What to Wear to a Summer Funeral

Must You Wear Black, Hot Clothes?


Not too long ago I attended a funeral service in Phoenix. It was in August, and temperatures each day that week were over 110°F. Having not been to one in several years, I found precious little logical advice on what the proper attire might be for those of us living in the Southwest desert, specifically during the summer months (we have five months of summer here) when temperatures are often over 100 degrees.

Here are some of my conclusions after researching and asking friends/associates. These points probably apply to most regions of the United States in the summer, as well as generally for other seasons. Of course, I make assumptions here: that the funeral is not for a dignitary, head of state, or someone whose funeral will be televised; that the funeral is not associated with a religion that requires particular dress or head wear for either men or women; that the funeral service is taking place graveside or at a place of worship, not on a beach or in a backyard.

  • If the religion itself does not have requirements for head cover or hat, there is no need to wear one for this occasion if you wouldn't ordinarily wear a hat. If part of the service will be outside in the blazing sun, though, a hat (not a baseball cap) might be a good idea. An umbrella, as shown in the photo, also works.
  • You don't have to go out and buy a black suit or black dress if you don't already have one. Navy, gray, or any dark or muted color is appropriate.
  • Many women wear slacks now, so if a dress isn't comfortable for you or you don't own one that is appropriate, dark slacks are fine. Gaucho pants or dressy capris may be fine.
  • For men, suits are always appropriate, but if a suit isn't your preference a pair of nice slacks in a solid, dark color will work. A dress shirt (as opposed to a golf shirt or tee shirt) is appropriate.
  • For women, attire should be modest. By that I mean that a plunging neckline, strapless gown or tight spandex is not an appropriate choice. If you are wearing slacks, choose a blouse that is either a solid color or a subtle pattern. Wild flowers or a colorful giraffe print is probably not appropriate here. A simple solid blazer, vest or shirt-jacket would be fine, in case you are concerned about chill inside air-conditioned buildings.
  • I've read that it is inappropriate to show shoulders at a funeral. Here in the desert, I don't believe that to be true. A sleeveless dress or blouse may be fine, if, again, it is not too revealing.
  • For men, a necktie is fine and should be subtle. Again, unless it is a pattern specific to an organization, keep the pattern simple and the colors muted. When it is very hot, neckties are considered optional in Phoenix.
  • Appropriate footwear for both men and women means no running shoes, slippers, flip flops. Are open-toed sandals for women appropriate? I don't see why not. How about pantyhose? Few women wear pantyhose in the summer here. Men should wear closed shoes, not sandals.
  • If the service is for a person who was a member of the military or an organization with standard uniform, wearing that uniform may be acceptable.

So what would I consider inappropriate attire for a funeral service? Shorts, jeans, tee shirts, tank tops, athletic wear, moo moos, sundresses, sexy cocktail dresses, red carpet fashions, anything you would wear to play tennis, softball or to the gym. Of course, if you are under the age of 14, that's an entirely different issue.

Keep in mind that even in the summer heat, the degree of formality of your attire should be fitting with the environment and occasion. Is the ceremony at a very upscale, country club location? Is the service a smallish, family-only ceremony or a big, public affair? I can't make definitive statements for all situations but there are a few general comments that should work for most situations:

  1. You are not attending this event to impress others or find a mate. You are there to honor the person who has passed and pay your respects to his or her family.
  2. Your attire should be respectful of the occasion. What do you think that the person who died would think of your attire? What about the family?
  3. You and your outfit should not be the center of attention at this gathering.
  4. If you can't decide whether or not the outfit that you have selected is appropriate, select something else. If you have doubts, trust your instincts.
  5. If it is very hot and you will be outside for any part of the ceremony, make sure that whatever you wear is loose fitting and a lightweight fabric. Be comfortable. After all, it will be hot outside and you might be standing for some time.
  6. Antiperspirant would certainly be in order, but be aware that that there may be hugging and many people are allergic to perfumes or colognes.
  7. Can you wear all white or red or hot pink to a funeral? Can you wear a very short dress or very tight pants? Chances are no one will ask you to leave, but unless you are making a specific statement (maybe the person who has passed loved the color pink and all family members were asked to wear pink) I would not.
  8. Don't over-accessorize and don't apply loud make-up. Simple is best.

Keeping it simple doesn't mean you have to look frumpy either. You can exhibit good style and respect at the same time. Here is the most basic advice I can give: when in doubt, wear something that you might wear to a summer interview for a professional job at a business, like a bank or a law firm, just in a darker color. You can't go wrong there.

So here is my disclaimer: I am not a fashion designer, funeral consultant or etiquette expert. I'm just someone who was looking for advice about what would be appropriate attire for a funeral on a hot, summer day in Phoenix.