Funerals and other mourning rituals can be emotionally taxing, and deciding how to dress for a viewing adds another element to the equation. However, there are some basic rules to follow when it comes to proper attire.
Many men have difficulty deciding to what to wear in this sartorial situation. While it’s most often more formal and somber than a celebration of life, a viewing may be a step down from the funeral itself. In this article, we’ll cover what to expect at a viewing, some general history of menswear at viewings, and what you should wear depending the situation.
What To Expect At A Viewing
In many Western cultures, a viewing is typically held at a funeral home, and will usually happen a day or two before the funeral itself. There may be one session, or sessions on different days. The casket or urn will be on display in a room with a picture of the deceased. The casket may be open or closed, and there is usually a small kneeling bench in front of it.
Upon approaching the casket or urn, some visitors choose to kneel and offer a prayer. Others simply walk by and pay their respects silently and then outwardly to the immediate family. Of course, either option is a personal decision.
Once passing the casket and paying your condolences to the immediate family, you are free to roam. If you are the immediate family, then you wait for everyone to pay their respects, and then you can mingle with the guests who have come for support.
A viewing is a very social endeavor that will include mingling with many guests, reminiscing about the deceased, and being emotionally supportive of the family or accepting support if you are a family member—as such, dressing appropriately is essential.
Viewing Attire History
Historically, viewings and funerals have somber looks associated with them. In Western culture, black has been the traditional color of mourning since at least the 15th century. Eastern cultures frequently feature white as a traditional mourning color. And, in some cultures, the widow of the deceased may wear purple.
Wearing black often extends beyond the funeral itself; family members in many cultures will often don black in the weeks afterwards as a sign of continued mourning. England’s Queen Victoria was a bit more extreme- she dressed almost exclusively in black for the rest of her life after the loss of her husband, Albert.
For gentlemen in recent Western history, however, the choice of what to wear to a viewing has been fairly narrow. For much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a black suit, black top hat, black bowtie, and white collared shirt was the only acceptable attire. However, funeral fashion has also relaxed as much of the world has gotten more casual.
Hats were worn less frequently, and suits in lighter tones began to pop up as well. Polished black boots became less of the standard, giving way to Oxfords, Derbies, or other styles (and colors) of footwear.
So, how to dress for a viewing in this day and age?
What to Wear to a Viewing
Color, Pattern, and Style
Even as the world goes casual and the debate over whether one really needs a black suit rages on, it remains a common choice for viewings. If black isn’t the color you have or want to wear, then aim for darker colors.
Deep navy blue and charcoal grey suits are excellent for what to wear to a viewing. Brown can work in certain settings, but we’d recommend a very dark or “charcoal” brown. We suggest avoiding tan, sand, pale grey or bright blue suiting.
The cloth and pattern you choose is as important as the color. Worsted wool or flannel work best in most situations. If the viewing is in summer months, you may consider a lighter, ‘tropical’ weight wool or something in a hopsack weave. We recommend avoiding linen, cotton, or seersucker – they are simply too casual for the setting.
As for pattern, less is very much more. Solid or subtle sharkskin will work best, but a thin pinstripe may also be acceptable. Chalk stripes, large windowpanes, glen plaids, or houndstooth patterns will be too loud for the setting.
As for styling, conservative is usually best. Lapels that are overly wide or excessively narrow will stand out, so look for between 3 and 3.5″ for single breasted suits and 3.5″ and 4″ for double breasted. Peak or notch lapels are up to you, but be mindful the former will draw more attention than the latter.
A quick recap of our recommended suiting selection for a viewing
|Color||Deep navy blue, charcoal grey. Optional: charcoal brown|
|Cloth||Worsted wool, flannel|
In Summer: Tropical weight wool, hopsack weave
|Pattern||Solid, subtle sharkskin|
|Styling||Lapel width: 3-3.5″ on single-breasted, 3.5-4″ on double-breasted|
Fit is Key
Look for a suit that is a good fit for your natural stance. That means, stand straight with your arms relaxed at your sides. If the suit fits well in this stance, then it is going to fit in any other stance. The cuffs should not go beyond your wrist, and the pant leg should not be longer than your ankles.
You should be comfortable in your suit when standing in a relaxed position. The legs should be straight, and so should the suit jacket arms. If the legs, arms, or otherwise are too loose and hang, you should have your suit tailored.
Shirt and Tie
Historical counts of mourning often show men clad in a white shirt with a black bowtie. The style trends in that department are still very similar. Today, most men favor a necktie over a bowtie.
Wearing a shirt and tie replicates a respectful appearance on most occasions, including a viewing. In contrast, your shirts can be a variance of colors either from white to gray or blue. However, ensure the tie is dark, either charcoal or black.
Always consider how the shirt and tie match up with the suit. You don’t want a blue shirt, black tie and dark brown suit as it will clash. More appropriately is wearing a suit and tie that match each other with a neutral shirt.
Solid or ties with a subtle texture are best; however, small pindots, diamonds, or squares will work as well.
It’s important to remember how to dress for a viewing is different than other formal events. Respect and dignity are paramount throughout your outfit, and that includes the socks.
When choosing your socks, pick some that fit with your suit. If you are going black, charcoal or black formal socks are the most appropriate choice.
The general census when picking shoes for a funeral viewing is to wear dress shoes. These shoes should match your outfit Black, brown, or grey shoes are all acceptable choices.
When choosing your shoes, make comfort a priority. It is relatively common to be viewing for a considerable amount of time. Since chairs for sitting are not numerous at a funeral viewing, you will be on your feet for what could be hours. Don’t sacrifice your comfort for style.
Before you leave for the viewing, make sure your shoes are clean, and the laces are neat.
Different cultures and families have a variance of beliefs when it comes to how to dress for a viewing. Some garb that is considered informal and relaxed may be inappropriate for some viewings but perfectly acceptable to others.
When dressing “down” for viewing, there are other etiquette standards you can adhere to. For a semi-formal viewing, dressing in a pair of dark-colored slacks, as well as a dark sports jacket with a light colored shirt, is appropriate. A collared shirt is more appropriate than a non-collared shirt.
A pair of dark-colored chinos and a collared dark shirt may also be appropriate for an informal viewing. The same goes for the shoes as you can wear boots, dress shoes or any shoes as long as they are dark-colored.
Make sure that the attire you choose to wear is not going to be directly disrespectful of the mourning family and their traditions. When in doubt, always go with a dark suit, dark tie, and light shirt. No one will accuse you of being overdressed, and they will simply see someone who is being respectful.
It is entirely unnecessary to wear a tie clip or cuff links. Though it isn’t against the etiquette rules of a viewing, you do not need to accessorize when dressing for a viewing. Understandable and straightforward is the ideal look when paying respects to a distraught family.
Final Thoughts: Comfort
When choosing how to dress for a viewing, you want to make sure you are comfortable. The same suit you wear to the lengthy viewing is the one you are likely to wear to the funeral as well. It is not against etiquette to wear a different suit to the viewing and the funeral though unnecessary.
Since the viewing and the funeral are going to be reasonably lengthy while you mingle during the viewing, attend the service, and mingle afterward, you want comfort to be at the forefront of your choice.
Make sure that you are respectful of the mourning family, but be comfortable in what you choose to wear as well. Choosing comfort and respect may prove to be difficult, but it is manageable with the right attire.
If it is your first viewing, we recommend that you wear a black suit, white shirt, and black tie. You cannot go wrong with traditional attire. It is much easier to move into a semi-formal look when you are dressed in formal attire than to go from semi-formal to formal.
Whichever you choose to wear to the viewing, ensure you are following the traditions and customs of the family and are paying respects in the best possible way.
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