A Guide to Funeral Etiquette

What to wear, how to act, and what different religions expect at a funeral

Last updated: 7 June 2018

There are several different customs that you may need to follow when attending a funeral. Funeral etiquette can vary depending on religion and circumstances.

What to wear

How to dress for a funeral largely depends on cultural traditions and if the funeral service is of a particular religion.

Many people assume that the traditional attire for funerals is all black. However, it is becoming more common for the clothing requirements to be simply formal (suits or smart dresses). Sometimes the bereaved even request that guests wear bright colours to celebrate the life of their loved one, although this kind of request will usually be communicated in the funeral notice. If in doubt of what to wear to a funeral, consulting with the family or a close friend of the family is advisable.

Religious customs usually do apply. Below is a list of religions and what they would usually expect you to wear to a funeral:

  • Christian: Christian funerals usually just require you to be dressed smartly. Although black may be traditional, family wishes should be taken into account regarding colours.
  • Hindu: Mourners at the funeral are usually expected to wear white. Visitors are required to wear subdued colours. Men will occasionally shave their heads as a sign of respect.
  • Jewish: Jewish funeral etiquette varies depending on the branch of Judaism. Orthodox Jews require everyone at the funeral to cover their heads. If you arrive without a head covering, you will usually be provided with one. Conservative Jews ask that only men cover their heads.
  • Muslim: Family and close friends may wear black. Women are asked to wear loose clothing and a scarf or veil.
  • Buddhist: Depending on cultural traditions, the family will usually wear white and friends traditionally wear black. You are not required to cover your head. Flashy, expensive clothes and accessories may be seen as disrespectful.

If the funeral you are attending is none of the above, it is best to check with the family or close friends prior to the service. The wishes of the family must always be taken into account. There may be a certain colour that they ask everyone to wear, or even a particular flower.

Read a more in-depth guide to funeral attire.

The Chapel of Rest

The Chapel of Rest is a place where mourners are able to visit their loved one and pay their respects. This is usually situated at the funeral home.

If you wish to visit the Chapel of Rest to pay your respects, you must always ask permission from the family. Funeral directors may have a guest book for you to sign to show that you have visited.

Where to sit

There is usually no seating plan for a funeral. It is customary for the family and close friends to sit at the front. If you are not in either of these categories, it is recommended to wait respectfully until they have taken their seats and find somewhere accordingly. However, if it is not very full it is best to not sit right at the back.

Who should attend?

Usually, an announcement will be made in the local paper, or you will hear of the funeral by word of mouth. Increasingly more and more people find out online. Generally, the bereaved will not expect you to confirm your attendance, although in some cases this may be appropriate. Occasionally, the service may be private. In this case, only family and close friends will be asked to attend.

Children under the age of five may not necessarily understand what is happening, so it may be more appropriate to leave them at home with a minder. If you wish to bring a child over five, ensure that they understand that this is a sombre occasion and that they must behave respectfully. In some cases, the bereaved may not want children to attend and you should respect their wishes.

Flowers

If you feel that flowers are appropriate, most families will be very receptive. You can send flowers to the family’s home, the funeral itself or the funeral home.

Be aware that some types of funeral flower arrangements have different meanings. Read more about funeral floral arrangements.

Some religions such as Orthodox Judaism do not find sending flowers appropriate. In this case the family of the person who died may ask for charitable donations instead.

The wake

Also sometimes called a funeral reception, this takes place after the funeral service has finished. It often happens in the evening and it is a time when mourners can remember their loved one and reflect on their time with them. Usually there are refreshments available. Wakes can last for hours, depending on how the family feels.

You may want attend the wake to pay your respects if you cannot attend the funeral. If you’re not close with the family, it is customary to introduce yourself so that they are aware of who you are.