What to Wear to a Wake

Formal funeral clothingWhat to wear to a funeral and what to wear to a wake are similar but not necessarily the same thing. These two services, both conducted to honor the life and death of the deceased, serve different purposes in the act of bereavement.

A wake (usually held prior to the funeral) is an informal gathering either at the home of the deceased or at alternate location. While the historical traditions of a wake have their roots in physically watching over the body of the deceased in the days leading up to burial, it is now more of a time to get together and eat, talk about loved ones, and remember a life well lived.

A funeral is a more formal ceremony. Taking place either at a church or a funeral home, it is overseen by a religious or community officiant and follows a prescribed format. Prayers, readings, music, and processions all play a key role in a funeral.

Based on these definitions, it’s no wonder that the question of what to wear to a wake is one that arises fairly often. Because it is less formal than a funeral, you may not need to break out the black suit and tie. However, because you still want to show your respect, it’s also a good idea to keep the shorts and flip flops at home.

Formal Wake AttireWake Attire

If the wake is taking place immediately before or after the funeral, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to wear the same clothes for both events. Dark suits and dress slacks, long skirts, formal wear—all of those items work well when you aren’t sure what else is appropriate. For greater variability, you can layer items so that you can move easily from one function to another.

For example, a cardigan or suit jacket over a button-up shirt or blouse allows you to remove layers in accordance with the formality of the event. You can wear lighter colors underneath as long as the outer layer is dark enough (navy, grey, or black) to lend a sober hue.

As is the case with any funeral-related function, always opt for close-toed footwear, understated jewelry, and clothes in good repair. “Sunday best,” or the same clothes you’d wear to an interview, are always a good fallback plan.

Semi-formal wake clothingHowever, if the wake is a separate function (either the night before or a few days later), you may be able to ditch the funeral attire for something more comfortable and relaxed. Use the venue as your guide.

  • Wakes at the funeral home are usually the most formal, and come with the same regulations as a funeral. Expect to dress formally.
  • Wakes at the home of the deceased are usually more relaxed, but still somewhat somber. You can usually get away with jeans as long as they’re paired with nice shoes or a suit jacket. Go for layers that allow you to adjust to fit in the other attendees.
  • Wakes at a bar or restaurant are the least formal of all. In these cases, you can dress up or down, and maybe even have fun with your attire. A shirt with a favorite sports theme, a hat the deceased loved, everyone all in red—these are the types of things that can make an event memorable.

Family Wake attireA wake and a funeral share many features, but because they serve different purposes, funeral clothes don’t have to be worn for both. Err on the side of formality if you are unsure, or ask the family for guidelines. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable, as this moment should be less about what you’re wearing and more about gathering and sharing your loss.

Please share your thoughts on this article

By