The gentleman’s guide to funeral etiquette

From what to wear to what to say, we outline three simple ways to respectfully show your reverence…

If we could choose, we wouldn’t go to funerals. But not out of social awkwardness. If we could choose, we wouldn’t lose the ones we love and care about — and there would, therefore, be no need to mourn their passing. But, as the past year has hit home hard, death is a part of life — and funerals are as inevitable as the christenings and weddings that precede them.

Of course, christenings and weddings are easier affairs. Light-hearted and celebratory, the etiquette of these events is still unswerving — but you’re unlikely to be embarrassed if you put a foot wrong. Funerals, on the other hand, should be safer, stricter spaces; a place where you can support a grieving family and pay your respects.

It’s not hard to get funeral etiquette right, but you don’t want to get it wrong. Below, we’ve outlined the three simple ways to show your regards and reverence at a funeral. 

Know what to wear…

It’s a decision made before you even arrive — but perhaps the most important of the day. Traditionally, funeral attire is a full-black suit, with matching tie and crisp white shirt. However, with more modern funerals focusing on a ‘celebration of life’ rather than mourning a death, some families have chosen to relax these rules.

This is why it pays to consult the family, or someone involved in the funeral’s planning, if any specific dress codes are being wished upon guests. Should you dress neutrally? Avoid black? Leave your jacket at home? Ask, and you won’t be left feeling out of place or disrespectful on the day.

If no such advice is being offered, we’d recommend keeping things classic — but not oppressively so. Stick with the plain white shirt and a non-silk black tie (we’d go for subtler satin). But, rather than doubling down on the dark colour, opt for a grey or charcoal suit over black. It’s more modern, less sombre — but still sufficiently considerate.

The gentleman’s guide to funeral etiquette

Thom Browne Wool-Twill Suit

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The gentleman’s guide to funeral etiquette

Turnbull & Asser Plain White Cotton Shirt

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The gentleman’s guide to funeral etiquette

New & Lingwood Black Classic Satin Tie

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Know what to bring…

After how to dress, what to bring is perhaps the most important part of planning for a funeral. Words of comfort can be conjured up once you’re in the church — but, if you were meant to bring along a charitable donation, you don’t want to be the only attendee caught without one.

As such, it’s a good idea to speak to others going to the funeral beforehand, or to scrutinise any formal invitation or notice of the memorial. 

And preparedness can not be underrated. The requisite flowers and a sympathy note or card tend to be expected, but it is also good practice to slip some practical items into your pockets. A pen, if there is a guestbook to sign. Tissues, even if not for you. Perhaps even sunglasses or an umbrella, depending on the weather. When you’re prepared for all eventualities, you can focus on paying your respects in peace. 

Know what to say…

And, finally, you should always arrive at a funeral with some choice words — whether this be an uplifting anecdot, a memory you shared with the deceased, or simply an assurance of comfort for the close family. 

Even if you feel awkward directly addressing the death when speaking to those grieving, try to avoid ‘changing the subject’. You may not feel comfortable bringing up their recent loss, but doing so will give the bereaved a chance to talk through their feelings and be open about their emotions. It is infinitely less considerate — not to mention less respectful — to skirt around the matter at hand.

Also avoid such platitudes as: “They’re in a better place now” or “They had a good life”. These may seem celebratory or reassuring to you, but they also serve to trivialise the family’s grief. Remember, a funeral is as much about supporting those left behind as it is about honouring those who have moved on. To that end, try something more useful, such as: “When you’re ready, I will be here for you”.

Want to learn more about gentlemanly etiquette? Here’s the A-Z of being a gentleman…

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