Couture or Converse? No Dress Code for the Dead Makes For Tough Decisions

Funeral Industry News Grief & Loss Products & Services June 28, 2022
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Couture or Converse? No Dress Code for the Dead Makes For Tough Decisions

It wasn’t long ago that funeral attire was formal, dark, and uncomfortable — for attendees, attendants, and of course, the deceased. Today, though, the rules have changed. In fact, there aren’t really any rules at all. Although deathcare professionals are still expected (for the most part) to wear suits, ties, and heels, there’s no dress code for family and friends — or for the corpse. For some families, this makes deciding what their loved one should wear to the great beyond anything but easy.

So many considerations

Deciding what a loved one should wear to their own funeral can be one of the most difficult decisions a family member has to make, particularly if it’s something the person never discussed before they passed. Obviously, dispositions with no viewing, closed caskets, or clothing rituals dictated by religious or cultural beliefs alleviate the stress of decision fatigue, but every other situation can force families to consider a litany of questions. 

For example, most people want their loved one to look as “lifelike” as possible. From hairdos to makeup, they expect embalmers to work a special kind of magic — which, incredibly, most do. But here’s the rub: If every time you visited Grandma she was wearing her favorite velveteen tracksuit or housecoat, will she truly look like “herself” in the casket dressed in a stiff blouse and wool jacket? How about the young man who never owned a suit but lived in jeans and flannel shirts? Should they be dressed in something completely outside their character or preferences while they were living just to meet societal expectations?

Clearly, the deceased can no longer “feel” what they’re wearing — whether it’s scratchy, too tight, or if there’s a bothersome seam lying in the exact wrong place. Some families, though, want their loved one to be comfortable, even in death. It’s like the question of dignity. The deceased doesn’t care if they’re wearing underwear, but it just feels like the right thing to do. 

Emotions vs. practicality

Families might also struggle with the question of whether to bury or cremate someone in their favorite outfit or keep that ensemble for sentimental reasons. This might be the case for military regalia, Dad’s favorite football jersey, or an item of clothing that was handed down from an earlier generation. Unless they want the funeral home to change the deceased into another outfit before cremation or burial, there’s truly no coming back from this clothing decision.

Deathcare professionals are well aware of all the practical considerations of attire options, as well. You know that sleeveless, sheer, or low-cut tops aren’t good choices for obvious reasons; the same goes for super-tight outfits. Shoes are just plain difficult and unnecessary even with an open casket. Certain articles of clothing and accessories aren’t appropriate for cremation. And when dealing with people who have been disfigured in an accident or suffered from a long-term illness that changed them physically, you have to improvise and make do with the clothing you’re provided (although somehow you always make it work). Explaining these limitations to families can only add to their frustration in choosing the perfect outfit for their loved one’s final farewell.

There’s something for every body

Sometimes clothing choices have more to do with the impression families wish to make on visitors paying their last respects than on the deceased themselves. Nothing less than Sunday best will do for some, while others want to be sure Mom’s accessories are perfectly paired with her outfit and lip color.

There are lots of options out there for outfits specifically designed for the deceased, from the burial garments most every funeral home keeps in stock to designer duds, like those created by Seattle clothier Mark Mitchell for his 2013 Mark Mitchell: Burial show at Frye Museum

Although most people opting for a green burial for their loved one will choose a simple white biodegradable shroud, there are actually more colorful (and expensive) options, like these from the Kinkaraco® Mort Couture Luxe Collection below.

In some cultures, clothing is such an important aspect of the deceased’s homegoing (and beyond) that they change their dead relative’s outfits every few years. In the Indonesian village of Rindigallo, families disinter the deceased every three years to clean and redress the bodies.

An unforeseen issue

Without the guidance of the recently departed as to what they’d prefer to wear, families can be caught completely off guard. A funeral director’s instructions to bring clothing for the deceased to the arrangement meeting can set off a frenzy of last-minute fretting or a frenzied trip to the department store — only to end up with something Mom literally wouldn’t have wanted to be caught dead wearing. Despite the obvious fact that their loved one will need to be clothed in something, it can still be an unexpected request when they’re deciding on a casket, vault, burial plot, and even method of disposition.

There truly is an option out there for every deceased body. Even so, it’s usually not an easy decision. Families need to know that whatever they choose is going to be just fine.