The Proper Attire for Memorial Services Vs. Funerals

portrait of a young couple and their son standing over a coffin

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The primary difference between a memorial service and a funeral is that at the funeral, the body of the deceased may be present. For this reason, funerals are usually held in churches near the gravesite, or in funeral homes, which are often attached to the mortuary. The proper attire for each of these services is first dictated by the family of the deceased, and then by the common rules of etiquette.

Attire for Memorial Services

Memorial services may be held in a loved one's home, reception hall or a church. In general, memorial services are slightly less formal than funerals. Formal or even dressy clothing is not usually required, but your clothing should be conservative -- nothing too tight, low-cut or garish -- so as to show respect to the family of the deceased. Clothing should also be clean and wrinkle-free. A collared shirt or sweater with slacks works well for men, and a nice blouse with slacks or a skirt is a good choice for women. Children should wear conservative clothing as well.

Considerations for Memorial Services

It's best to follow the lead of the family when choosing what to wear. Sometimes, memorial services are planned to be upbeat celebrations of life. The family may ask that you wear clothing that reflects the favorite color of the deceased, or even bright colors instead of the usual dark colors. If the service will be held outside, dress accordingly. Sure, if it's hot, you might long for a pair of shorts, but such attire is almost never appropriate at a memorial service.

Attire for Funerals

Funerals are usually more formal than memorial services, but this can vary depending on the location and personal preferences of the family of the deceased. Again, follow the lead of the family and their religious or spiritual beliefs when choosing what to wear. Some cultures and religious denominations may require certain colors such as white to be worn. If no preference has been given, stick with conservative, dressy choices in dark, neutral colors and subdued patterns. Women should wear dresses, skirts or slacks. Low cut shirts or dresses with spaghetti straps are not acceptable, as they might be construed to be disrespectful. Men should wear slacks with at least a dress shirt or sweater. A tie and jacket are always good choices. Also never wear flip-flops or other casual shoes to a funeral.

Considerations for Funerals

Funerals are usually followed by a brief service at the gravesite. You may be required to stand outside in cold weather during this time. For this reason, consider bringing a nice but warm coat to wear over your clothing, as well as a scarf and gloves if needed. If the weather has been wet, the ground may be soggy, making walking in high heels difficult. Instead, if you are a female, wear comfortable but dressy boots with a sturdy heel. Men, on the other hand, should just resign themselves to getting a little mud on their dress shoes.