What To Wear To A Wake [And Funeral Etiquette]

March 8, 2022
by Dan Skewes

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A wake is a solemn and somber occasion. When you’re attending a wake, it’s important to dress appropriately.

Although a wake is typically a slightly less formal occasion than a funeral, you still need to dress correctly to remain respectful and courteous.

So if you’re attending a wake, what should you wear? If you’re not sure what the proper dress code is, then don’t worry - we’ve got you covered.

This handy guide will take you through the right things to wear to a wake, as well as some things you should definitely avoid.

What Should I Wear To A Wake?

Because a wake traditionally occurs before or shortly after a funeral, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be wearing your funeral attire when you’re at a wake.

However, if you’re changing between the two or if you’re unable to attend the funeral for any reason, you should still keep things low-key and respectable.

Here are some pointers for what to wear.

What Men Should Wear To A Wake

When attending a funeral and/or a wake, the standard attire for men is a plain and formal outfit. This will typically consist of nice shoes, dress pants, a dark-colored shirt and tie, and frequently paired with a sports coat or overcoat. 

A complete suit is also common, particularly if you’re taking a more active role in the proceedings (e.g., as a speaker or pallbearer at the funeral).

While watches and rings are acceptable, try not to make them the center of attention. You want to remain respectful and not draw attention to any accessories.

If you’re familiar with the term ‘business-casual,’ that’s a good starting point.

Try to lean on the formal side of things, however - casual wear such as jeans or khakis may be acceptable in the office, but you should keep things smart for a wake.

What Women Should Wear To A Wake

The same general principle applies to both men and women - keep things low-key and formal, with plain, smart clothes. 

Simple dresses in a solid, muted color are a good choice, along with smart black shoes. High-heels may not be appropriate, but a short heel can suffice.

You can also wear a plain skirt with a formal top or blouse. However, make sure that the skirt is long enough to avoid being too revealing.

Dress pants are also a good option; again, the same idea of business-casual leaning towards formal applies here.

While some accessories are acceptable, don’t go overboard with flashy jewelry and accessories.

Simple, plain jewelry like stud earrings and a basic necklace are good options, and a smart black handbag or purse is preferable to a flashy and expensive bag.

What Children Should Wear To A Wake

Children can generally get away with a bit more regarding appropriate attire.

Finding suitable clothes for children can be difficult (not to mention expensive), and depending on their age, you might have some issues with keeping your children comfortable.

Try to find a plain dark shirt and a tie for young boys.

While you don’t need to dress them in a full suit, an alternative such as a waistcoat or light jacket will still look formal without being uncomfortable or too expensive.

For girls, a plain dark dress and smart shoes will be fine. Alternatively, a plain blouse and trousers will also be suitable.

Younger children have a lot more leeway. As long as their clothes aren’t too bright and casual, a young child or toddler will have no real issues if they aren’t in formal attire.

Try to aim for more muted colors and smarter clothes when possible. 

What Are Some Things I Should Avoid?

Women in black with white purse

Now that we’ve covered what’s appropriate to wear to a wake let’s look at some things you should steer clear of.

These are just as important to consider as the appropriate things to wear, as even a suitable outfit can become inappropriate if combined with the wrong things.

Don’t Dress In Something Revealing Or Provocative

This might seem obvious, but you should remain respectable in your appearance at all times. This means avoiding revealing clothes, such as short skirts or shirts with the top few buttons open.

Other provocative clothing items can include wearing something too tight, and both men and women need to make sure that their attire isn’t showing off too much skin.

This applies even in warmer weather, and if you know it’s going to be hot, try to wear a lighter material.

Keep Things Plain And Formal

As mentioned before, business-casual is one of the best ways to start. Leaning too heavily into the casual side of things can lead to inappropriate clothing.

Shorts, sneakers, and t-shirts are generally frowned upon for occasions like wakes unless they have been specifically allowed. 

Looking respectable doesn’t just apply to the style of clothes you’re wearing; however - don’t dress in something dirty or crumpled, and make sure your clothes are washed and ironed beforehand to maintain a respectful appearance.

Avoid Bright Colors Or Loud Patterns

These mainly fall into the ‘too casual’ category, but they still bear mentioning. 

Once again, you’re not trying to draw attention to yourself, so you should pass on your favorite red dress or patterned tie.

Keeping things muted and plain is a much better way to ensure you’re staying respectful and not taking too much attention away from the occasion.

Keep Accessories To A Minimum

Accessories aren’t just limited to jewelry, although you should still avoid flashy earrings and other types of jewelry.

Hats, bags, and other accessories can all be seen as disrespectful in the wrong circumstances, especially if they are flashy or too casual. 

Limit the amount of jewelry you wear to the wake, and leave your hats and bags at home while you’re there.

What to Wear to a Wake - Final Thoughts

Knowing how to dress for a wake can be difficult, and it’s usually not the first thing you think about when someone you know passes away.

But while finding the appropriate attire might be hard, by following the instructions in this guide, you’ll be able to celebrate your loved one’s life in the most appropriate and respectful way possible.

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