Image: A group of people dressed for a funeral walk across the cemetery. (Photo: Tony Alter, some rights reserved.
The most-read post on this blog is “10 Tips for Attending a Jewish Funeral.” A lot of people find that entry by Googling “what to wear to a Jewish funeral” – so I thought it might be helpful for me to expand on the subject. When a person is in a new or uncomfortable situation, it helps to feel that one’s clothing is right.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is not your clothing, but your presence. It is better to show up in clothing that is a little bit “off” than to stay away.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLE IS RESPECT. We attend a funeral to show respect for the dead and to comfort the family. Therefore it’s important that our clothes show that respect: be clean, be tidy, and avoid anything flashy or attention-getting. This is not a fashion show, not a club, but a funeral.
THE IDEAL FUNERAL OUTFIT for men or women is subdued in color, appropriate to the weather, and low-key in general. Think “subdued business clothing.” Many people will wear black; other dark clothes are fine. Save the red jacket for another time, unless it is the only one you’ve got.
SHOES should be comfortable. If you are going to graveside, remember that you’ll be walking on plushy grass. Stiletto heels are stupid and dangerous in a cemetery. However, your favorite Nikes are a bit too casual unless your only other shoes have 4″ heels.
MODESTY is another way of showing respect. If the funeral is Orthodox, everyone should dress in clothing that covers at least shoulders and knees. Men should wear a head covering or accept a kippah (skullcap) if offered. It may be the custom for adult women to cover their heads as well. If you do not own a nice hat, carry a scarf so that you can put it on if needed. For an Orthodox funeral, women will be wearing skirts, often below-the-knee.
Even if the funeral isn’t Orthodox, a funeral is not a place to wear a sun dress, your shortest miniskirt, or shorts for either gender.
IN VERY HOT CLIMATES (say, Las Vegas in August) you may want to wear a hat that will give you shade and carry a bottle of water. Again the basic principle is that you don’t want to draw attention, so stay hydrated and shaded so that you don’t require EMT’s.
CELL PHONES should be SILENT. If you are a physician on call, set your phone or pager to vibrate. Otherwise, just turn it off and leave it alone for the service.
A TIP: Death comes periodically in every circle of friends, and often does not have advance warning. Figure out ahead of time what combination of clothes in your closet would be OK for a funeral. If you don’t have anything that would “do” for a funeral, it may be time to add something to your wardrobe. Accompanying the dead and comforting the mourner are important mitzvot, and when the time comes for you to go to a funeral, you don’t want to be worrying about your outfit.
Finally, remember: showing up is the main thing. If the only way you can get there is in your bunny slippers, show up in bunny slippers.
Still have questions? You can add to the usefulness of this entry by asking your questions in the Comments below.