So the grieving has begun after another person has been called to rest. This will be the last time you or anybody else sees the face of the recently deceased. Making the right decision about what the person will wear is an important one. For it truly is the last impression they will make on the world.
So what clothes will you put on the body of your loved one?
If nothing jumps out as something sentimental that the deceased would like to be buried in, then the safest bet is to think of what the person themselves would wear to a funeral & go with that. Then the morticians will handle the hard things like adjusting the body & clothes to make them look good.
Following this basic guideline will get you to a satisfactory level of care in this process. However, there are many aspects of dressing your loved one for their funeral that you may not have thought about.
How do I make the best decision choosing what the deceased will wear?
- Do give the funeral home clear dressing instructions
- Do give a complete outfit including underwear
- Do match the outfit to the style and preference of the deceased
- Do consider unique items of clothing
- Do include items of jewelry you are happy to part with forever.
Remember the little things
Provide underwear! Many funeral directors will not dress a body without proper underwear. It is typically best to provide clothes to the funeral home that the person would actually wear, and preferably has, worn in real life. If they were a business person, they would do well with a suit.
If they were a younger person typically something casual like a pair of casual pants and a nice shirt will look just fine. The goal is to have people remember the person as they were in their waking life.
Know your options
When it comes time for the discussion of the proceedings with the funeral director, make sure they give you a guideline as to what would be acceptable clothes for the departed to wear. Most of the time they will ask you to provide the clothes from them to dress the deceased with. However, if you want the funeral director will usually offer to supply a traditional style gown for the deceased.
The guidelines for what clothes should be on the body are actually quite broad. It could be everything from formal wear, like a tuxedo or an expensive dress, to ensure they look phenomenal when they meet their maker; or a set of pajamas, to provide a calming feeling for the attendees.
Personalized the outfit
Something unique could work. Depending on the personality of the deceased and the people in attendance at the funeral, it is typically the safest bet to go with standard formal clothes, roughly about the same as you would wear to a wedding.
However, it can be a great personal touch to dress up the dead in their favorite clothes and accessories. Perhaps a shirt that the person wore every Sunday or a hockey jersey from their favorite team would be suitable. Most commonly people will have the deceased wearing accessories like watches, jewelry or glasses. Anything that was of some sort of sentimental value would be suitable.
Jewelry is optional so be sure to consider a few things when deciding on this. Once it is buried it is gone forever. Something that has a lot of monetary value, might be better kept with the family in a secure box than buried in the ground forever. Also, a necklace, while it may be beautiful when a person is standing up, may not look so good on a dead person lying in a casket.
- Don’t provide tight-fitting clothing
- Don’t include accessories for the face
- Don’t bother with shoes
- Don’t try to be amusing
- Don’t be inappropriate
Leave a lasting impression
When having an open casket funeral, it is important to avoid anything that could make the deceased look disfigured or off-putting to the attendees. This will be the last time they all see the person in question and its important that the last impression is a good one.
Stray away from giving the funeral home tight clothing to put on the body. Remember, the body has been embalmed and will be very stiff and tough to slip clothes on. A slim pair of jeans could be a nightmare to get on and the home will likely have to cut them to make them fit.
Avoid putting anything on the person’s face or head area (besides makeup and jewelry if appropriate). Like a pair of sunglasses or a hat could put some of the guests off as they likely want to have a last look at the person’s face.
Forget the shoes
Don’t bother bringing shoes along with the clothes you provide to the funeral home. They usually cannot be seen at the proceedings, as only half of the casket showing the head will be open. Also, it can be tough to get shoes on, as the body is quite ridged by the time of the funeral.
Know your audience
Try not to aim for a comedic direction while dressing them. Something like a shirt that is much too revealing, a very out of fashion jacket or a man in women’s clothing, could start someone attending the funeral off and could create a lot of trouble, even if it is a hit with a select few. Jokes, while they do have their place in the healing process, can just tilt in the disrespectful direction far too easily and it’s best not to risk it.
This should be fairly obvious but it is still important to mention. DO NOT dress the dead in revealing sexy clothing, even if that’s the way they dressed in real life. It is just distasteful. Much like trying to make it humorous, there is a time and a place; this is not it.
How do I keep the clothing appropriate?
As the person in charge of deciding what to dress the deceased in, you certainly don’t want to let anybody down or, god forbid, offend anybody at the proceedings. Here are the different scenarios with some guidelines you may want to have a look over.
This is by far the most important scenario to get the clothing right. The bottom line is, try to capture the feel of what the person was like in their waking life while keeping it suitable for the circumstances at the funeral.
Although, this should be obvious if the person was a business person than a business suit would make a lot of sense. However, if the person typically dressed a little on the revealing side, it would be best to tone that down for the sake of the farewellers. You wouldn’t be showing the deceased disrespect by taking this course of action.
If no clothing jumps out at you as obvious in sentimental value to the person than a good rule of thumb here would be to dress the person in something they themselves would wear to a funeral. This rule will go a long way in the case that the deceased was an introvert whom you didn’t really know that well.
In the case of dressing the deceased for a closed casket funeral, there is no need to have the deceased looking good for the people attending the funeral.
Therefore, the only consideration would be to think about any clothes that the previously living may have wanted to be buried in and may mean something to them. If nothing comes to mind, it may be best to just let the funeral home take care of dressing as they could do a cost-effective and sanitary job.
Again, if the deceased is to be cremated, there really isn’t a need to please the people coming to pay their last respects. However, it may be a consideration for the sentimental value of the dead, that they are cremated in certain clothing that may mean something to them. Such as, the war uniform for a solider or their favorite Sunday dress may be popular choices.
There are actually a lot of questions around this topic, so I actually wrote a more in-depth article about whether or not a person has to wear clothes when they are cremated. You can read more about it here.
For most people, a decision like putting clothes on the dead is not a regular one they make. Nor is it a pleasant one. So it should be natural to have a lack of experience. Here are some that you may not have thought about in this situation.
What are the potential problems that I may not have thought about?
When deciding what clothes to choose, consider how the person looks now compared to when they were alive. Such as if they had been on life support or been bedridden sick for a very long time, they will likely be much larger or smaller than they were in their regular life.
Therefore, their normal clothes aren’t likely to fit. Take a person who has been on chemotherapy for months! unfortunately, often you can barely recognize them.
If this is the case, the funeral home will cut the clothes that you have given them to make them fit the new shape of the body as best as they can. Either to let them out or take in where it is needed.
If the person was in an accident that has horribly disfigured the body, god forbid, there would be the added consideration that you should probably choose clothing that is going to cover the body as well as you can.
In this situation, it would be best to go with some formal wear that covers very generously. Given that the body is badly injured, the funeral home should provide you with a plastic suit that goes under the regular clothing to keep the clothes from being noticeably ruined. Make sure you discuss this with them to be sure.
Who Chooses the clothing for the deceased?
A big responsibility and sometimes a tough decision to make is who will be in charge of choosing what the dead person will wear. The best course of action in this decision is to let one person make the final decision. Most of the time, this person should be obvious, such as the person’s spouse or closest living relative.
However, sometimes this is not the case and someone the person wasn’t that close with needs to make the decision as they may have been quite old and disconnected from their loved ones. In this case, it might be good to discuss among the people that knew them the best.
Should I give the person a haircut and makeup?
The short answer is yes you certainly should. The reason being is that when a person dies the texture and color of their skin dramatically changes into something you might see in the crypt of an old castle (sorry, but it’s true). This will not be a good last memory of your loved one for the funeral attendees. After the embalming process, typically the mortician will be in charge of adding the makeup to both genders.
Now, because the skin is no longer like regular skin, using regular makeup tends not to work. The best morticians will use an airbrush to get the person streak-free and looking like they are almost back to life.
As for the person’s hair, as well as the fingernails, they will look much longer than they did when the person was alive. This isn’t because they have grown, it is because, after a person’s death, dehydration causes the person to shrink while the hair and fingernails stay the same length.
So giving the person a haircut to make them look like their old self is a must. Again, it is something best left to the professionals; don’t be a hands-on Harry, let the mortician handle it.
What is the embalming process?
Embalming is then the mortician pushes all of the blood out of the body with a machine that cuts into the body near the jugular vein in the neck. It forces formaldehyde and embalming fluid (preservation fluids), that will keep the body from decomposing too quickly and firm up the skin. Before this procedure, the skin will be very dehydrated and not nice to touch or look at.
Who dresses the deceased?
As we have learned, the body will change sizes quite frequently from the time right before death up until the actual funeral. Therefore, dressing the dead body tends to be quite difficult. This is because, as a result of the embalming process and dehydration, the body is quite rigid, the skin is hard and the size of it overall has shrunk.
So because of all of the unusual circumstances encountered with making a dead person look good, it is a difficult task indeed. Like the makeup and embalming, this should be left in the mortician’s hands to ensure everything goes smoothly. One would think this would be good news for any family member organizing the funeral.
Can the Deceased choose their own clothes?
The answer to this is absolutely YES! In the event that the deceased is well aware that they are going to die, choosing the clothes they are to be buried in can make this kind of decision much easier. Sometimes, if a person has gone through the process of planning a will, burial clothing will be covered within the deceased legal will and legally needs to be carried out.
So be sure to speak with the dead’s lawyer, if they had one, before making the final decision on what clothes to bury them in.
What is customary for the deceased to wear at their funeral in different religions?
Assuming that the recently vacated person’s religion doesn’t require them to be cremated, here are some general guidelines for some common religions that could come into play if you are in charge of dressing the dead.
For Buddhists, it is important that the dead are not buried in fancy clothes, but in everyday clothes, those that the person would normally wear. As in life, a Buddhist would not want to differentiate themselves to be of a higher or lower class than anybody else.
In the Islamic faith, the burial must take place as quickly as possible after death. Therefore, there is no wake, viewing, or visitation. Right after death the body is washed and covered in a sheet by family members preferably. There is very rarely an open casket at an Islamic funeral.
Cremations for Muslims are also forbidden. The bodies are to be washed three times until entirely clean. Women’s hair should be washed and braided into three braids. Once the body has gone through this ritual, the body will be covered in a white sheet. Women will be fitted in a sleeveless dress and head veil.
For the most part, Jewish people want their dead buried intact in the ground not cremated. The body will be covered in a white shroud made out of a simple fabric like linen. This is called a “tachrichim”. If the person is a man, they will also have a skullcap known as a “yarmulke” put on their heads.
Cremation has become quite popular among Catholic churches these days, however, if there is an open casket planned, typically the deceased will be dressed in regular formal wear. This is suitable for the event as the church would not allow casual wear at a regular service nor a funeral service. The Catholic church sees non-formal wear at these events on the disrespectful side.
In the Hindu religion, cremation is the norm. But, the body will remain in the family’s home until it is moved to the cremation location. The burial of the cremated remains will take place about 10 days after the death of the individual. After the cremation ceremony called the “mukhagni”, there will be a third ceremony for the burial called the “shraddha”.