What to wear at funerals
As you know, I do funerals. That is, I conduct Humanist funeral ceremonies. Some think there’s a form of etiquette for funerals. What matters, surely, is being well-mannered, considerate, and sensitive to the feelings of the bereaved. I don’t think it matters what you wear, as long as you behave in a respectful manner.
Strangely, some of the rudest, most disrespectful people I’ve come across have been buttoned-up elderly women who’ve talked in carrying whispers throughout (they’re probably the same ones who talk during the matinees at the Wolsey Theatre), or deaf people who’ve ignored the available loop system, sat at the back, and asked their neighbour ‘What did she say?” every few minutes. I have, so far, resisted the urge to tell them to shut up.
One of the things that people ask is what they should wear. Few wear black to funerals these days. Formal clothing in subdued colours is the usual choice, but you can wear more or less anything, apart from obviously inappropriate beachwear. It’s not a good idea to draw attention to yourself, unless you’re the dear departed’s nearest and dearest, in which case you can wear what you damn well please.
Black mourning dress became popular during Queen Victoria’s reign. After Prince Albert died she never wore anything else, which strikes me as a bit OTT. The fashion began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when death rituals demonstrated social status, and persisted until the late 20th century. The poor couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money on funerals, but the middle and upper classes could and did. Things are changing, but some still use a funeral as an opportunity to display their affluence and respectability. I’ve conducted a funeral where the widow and her daughters wore the largest, most ostentatious hats, more suitable for a day at the Ascot races. Another not only wore a huge black hat, but seemed to be wearing most of her jewellery too.
For a young Goth woman, almost everyone, including me, wore black and purple – her favourite colours. For a keen camper, his friends all wore bright Hawaiian shirts in his honour. Motorcyclists have worn black leather. A widow wore a bright red suit – a present from her husband. Sometimes terminally ill people have instructed their family and friends not to wear black but bright colours, and they did. The important thing for all of them was being there.