What to Wear and What Not To Wear: Your Guide to Memorial Services

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Is a memorial service coming up and you have no idea what to wear yet? If so, we wrote up a guide on what to wear and what not to wear to a memorial service.

Whether you are attending a formal memorial service for someone close to you, or just out of respect for the deceased and their grieving family members, it is important to dress appropriately. In this article, we are going to give you some guidelines on what women and men can wear- as well as what they cannot wear- when attending a memorial service.


What Is A Memorial Service?


A memorial service is where someone passes away, and a ceremony is held to honor them. This can be in the form of a funeral or celebration of life depending on your religion/beliefs. It also depends whether you are attending as part of the family (close friend) or simply out of respect for all those involved with this somber occasion, such as the deceased and their family.


Memorial service candles


Memorial Service vs Funeral – What’s The Difference?


Before we jump into the etiquette and attire expectations of a memorial service, let’s quickly go over the difference between a memorial service and a funeral.

A funeral is where someone passes away and the body is in attendance. A memorial service can be held wherever, however, if a family/close friends are holding one then it will usually take place at a church or other religious building. This gives people who wish to pay their respects an opportunity to attend- whether they were part of the close circle surrounding the passed away or not.

A memorial service is a chance to celebrate their life and what they have achieved- it can be either religious (if you are part of that religion) or non-religious where no one regards anyone in particular for these events, but simply wants to come together to give them the farewell they deserve.

Typically, funerals take place one or two weeks after the passing, whereas memorial services can be held even months after, for example, if an autopsy was performed on the body.

With this in mind, you can see how the dress etiquette for both is very similar, although memorial services can also be less formal.


What To Wear To A Memorial Service As A Female Guest


1. Wear Black Or Dark Blue

When attending a traditional funeral service for someone close to you, wear something that portrays your sorrow and respect. It is a somber event, so you should dress in dark colors- black or dark blue are the most appropriate choices. In the US, the go-to color for both funerals and memorial services is still black.

2. Dress Conservative

A good rule of thumb is to wear conservative clothing like a simple black dress, but make sure it’s not TOO little or too flashy. Women must also make sure their outfit covers all of their skin; this means no cleavage or midriff showing whatsoever! If you can’t resist wearing a short/midi-length dress, consider wearing black stockings underneath as a sign of respect.

Trouser suits are a proper attire as well- just make sure that they are form-fitting and appropriate. Wear closed-toe shoes if possible because bare feet at funerals can be offensive to some people’s beliefs, traditions and different cultures (such as those who believe in Buddhism).


What To Wear To A Memorial Service As A Male Guest


1. Wear Dark Colors

When a male guest is attending a memorial service for someone close to him, he should wear dark colors as well. This includes navy blue or a dark suit with neutral-colored shirts, dress pants, and dress shoes. The best choice would be black clothing for formal attire. You can also wear a button-down shirt or a dark collared shirt, as it is an appropriate attire as well.

You may want to consider wearing an undershirt if you have tattoos on your chest that could be offensive during the ceremony (or just if it’s just cold outside). Make sure that the suit fits properly; tucks in at the waist are recommended so they don’t make you look like a slob.

2. Mind Your Facial Hair

Most of the time, it is best to shave for a memorial service. This means that you should not have any stubble or visible facial hair on your face- especially if attending as part of the family (close friend). However, if you sport a beard, there typically is no reason for you to shave it. Shaving customs also vary by religion, so if you are attending the memorial service of someone of a different faith than Christianity, check their customs beforehand.


What NOT To Wear To A Memorial Service


1. Don’t Wear Bright Colors/White

The atmosphere at a memorial service is somber and it’s best to wear something that reflects this. Like we mentioned before, black and dark blue are the best options for both men and women.

2. Don’t Show Shoulders

Women and girls should never wear clothing that is too revealing- meaning anything with very low necklines or exposed shoulders. If you can’t resist wearing that cute dress that does not cover your shoulders, wrap a shawl, kimono or cardigan around to help cover them.

3. Avoid Open Toe Sandals

Choosing the right shoes is important when attending a memorial service. You should avoid wearing open-toe sandals, flip flops or anything that shows too much skin and emphasizes your feet/ankles as this can be seen as disrespectful (depending on where you are located in the world).

4. Keep It Simple

 As far as accessories go: keep them simple! A single string of pearls would be enough because any more than one necklace may look cluttered and tacky. Try not to bring attention to yourself with flashy accessories.


7 Memorial Service Outfit Ideas For Women 



Black A-line memorial day dress

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Cute formal black dress what to wear to a memorial service

Via Roolee

Roolee is a fashion retailer from Utah, so they have a ton of modest clothing that are also appropriate for formal events like memorial services.




What to wear to a memorial service: asymmetric black dress

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Black dress for what to wear to a memorial service

Get this dress at Lulus




Black dress with sleeves

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Black long-sleeved midi dress for what to wear to a memorial service

Get this dress at Lulus




Black bow dress for memorial service


Get this dress at Nordstrom


How To Behave: Memorial Service Etiquette


Memorial services are meant to be somber occasions so you should not talk too much and there is no need for laughter or loud conversations. You do not want to make others feel uncomfortable in their time of mourning, which is why it’s best if people keep quiet unless they’re being spoken to by the hostess of the memorial service.

With this said, it’s important to remember that your main job is to grieve and to support others in their grieving. In addition to being respectful to others, kind gestures such as a gentle squeeze of the shoulder or a warm hug can go a long way in comforting those who are mourning.

As with any formal event, you should avoid using your cellphone at all cost. It also looks rather tacky when two people have their heads bent together talking about mundane things like work while everyone else is paying respect to someone who has passed away…


Commonly asked questions

Memorial service vs celebration of life – what is the difference?

A celebration of life is exactly that: a time to celebrate the life of someone who has passed on. It can be held at any venue, and it’s more relaxed than a memorial service- which usually takes place in a church or funeral home specifically for this purpose, and typically has religious underpinnings.

What to wear to a memorial service in the summer?

The summer months are usually a lot hotter than others- therefore it is important to dress accordingly. It’s best not to wear anything too heavy or tight as this can be uncomfortable in the sweltering heat! Wear something light and breathable instead which will allow for maximum comfort when you attend your memorial service. Also, consider shorter sleeves, as this lready cools you down quite a bit.

Can I wear shorts or jeans to a memorial service?

Absolutely not, this is a formal occasion. It’s best to forgo jeans and shorts because this will attract unwanted attention and it can be seen as “disrespectful”. Everyone else will be dressed conservatively – you will stick out like a sore thumb if you wear something that’s completely out of the theme.

Do you have to wear black to a memorial service?

Not necessarily. Although it’s typically a good idea to wear black so that you fit in with the mood of the memorial, other dark colors such as dark blue, dark brown and dark grey are also acceptable. 

Can I wear makeup?

While there isn’t really anything wrong with wearing mascara or other forms of make up, just don’t go overboard! Make sure your face doesn’t look like a circus clown by overdoing it – which means no heavy foundation either please. Women and girls should not wear heavy makeup as well because this can make them look “slovenly”. It’s best to stick with a light face of makeup and forgo the mascara.

Can I bring a gift?

A small gift to show your sympathy is a nice gesture, but it would be best if the gift was not anything too extravagant because this could attract unwanted attention and could make others feel uncomfortable. Simple gifts like flowers, funeral cards, a photo album of the deceased, and even food is acceptable. Money through the form of donation is also a thoughtful and good idea – especially is the grieving family is in need of financial support.


We hope you found this guide on what to wear to a memorial service helpful! If you’re still looking for more fashion ideas, check the posts down below.


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