Most people dress the deceased in dark colors such as black and navy blue. When choosing it is best to consider:
- The wishes of the deceased
- The wishes of the family
- Religious requirements
- Type of service you’re holding
- State of the deceased’s body
- Cultural Influences.
Things to Consider When Choosing Clothing for the Deceased
One of the many decisions that must be made when planning a funeral or burial is what the deceased will be dressed in. Traditionally, people in the United States were buried in their nicest clothing or “Sunday best.” It is still not uncommon to purchase a new, formal outfit for your loved one.
However, dark, formal clothing isn’t the only option. Some people choose to instead be buried in a favorite outfit, regardless of the formality. It can be comforting for loved ones to see the deceased buried in a favorite jersey or iconic sweatshirt. In this case, the color of the clothing is not as important as the clothing itself.
Some people are even choosing to be buried in what some morticians call “grave-casual.” If death is the “final resting place,” it only makes sense that we would want our loved ones to have a comfortable last sleep. Morticians are more and more frequently seeing people dressed in sweats, pajamas, or even slippers.
When choosing clothing for the deceased, it’s important to take the following things into consideration:
1. Wishes of the Deceased:
Many people will leave instructions about how they wish to be dressed after death. If the deceased did not leave any requests, it’s important to consider what they would have wanted.
Were they someone who would want to look their best?
Were they someone who would want to be in somber colors to match the mood of the ceremony?
Did they have a favorite outfit or a special piece of clothing that they would have been happy to be dressed in?
2. Wishes of the Family:
If there is a viewing or open-casket ceremony prior to the burial or cremation, it is important to consider how the family will want to see the deceased.
Viewings and open-casket funerals can offer a sense of closure to the family and help them with their grieving process. It is therefore important to consider how they will want to remember their loved one.
3. Religious Considerations:
While most religions do not stipulate how the deceased should be dressed for burial or cremation, there are certain religions that have dress code requirements.
For example, Judaism and Hinduism are known to require specific cultural dress and hairstyles for the deceased. Prior to choosing an outfit for the deceased, make sure to consider the religion of the deceased and/or the place of worship where the service will be held.
4. Type of Service:
The type of funeral/memorial service and burial/cremation that you choose for the deceased may influence the type of clothing they are allowed to wear.
For more information, see the “Clothing Requirements for Different Services” section below.
5. State of the Deceased:
When choosing an outfit for the deceased, it’s important to talk to the funeral director or mortician about any clothing restrictions you may encounter. Many peoples’ bodies change in the time leading up to and immediately after death.
For example, an illness may have caused the deceased to lose weight, or death may have caused their body to swell.
Therefore, prior to the ceremony, you will want to ensure that the deceased’s clothing still fits. If their body has changed, it may be necessary to buy new clothing.
6. Cultural Influences
Dark, somber colors, such as black and navy blue, represent mourning and death in most western cultures. However, there are other countries that use very different colors to express mourning. For example:
- In North and South Korea, blue is considered the color of mourning
- In Egypt and Ethiopia, yellow is considered the color of mourning
- Many Middle Eastern countries view white as the appropriate color to wear to a funeral
Therefore, it is important to understand the culture of the deceased to ensure that they are dressed properly.
When attending a funeral, it is also important that you understand the cultural influences of the deceased’s family so that you do not inadvertently wear an inappropriate color.
If you don’t wish to pick clothing for the deceased because there will not be a viewing, you can also have the deceased dressed in a funeral gown. Funeral gowns are simple gowns made of a soft satin-like material that are provided by the funeral home to protect the deceased’s dignity.
Funeral gowns are typically available in “men’s,” “women’s,” or “unisex” varieties. Funeral gowns typically come in black or white, depending on your preference. The simple gowns tend to look like a nice nightgown or dressing gown. However, some funeral homes also offer gowns with religious motifs or a false shirt front so that the deceased appears to be dressed when the casket is opened.
Clothing Requirements for Different Services
Depending on the type of funeral service or burial/cremation you’ve chosen for the deceased, there may be restrictions on what the deceased can wear. Some of the most common dress codes are discussed below.
1. Traditional Funeral
If you are having a traditional funeral, there are not typically outfit requirements for the deceased. Make sure you take into account the considerations listed above when choosing an outfit.
If you are having an open-casket funeral or a viewing, most funeral homes will let you have different clothing for the funeral and the burial if you so choose. However, it is important to provide the funeral home with a list of the items you want back to ensure they are not left in the casket.
When a body is cremated, it is important that everything within the casket is combustible. As such, clothing on the body cannot include:
- Metals, including belt buckles, zippers, spectacles, wedding rings, jewelry, etc.
- Treated leather, including shoes, boots, or leather clothing
- Rubber soled shoes
If you are not having a viewing before the cremation, the color of the clothing you choose for the deceased is less important.
If you are having a viewing or an open-casket funeral prior to the cremation, most funeral homes will let you choose different outfits for the service and the cremation. However, make sure you provide the funeral home with a list of the items that you want back.
3. Green Burial
Green burials are gaining popularity in the United States because they are a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burials. However, the “green” label also comes with a number of specific clothing requirements:
- Everything must be biodegradable
- Clothing must be made from untreated natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, or linen
- Clothing cannot include artificial materials, such as elastic waistbands, nylon threads, synthetic linings, buttons, and plastic or metal zippers.
In the current clothing industry, it can be incredibly difficult to find clothing that fits the green burial requirements. Therefore, if you don’t have clothing for the deceased that qualifies, you can have the person buried in a burial gown or burial shroud.
Burial gowns and shrouds for green burials are typically white or off-white and have basic designs. Green burial gowns and shrouds are made of cotton, hemp, wool, or bamboo fibers.
4. Funeral for an Infant
In the United States, over 30 infants die each day. While there are not unique clothing requirements for a burial or cremation for an infant, finding clothing that is small enough can be a challenge.
Infants are usually buried in white or off-white funeral gowns.
There are a number of non-profit organizations that make funeral gowns, hats, and blankets for stillborn babies and babies that die shortly after birth. Some of the more popular companies include:
Additional Tips for Choosing Clothing
When choosing clothing, make sure you don’t make the following mistakes:
1. Don’t Forget the Undergarments
When choosing clothing, most of us focus on the obvious shirts, pants, and dresses. However, the deceased needs undergarments too! Make sure you remember underwear, socks, and bras.
This mistake is so common that most funeral homes have a large supply of underwear and socks on hand so that loved ones don’t have to make an extra trip.
2. Shoes are Optional
Once rigor mortis sets in after death, the body becomes rigid and hard to manipulate. Even after rigor mortis has released, it can still be challenging to move the more stationary portions of the body, such as the feet.
When choosing shoes for the deceased, consider flexible, low-cut options to ensure that the mortician can get them on their feet. Or, if you’re comfortable with it, consider skipping shoes altogether.
3. Hair Dye Might be Needed
When a body dies, the skin contracts and pulls away from the hair, thereby exposing more of the roots.
If your loved one was a frequent hair dyer, it’s possible that this, combined with time spent in a hospital, will cause a noticeable difference between the natural and dyed hair.
Most morticians are willing to dye the deceased’s hair for an open-casket funeral or viewing. However, most of them require you to provide the hair dye.
If you are having an open-casket funeral or a viewing, make sure you ask your mortician if you should bring hair dye when you bring the clothing.
At the end of the day, there is not an exact correct color or type of clothing to dress the deceased in for a funeral.
When choosing their clothing, make sure you consider the wishes of the deceased and their family, the religion of the deceased and/or officiant performing the ceremony, the type of service you are holding, the state of the deceased’s body, and the cultural heritage of the deceased.
If you are still unsure, consider talking to family members or your funeral director about what they would recommend.