What to Wear to a Wake
A wake typically takes place a day before the funeral and historically has been held in the mourning family’s home.
Wakes can also be held at a funeral home, church, or other appropriate location. Family and close friends gather to grieve and share their condolences in a less formal setting.
Traditionally, family and friends would stay awake together during the night to mourn and support one another with the deceased, which is where the term wake originates.
Guidelines for Men’s Attire
Deciding what to wear to a wake can be challenging. Attire should be respectful and modest to ensure that your outfit doesn’t draw attention. Everyone’s focus should be on the wake, not your clothing.
Wakes at funeral homes tend to be more formal than wakes at the family’s house or other locations. Wakes in general tend to be slightly less formal than funerals.
What you wear may also depend on who the deceased was as a person and your relationship to them. It is important that you are dressed comfortably and appropriately for the wake in polished attire.
The reason for the event is to mourn with those who loved the deceased. Your outfit should not detract from that.
For some wakes, there may be recommendations from the family on what to wear. For instance, for a wake held at a local restaurant, the family may request that mourners wear clothing that represents things that the deceased loved such as sports clothing or shirts with sayings.
A celebration of life might request non-black clothing. Pay attention to these requests.
If there are any recommendations or suggestions, obey the family’s wishes. If there aren’t any recommendations then follow the guidelines below for appropriate clothing options for men in Western cultures.
What to Wear
1. Business Attire
A black suit with a white button-down shirt and a dark colored tie is traditional, but this isn’t required. Charcoal, dark gray, and navy suits are good options, as well.
If you do not have a dark suit jacket, a dark colored sweater or dark button-down shirt are viable alternatives. Regardless, your clothing should be cleaned, pressed, and wrinkle free.
Try to make sure that your clothing fits properly. You don’t want to wear an oversized suit or tight pants.
If the wake is during the winter, wear a long black coat or a dark dress coat to keep warm. Wear dark leather gloves and a black scarf if it is cold outside, and there is walking involved.
A black umbrella might also be useful to help walk in icy conditions or use if it is raining or snowing. Avoid wearing hats as this can be seen as disrespectful.
2. Darker Colors
You should be dressed in darker colors. Darker colors will match the somber mood of the wake and will convey your grief. Black, navy, dark gray, and charcoal are the best options, but darker neutrals in general are appropriate.
Stick with solid colored suit jackets. If you wear a tie, darker shades of blue, red, and green work well. A patterned tie is acceptable as long as the colors are dark and neutral.
If you’re wearing a suit, a white button-down shirt is a traditional choice. However, you will need to make sure that the white shirt is not faded or discolored because this will look unpolished and might be viewed as disrespectful.
3. Dress Shoes
Dress shoes are a must for a wake, regardless of where it is being held. Black oxford shoes are an excellent option, but monk straps, derby, cap toes, and wingtips are great as well.
Once again, dark, neutral colors are appropriate, and polish them before the wake. Wear dark colored socks with your shoes, and match your belt to your shoes.
4. Modest Accessories
Accessories can often times complete an outfit, and if you choose to wear accessories, keep them modest. Cufflinks should be small and classic. Necklaces should not be noticeable unless they are religious.
Rings and other jewelry should be simple and classic. If you choose to wear sunglasses, make sure that they have dark, solid frames and are a traditional style.
What Not to Wear
1. Flashy Accessories
It is inappropriate to wear a lot of accessories or flashy items. Think less is more in terms of accessories. Avoid any accessories that would draw attention to yourself.
This means do not wear statement sunglasses, large chain necklaces, or flashy pocket scarves. You also do not want your accessories to make noise as you walk.
2. Sandals and Boots
Do not wear flip flops, sneakers, boots, or sandals. Anything that you would wear on your day off, to the beach, or to the gym is not an option. Basically, polished dress shoes are your only choice here.
3. Shorts and T-Shirts
Unless specifically requested, wearing shorts and t-shirts to a wake is not a good idea. Even if it’s hot in the middle of summer, stick to pants, button down shirts, and suit jackets in lighter weight fabrics. Any casual attire is not welcome at a wake including jeans.
4. Bright Colors
As mentioned above, a wake is not the time to wear bright colors or bright patterns. This includes brightly colored ties, suit jackets, button down shirts, and socks.
Along with bright colors, avoid wearing lighter colored pants, jackets, sweaters, and ties. The only acceptable lighter colored clothing item you can wear is a button-down shirt if you wear a suit jacket over it.
Guidelines for Women’s Attire
Women have more clothing options than men, but the same principles apply. Women should dress in business attire with dark colors.
If you choose to wear patterns, keep them simple and in dark, neutral colors. Dress pants, a blouse, and a sweater or suit jacket is a great option.
If you choose to wear a sleeveless dress, make sure you add a sweater or jacket on top of it. You want to avoid showing your shoulders or knees. You will want to dress conservatively and with limited accessories.
Makeup should be understated. It’s best to go with a natural make-up look.
Ultimately, it is important to dress conservatively in darker colored business attire.
You are dressing to mourn a friend, colleague, or family member and support the family of the deceased. Your clothing should respect the occasion.
Remember, if the wake invitation came with clothing suggestions, be sure to obey the requests of the family. Otherwise, if you follow the guidelines above, you’ll definitely be dressed appropriately.