Etiquette for a Funeral Visitation Dress

by Chip Marsden
Model Claudia Schiffer in a conservative black ensemble at the funeral of composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Model Claudia Schiffer in a conservative black ensemble at the funeral of composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A visitation is an emotionally charged occasion that provides the living to gather in honor of the deceased. It’s a time for shared mourning, but also for fond remembrance. A visitation has the potential to be profoundly sad, but it also has the potential to be hopeful, comforting and even joyous.To help maintain the dignity of a visitation, you should adhere to basic etiquette, and no etiquette is more basic than what to wear. For woman, a dress can be the most tasteful possible option or an etiquette disaster.

Color and Pattern Considerations

Dresses come in every imaginable color, but only some are appropriate for a visitation. The traditional color for visitations is black, though all black is rarely a hard-and-fast etiquette rule anymore. Black is certainly still appropriate, as are subdued colors such as gray, oatmeal and dark blue. Immediately rule out bold patterns when selecting a dress. Some patterns, such as tastefully small or subdued flowers, can be tasteful. Use your best judgement. If you have any doubts about a particular pattern, you should probably keep looking.

Keep Your Party Dress at Home

Your curvy black nightclub frock with the spaghetti straps, thigh-level hemline and revealing neckline isn’t the dress for a visitation. There may be some in attendance who will appreciate it, but most will think it’s odd, inappropriate or downright rude. When dressing for such an occasion, “conservative” is the word to keep in mind. Ideally, the hemline should fall below your knees, the dress should have sleeves or you should wear a shawl and the neckline shouldn’t reveal cleavage.

Other Options

If every dress in your closet is a curvy black nightclub frock or a flouncy pink sundress, don’t worry. There are other etiquette-savvy options available to you. A dark suit is appropriate in most cases, as is a dark skirt with a hemline at least to the knee and a nice blouse.

Exceptions to the Rule

If there is a piece of truly universal etiquette, it doesn’t apply to funeral or visitation wardrobe. These general pieces of etiquette will apply to most visitations and should be followed in the absence of other information. If you’re set to go to a visitation, check to see if any explicit rules or guidelines concerning appropriate dress have been given. You can easily obtain this information from anyone involved in the funeral planning, such as a representative of the funeral home or a member of the bereaved family. It is the family’s prerogative to request casual dress, or all-black dress or beach attire, and an outdoor visitation might have a distinctive set of climate considerations to take into account. Use good judgement and good information to inform your fashion choices, and you will convey a level of respect appropriate for the occasion.

About the Author

Based in Virginia, Chip Marsden has been a writer for more than eight years. He has covered film, politics and culture for regional newspapers and online publications. Marsden holds a B.A. in theater arts with a concentration in performance.

Photo Credits

  • Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images