Dress Code: Funerals


The subject of funerals may not exactly be the most uplifting diversion on a wet afternoon but a recent conversation with an acquaintance, regarding a funeral I attended, was so pertinent to matters of sartorial etiquette that I simply had to pen my thoughts and share them with readers. For it was when my partner in conversation had asked me “So, what do you…what do you wear to a funeral? A tailcoat or something?” that I decided that this important aspect of occasion dressing – however superficial such considerations may be in the circumstances – needed coverage, as it was evident that the entirely separate approaches of ‘dressing up’ and ‘dressing for the event’ often get muddled.

One misconception about funerals is that they are another religious formal event, thereby requiring those who adhere to the code of morning dress for weddings and other events to wear the altered version; black waistcoat, black cravat or tie. While technically correct, the sentiment of dressing in this manner can so often be misinterpreted, and anyone dressed like this at a funeral may be taken for an employee of the funeral directors but, far worse, could also be the subject of anger for those closest to the departed, who may view such attire as an attempt at levity. So little is it seen, that the wearer would stick out like a sore thumb; for all the wrong reasons. Even at state funerals, the percentage of people dressed in this manner is very small indeed.

My response to the question was therefore to the negative; I did not wear a tailcoat. I could have worn one, as I do possess a black waistcoat, but the idea of dressing in this traditional but rarely-seen manner did not seem right. When a wedding invitation states ‘Suits’, I would normally go in a suit or at least check with the groom for his approval on morning dress. Funerals almost never stipulate the form of dress. The expectation is that someone would dress with respect for the mourned, not for themselves. As occasions, they are intensely emotional and, by their very nature, sombre; whatever might be perceived as being ‘costume’ should be treated with great caution.

My advice to anyone attending any funeral – unless they have been instructed or requested to wear tails – is to wear a dark, patternless suit. It does not have to be black – in fact, a dark grey suit is a much better option – but it should not be striped or checked. The shirt should be plain white and the tie should be black; though ties are an adornment, as a mark of respect, they should be worn.

As a rule, I prefer to dress for myself and my own idea of style and elegance; funerals are the exception, the one occasion I defer to the general attire of my fellow attendees, tone down the image and remember the departed with dignity.


  1. A very timely article Winston. A friend recently attended a funeral service in Melbourne where none of the men, except the deceased’s son, wore a tie. I was not surprised to hear this as I’ve attended weddings where all but a few bother to dress appropriately. I regret to say that the sartorial bar in Oz is about as low as it gets. Unfortunately, the chaps who need to read articles such as yours, never do.
    The war continues!
    Regards, Ian from Downunder

    February 20, 2012
  2. Winston – well-written – I do enjoy your articles and advice. I agree with Ian from downunder about the low sartorial bar here in Australia – it gets worse further north. There is even a code now called “Gold Coast Formal” which is “dress shirt, no tie and dark trousers.”
    I have left instructions for my funeral to be strictly “Black Tie” and if one can’t be bothered dressing as requested, then do not attend.
    Best wishes,
    Christopher White

    February 20, 2012
  3. Ian and Christopher,

    An Australian colleague who has lived in London for some years once told me she loved that I wore dressy clothes but warned me that I would face the most intense ridicule if I were to attempt the same style in Australia; “You just can’t get away with it down there” she said.

    I have always remembered this and, sadly, instead of being able to contradict this unfortunate message, the more I have heard the more depressing the story becomes. Australia, to outward appearances, is an increasingly sophisticated culture. It stands on its own two feet as an economy and possesses great resources in its land and people. It is therefore odd that it has not developed much, by the strength of the feedback I receive, in terms of masculine sartorial sophistication. All I hear are stories of jandal-shod youths ridiculing anyone in a shirt and tie, people attending Michelin star restaurants in shorts and printed t-shirts and the brave defiance of gentlemen such as yourselves, attempting to introduce the concept of being presentable and smart.

    Like all resistance movements, the chances of conversion are always against you but resistance only has a chance of winning if the arguments presented are convincing and capable of introducing change. Australian women have told me that there is a macho, sporty culture in Australia and that any idea of caring about paisley bow-ties or a seersucker blazer for a summer function is as incongruous as wearing a diving suit; as long as people accept such a lack of caring, it seems the brave pioneers dressed appropriately at Sydney barbecues will be maligned, and not it seems for dressing well or necessarily making others feel inferior but simply for giving a damn about it all in the first place.

    February 20, 2012
  4. Winston,
    I have not personally been abused for dressing up, although, one guest at my 50th birthday party some years ago told me I looked silly wearing a cravat.
    I’d say Aussies are unsophisticated & lazy dressers compared with the suit wearers I’ve observed in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and France. For example, 99.99% of suit-wearing gents here do not bother placing a hankerchief in their coat’s breast pocket. I’m pretty sure that in most cases this is due to ignorance; the others may think it’s an over-the-top affectation.
    Some writers on sartorial matters have opined that a chap’s footwear is as good as any yardstick in determining where he lies along the sartorial/class spectrum. Well, that measure could not be applied here as very, very few gents bother getting decent shoes. Their approach appears to be, ‘the cheaper the better’. And don’t get me started on whether the Aussie gent bothers polishing his throw-away winkle-pickers. Some of the common ‘mortal’ sartorial sins I’ve seen include:
    . white pre-tied bow ties with a tux,
    . light coloured ties with a similar shirt colour (talk about bleaching yourself out!!),
    . scuffed and cheap shoes,
    . ill fitting suits (sleeves too long or too short, ditto re trousers),
    . shirt sleeves far too long – sometimes as much as 3″ past the coat sleeve,
    . the shape of shirt collars are frequently distorted due to the manner in which the tie is fastened. One more thing – I prefer to have my troos pleated and cuffed but do you suppose I’ve seen anyone else with similar preferences? Honestly Winston, you would weep or laugh out loud uncontrollably if you visited our shores.
    All the best to you and to my fellow Aussie Christopher,

    February 21, 2012

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