DTC asks: Funerals often get mentioned as a slam against the black suit. However, what is appropriate wear for a funeral? Is only black appropriately sombre and respectful? What if one does not own a black suit?
Your goal in dressing for a funeral should be to reflect the significance and gravity of the occaision. Traditionally, this means dark suit, dark tie, white shirt, black shoes.
People don’t generally die on our schedule. For this reason, it’s important to have something on hand appropriate to wear on short notice. It certainly doesn’t have to be a $3000 black suit. It really just has to be something that conveys to the other people at the ceremony that you understand how important it is, and that you are part of the group of mourners.
Your general guidelines should be a dark gray or black suit, a white shirt, black shoes and a dark, sober tie. No stripes (those are for business) and no color in your suiting. If you can’t make this minimum standard, and can’t buy something, then do your best to look like you understand the uniform and made an effort. There are certainly funerals where a suit would be out of place, but they’re pretty uncommon, and if they come up, you’ll know. If you own only one suit, it should be a dark gray one, which will be appropriate for a funeral or for almost any other suit-requiring occasion.
Note that even at the funeral of the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, pictured above, the men are wearing this uniform. Our culture has few shared rituals, and this is one of them. Wear the special outfit.
One special note. Depending on the context, it may be reasonable for you to wear a folded cotton or linen pocket handkerchief in your breast pocket. No matter what the context, it is appropriate for you to carry a clean one (or even two) in your hip pockets should anyone need to use it.