Usually shoes are not put on the dead, this is why
Shoes are usually not worn by the dead, for these reasons
- They may not request it
- Weight loss or rigor mortis might make it impossible to fit the shoes
- There is no need for this to occur, especially with a half-couch casket
- Some shoes might cause harm to the environment during burial or cremation
Bidding farewell to a loved one is always a hard thing to do. Part of the process of grieving involves the viewing (if there is one) and the funeral service.
It’s natural to have questions about what you can and cannot do when arranging a funeral.
A common question that arises concerns shoes. Do the dead wear shoes in their casket? I’ve done lots of research on the subject to relieve you of the need to do so. If you have cause to wonder about this, whether you have a funeral to plan or you’re curious, I’ve listed everything you need to know right here.
Shoes Aren’t Worn Unless a Request is Made by the Family
It isn’t common for Americans to be placed in the casket with shoes on. Often, it isn’t even considered unless the family asks for this and provides a pair of shoes to be used.
I recall when my father died, I was asked whether I would like to supply clothes for him to wear in his casket. Since he had a luxurious bathrobe for his birthday that he had never had a chance to wear, I chose that. I know he would have approved – very comfy!
I never considered shoes, although slippers would have been a good choice, I guess. Formal shoes and a bathrobe… not quite the look I would have gone for. Mind you, he had a terrific sense of humor and probably would have loved it.
Shoes Can Be Difficult to Put On The Decedent
There are several reasons why this might be the case:
- Weight loss through illness may mean shoes that once fitted become too loose
- Rigor mortis can make shoes far more difficult to get on as the feet and ankles don’t flex
- The body goes through many changes after death, making it harder for stiff shoes to be worn
Boots are usually harder to get on than shoes too. You probably have some trouble putting on a pair of boots at the best of times, while in perfect health. Changes that occur both before and after death can make things harder still.
Conversely, slippers or sandals that can be undone and laced or buckled up would be easier to put on than boots, especially if the boots are of the pull-on type like cowboy boots.
If Shoes Cannot Be Fitted, the Family Would Be Told
If the funeral director found the footwear provided couldn’t be worn by the deceased for some reason, the family would be informed of this. It wouldn’t be kept a secret.
From the research I conducted, I discovered that most often, the funeral director would be able to put the shoes on the decedent.
Typically, any shoes that were provided but couldn’t be fitted would be laid next to the feet at the bottom of the casket. The exception would be if the family decided not to go ahead with the shoes given the situation.
The important thing to remember is that the family can decide.
There is No Need for Shoes to Be Worn
Even when a family requests a viewing of the body, a half-couch casket is commonly used. This means:
- The lid of the casket is constructed in two pieces
- Only the top half of the lid is raised for the viewing
- Once viewing is complete, that part of the lid is closed to sit flush with the bottom part
So, only the upper half of the decedent is visible to those who attend. Since the person isn’t visible from the waist down, there is no need for the individual to wear any shoes, or even anything below the waist.
If a full-couch casket is used, the situation may change. Clothing or another full-body covering like a shroud would be needed.
However, even then, shoes are optional. It is worth thinking about what your loved one would have wanted or providing a pair of shoes the person often wore if a full-couch casket is chosen.
I recall a close family member who was always walking about barefoot. When she passed, it was decided that wearing shoes would be very out of character, so she remained barefoot to the end. Rather appropriate in that case.
If Shoes Are Worn for the Viewing, They May Be Removed Before Burial or Cremation
This surprised me at first, but when I thought about it and read more about the procedure, it made perfect sense. It would be logical to assume that once the shoes were put on the decedent, they would stay there.
There are several reasons why footwear may be removed once the viewing is over, regardless of the type of casket used. Let’s look at those reasons now.
1: The shoes are not eco-friendly
If your loved one requested an eco-friendly burial, shoes may not be a concern since they likely wouldn’t be worn. Going barefoot in a shroud is more likely. Many eco-friendly funeral services also provide eco-friendly shoes or sandals for this purpose.
However, if it is not obvious that the shoes are made only from natural fibers that are biodegradable and would do no harm to the surroundings – whether that means via cremation or burial – the shoes would probably be returned to you.
2: They are made from artificial fibers or materials
Anything artificial may take an age to break down and rot away – if it does so at all. Burial may seem safer than cremation because the body, the shoes, and other clothing are left for nature to take its course.
But rubber shoes would hang around for years. The idea is for shoes, along with everything else, to naturally rot down and eventually disappear.
However, you shouldn’t assume that leather shoes with leather soles are fine for your loved one to wear either. Even though leather is natural, it is often treated to give it a longer life and perhaps a better look. In this case, the leather would be rendered unsuitable for cremation or burial.
3: There could be safety concerns surrounding the footwear
This can apply to both burials and cremations. Certain materials may:
- Gradually degrade and potentially allow harmful elements to leak into the soil after burial
- Readily burn but generate harmful toxins and similar unwanted substances into the atmosphere during the cremation
Bottom line? If the shoes chosen for the decedent are not deemed safe to be worn during the burial or cremation process, the footwear would be removed following the viewing.
They would then be returned to the family before burial or cremation. It’s worth knowing this, so it doesn’t come as a surprise if this should occur.
Socks Are More Common Than Shoes
While I was researching this topic, I read a response that came from a funeral assistant in the US. According to this individual, it is rare that shoes are placed on the deceased.
Socks are far more common, however. Funeral directors often supply them even if the family doesn’t think to do so. This means that if you specifically want someone to be barefoot in their casket, you should make this clear.
Shoe Wearing Can Depend on Cultural Preference
Some cultures tend to make sure the dead wear shoes in preparation for striding into the afterlife. Others believe the shoes should be burned or destroyed in case of bringing bad luck to those who are alive.
In America, though, most funeral directors do not put shoes on the dead. The decision lies with the loved ones, and in many cases, those who are left behind don’t even consider the possibility of doing this.
Shoes May Make Sense as Part of an Outfit
Someone who is known for wearing a denim shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots would see those boots as part of their overall look.
If the decedent left strict instructions for their appearance and funeral arrangements, it might be that an outfit – complete with footwear – has already been chosen.
You can see there is plenty to think about. The decedent’s final wishes should be put first, of course, but if your loved one didn’t provide instructions on clothing, it is worth thinking about what the person wore when they were alive.
In the case of the relative I spoke of earlier, shoes didn’t make sense. Nor did they with my father when he was dressed in his bathrobe.
However, in some cases, it might make sense to pick a certain pair of shoes for the person to wear. If so, the funeral director will be able to guide you around any issues that might arise with that pair of shoes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either – the funeral director is there to assist.