtips may be your calling card around town, but they are not the right attire for a memorial service. Be conservative so as not to draw undue attention to yourself. Advisable colors for jackets and sport coats are black, navy and gray. White and oxford blue are fine for collared shirts, and pants should be black or khaki. Classic pinstripes are fine in suits and dress shirts.
Articles of Clothing to Avoid
Unless you truly have nothing else to wear and no means of acquiring new clothes for the service, it is generally in poor taste for a man to wear jeans -- or worse, shorts -- T-shirts or any type of casual footwear to a memorial service. There will obviously be exceptions. It may be the express wish of the deceased or his family that the service be casual, -- it may ev en be outside in summer. In those cases, “traditional” dress etiquette ceases to be relevant. However, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, conservative dress should be the default.
Other Proper Behavior
Dressing appropriately for the memorial service is a huge step toward presenting yourself respectably, but it simply will not get you all the way there. Other fundamental pieces of etiquette to follow include not talking or whispering during the service, keeping your cell phone off and abstaining from chewing gum or unwrapping candy. Precautions should be taken before the service to prevent the need to get out of your seat.
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Based in Virginia, Chip Marsden has been a writer for more than eight years. He has covered film, politics and culture for regional newspapers and online publications. Marsden holds a B.A. in theater arts with a concentration in performance.