What Should the Deceased Wear? Choices for the Funeral

If you’re responsible for planning the funeral of a loved one, one of your tasks will be to select the clothes they’ll wear for the viewing (if there is one) and the funeral. This is a huge responsibility, as whatever you select will be the last set of clothing they’ll ever wear.

The deceased should wear clothing that suits their personality, beliefs, age, and body condition. Traditionally, the deceased are buried in formal or semi-formal clothing, although this is not a requirement.

In the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about selecting clothes for your departed loved one. I’ll also offer suggestions specific to women, men, and children. Finally, I’ll answer frequently asked questions about this topic, so you’re prepared to make the right choice.

What You Need To Know About Dressing the Deceased

When dressing the deceased, there are some practical considerations you should keep in mind. Here’s what you need to know:

Pants and Undergarments Are Necessary, but Shoes Are Not

Legs are typically covered in a casket because of the associated difficulties when treating and laying the legs such that they look presentable. For more information about this, read my article discussing why they cover the legs in a casket

However, even though the legs are covered, you should still select pants or a skirt for your loved one to be buried in. Similarly, undergarments won’t be visible, but you should still provide some to the mortician.

Dressing your departed loved one is largely about sending them on their way with dignity, and part of this is helping them to look like they did when they lived, as much as possible. It’s very likely that your loved one covered their lower half and wore undergarments while they were living, so it’s best to have them wear these items in their as well.

If you forget to supply undergarments, don’t fret. Most funeral homes have a supply of simple undergarments they dress the dead in before placing them in the casket.

On the other hand, shoes aren’t required if the departed’s legs are covered. Unless you request that your loved one wear shoes in their casket, morticians don’t put shoes on the dead. This is because of rigor mortis that causes the feet to become so stiff that putting shoes on is difficult or impossible. I explain why the dead don’t wear shoes in more detail in my article: Do You Wear Shoes in a Casket or Coffin?

The Mortician May Cut the Clothes

If your loved one has clothing that holds sentimental value to you and you’d like to keep it, I don’t recommend choosing those clothes to bury them in. It’s common for morticians to alter the clothing in some way, typically by cutting, so they fit the body better.

Usually, a mortician will cut the clothes along the back and tuck them around the body, giving the appearance that they’re dressed. There are several reasons why morticians do this, such as:

  • Rigor mortis made the body too stiff to maneuver into clothing.
  • The departed lost a lot of weight by the time they died, so the clothing doesn’t fit well.
  • The clothes don’t fit due to the swollen abdominal region, which occurs after an autopsy.

Therefore, if the idea of having your selected clothing cut is painful for you, I suggest choosing something else. For more information, you can read my article about how morticians place a dead body in a casket.

Long-Sleeve Tops and Turtlenecks Are Best

The body undergoes a lot of changes after death, especially if it’s embalmed. For example, the collarbone quickly starts to look hollowed and unlifelike, so many funeral directors recommend picking a top with a high neck or a turtleneck to cover the area.

Additionally, embalming fluid often causes the skin on the arms to appear mottled and blotchy, which could be unpleasant or alarming for loved ones to see. For this reason, I recommend choosing a top, jacket, or dress that covers the arms. These garments should not be sheer or gauzy, as the goal is to cover any signs of embalming that may be distressing, and these could show through these materials.

For more about the process of embalming and your alternatives, I recommend my article about whether embalming is required by law.

Some Religions Have Dress Requirements

If your loved one was religious, you should keep their beliefs in mind when selecting clothing. The following table outlines some common religions and their beliefs regarding burial clothing:

BuddhismNon-formal clothesSome denominations require the dead to be buried in white
CatholicismFormal clothes as if they were attending Sunday massSuits for men, dresses for women
IslamMen are dressed in shrouds, women in shrouds and veilsWomen’s hair is braided into three braids
JudaismSimple shrouds called tachrichimPrayer shawlMen wear a yarmulke
HinduismBodies are cremated and dressed in simple clothingUsually whiteUnmarried women and women who are survived by their husbands are dressed in red or yellow dresses
Jehovah’s WitnessTypically semi-formal

Whether you follow the same belief system as your deceased loved one or not, it’s best to err on the respectful side and bury them according to the traditions dictated by their religion in life. 

The Type of Funeral Can Influence Your Options

If you have a traditional funeral for your loved one and they’re going to be buried in a casket, you can typically include whatever kind of clothing, mementos, and jewelry you’d like. However, if you have a green burial, there are guidelines for the type of clothing you choose.

The clothing must be biodegradable and made with natural materials for a green burial. It also cannot have artificial accessories, such as zippers and buttons. Many people choose to have an environmentally-friendly burial gown or shroud made for the departed.

There are also guidelines for cremations. Not everything can be put in a crematorium, so the following materials are prohibited:

  • Synthetic materials
  • Treated leather
  • Treated rubber
  • Metal
  • Plastic

I have a guide about the different types of funerals that provides more information.

The Clothing Should Reflect Who They Were in Life

Ultimately, the decision is up to the family about what the departed wears. In some cases, your loved one may have expressed their desires about what they’d like to be buried in to you while they were living. In this case, you should honor their wishes.

However, if they did not tell you what they’d like to be buried in, you should consider their personality, occupation, and beliefs. You wouldn’t want to put your loved one in clothes that they, well, wouldn’t be caught dead in while they were living. 

For example, if your mother adored wearing bright colors and crazy prints, it wouldn’t be a very fitting tribute to her to bury her in a simple black dress. 

Conversely, if your loved one was an academic and was wholly dedicated to their profession in life, they likely wouldn’t mind being buried in conservative attire.  

The clothes you pick should also reflect the age of the deceased. For example, younger people are typically dressed in more casual clothes because they likely didn’t dress too formally while living (although, as previously explained, you don’t want to bury them in anything that shows too much skin). 

You may also consider their lifestyle. If your dad loved riding motorcycles and was always seen in a leather jacket, he’d probably like to be buried in the same outfit.

Choosing Clothes for a Deceased Loved One: What To Look for and What To Avoid

The following table clearly outlines what you should and shouldn’t do while picking clothing for the deceased:

What To Look ForWhat to Avoid
Larger items that accommodate any swelling due to an autopsyTight clothing that will reveal skin slippage
Turtlenecks or high-necked shirts and dressesSheer or lacy material
Long-sleeved shirts or dresses, or a jacketSynthetic materials or clothes with zippers and buttons (if having a green burial)
Scarf that the mortician can arrange to hide any unsightly areasClothes that clash with the floral arrangement or the casket
Clothes that suit the personality of the departedClothes with sentimental value that you don’t want to be cut

Burial Clothes for Women

Here are some ideas of what to include with burial clothes for women:

  • Scarf
  • High-necked blouse with a skirt
  • Turtleneck with their favorite jeans
  • Sentimental jewelry, including engagement and wedding rings
  • Favorite cosmetics (lipstick, nail polish)
  • Their favorite dress, or a dress with sentimental value

In addition, you might like to give a picture of your loved one to the mortician, so they can try to apply any cosmetics and style the hair similar to how it looked while the woman was living.

Burial Clothes for Men

Here are some ideas of what to include with burial clothes for men:

  • Suit and tie
  • Dress pants and a button-down top
  • Wedding ring
  • Turtleneck with their favorite jeans

The biggest decision to make when picking a burial outfit for a man is if they’d prefer to be dressed formally or informally.

Burial Clothes for Children

Losing a child is an overwhelming tragedy, and choosing the clothing they’re buried in can be extremely trying. Children are typically buried in less formal clothing and clothes that reflect their personality and what they enjoyed in life. For example, if the child loved playing baseball, the parents might choose to have them buried in a baseball uniform.

If the child was an infant when they died, you can opt for a baby bereavement gown. These gowns are small, specially designed outfits that are typically simple in detail and handmade. They are made in various sizes, including ones small enough to fit micro-premature babies. 

Some volunteers make these gowns by hand and donate them to hospitals, though you can also purchase them online at places such as Angel Christening Gowns and Preemie Store & More.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I Have To Buy New Clothes for the Deceased?

You don’t need to purchase new clothing for the dead unless you want to. Usually, people select burial clothes from the departed’s closet, which are more authentic to who they were and their taste. However, if your loved one experienced drastic changes in their body before they died and none of their clothes fit, you may need to buy something new.

2. What Happens to the Clothing the Departed Are Buried In?

The clothes that are buried with a body decompose with the body, although the rate depends on the type of material. Natural fibers, such as cotton and wool, break down quicker and are more suitable for green burials. Synthetic materials take a long time to decompose and, in some cases, can even slow the decomposition rate of the body.

3. Should I Bury My Loved One With Jewelry?

Providing jewelry for your loved one is completely optional. The deceased may have wanted to be buried with sentimental jewelry pieces, such as an engagement ring, and in this case, it would be appropriate to provide that piece. 

You also have the option of having them wear jewelry for the viewing and the services. However, you may have to remove the jewelry from the casket and get it returned to you before the burial.

4. Should I Provide Cosmetics?

The mortician will have cosmetics that they’ll use to hide any discoloration, but if your loved one had a favorite shade of lipstick or nail polish, you could provide these so the mortician can use the same products. This is a helpful way to make the departed look as similar as possible to how they did when they were alive.


The decision of what your deceased loved one should wear is ultimately up to you. When making your choice, the best way to pay tribute to them and uphold authenticity is to consider their personality, beliefs, age, and lifestyle. You should also keep in mind the condition of their body and the way it may have changed in death.

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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