Celebrations of life are memorial events that honor the memory of a loved one who has died. They’re usually organized by friends and family members and held shortly after the person’s death. Rather than what you’d expect at a funeral, celebrations of life are often much more informal. Their purpose is to celebrate the person’s life, not mourn their death as much as in a traditional funeral service. The event may take place at home or in a banquet hall, for example. It might include music, photo slide shows, videos, readings from favorite books or poems, and speeches about the person’s accomplishments or personal qualities.
In celebration of life attire (and all other attire for mourning situations), it’s important to dress in an appropriate but comfortable way that respects the deceased without being too formal. In general, it’s best to avoid wearing denim jeans (unless you know they were an acceptable item for the dead person with whom you’re celebrating) and anything too avant garde or revealing. Celebration of life attire usually falls somewhere on the spectrum between business casual and semi-formal wear—but again: your clothing should be in good taste and shouldn’t distract anyone from remembering the deceased lovingly.#
Dress code: business casual to semi-formal
Now that we’ve finally gotten around to having our celebration of life, we wanted to make sure it was meaningful. We were lucky enough that our deceased loved one was close with family and friends, so a memorial service is likely to be a home-cooked meal or buffet at the home of a friend. As such, we want to make sure everyone knows what they’re expected to wear.
Dress: business casual is fine for daytime events like this one. That means a collared shirt with slacks or jeans and nice shoes are acceptable attire for both men and women. At evening events with more formal attire (like church), the dress code is semi-formal for men and women—depending on the time of day, you might see suits (for men) or long dresses (for women).
For evening events like this one, if you don’t have anything business casual in your wardrobe, consider renting something from one of your local stores before the night comes so you can feel confident about making an impression at the event itself.
In general, women should wear a dress or conservative skirt outfit. Many women opt for black or another dark color–and while this is appropriate, you can also wear more colorful clothing as well. For casual services, try a modest top and skirt combination; if your service is semi-formal or formal, choose a more conservative dress in either dark colors or with smaller patterns. Avoid loud prints, bows and ruffles on the neckline of your dress as these are generally seen as inappropriate for serious occasions.
A black dress is an appropriate option.
It is also appropriate to wear a black dress to a celebration of life service. While the traditional color to wear to funerals is black, it can also be an appropriate choice for a celebration of life service. Wearing a black dress shows that you understand and respect the nature of the occasion.
Be sure to choose your best black dress that you have in your possession. The occasion calls for you to look your best and show your respect for the person who has passed on. It is important that you choose not just any old dress, but one that is suitable for the event.
Avoid dresses that are too tight or too loose because they may be distracting and keep people from focusing on paying respects at the service. In addition, it’s important not to pick something too revealing either; it’s definitely not the appropriate time or place for skin-tight dresses or plunging necklines!
A modest skirt and top are another option.
A modest skirt and top are another option. You can opt for a blouse or a turtleneck if you prefer, but keep the outfit as conservative as possible: no spaghetti straps, no shorts, and nothing too low-cut. In addition to considering the weather, consider the venue. If it’s indoors, you may want to wear long sleeves.
For a celebration of life at a beach, resort or country club, you may wear casual attire, such as khakis and a blouse.
The type of celebration and the time of day will help you determine whether to wear a casual or formal outfit. For a celebration of life at a beach, resort or country club, you may wear casual attire, such as khakis and a blouse. Men should opt for khakis and polo shirts. Women should consider wearing sundresses, skirts or capri pants with any top that is neither too revealing nor too low cut. Don’t wear shorts, sandals or flip flops.
If you’re a man looking for guidance on what to wear to a celebration of life, the dress code is generally business casual to semi-formal. A button-down shirt paired with a sweater or blazer will cover all your bases and ensure you’re dressed appropriately. Chinos or dress pants in muted tones compliment this look well, as do loafers or slip-on shoes in dark brown or black. If you have a suit that fits, it’s acceptable to wear it, but make sure your tie isn’t too loud—a solid color is ideal.
Can you wear jeans to a celebration of life?
If you are attending the celebration of life of a family member or close friend, it is acceptable to wear jeans. It is also acceptable if you are attending the celebration of life of an acquaintance. However, there may be guests who do not know you well at this event, and as such we recommend erring on the side of caution and wearing something more formal than casual jeans. Jeans should be in good condition with no rips or tears, and not overly faded. Do keep in mind that if your loved one was religious, it’s possible that their celebration will be held at a church or place of worship that has a strict “no jeans” policy. In this case it would be incorrect to wear them!
Yes, so long as they’re not overly faded, ripped or torn.
Yes, so long as they’re not overly faded, ripped or torn. Remember that the purpose of a celebration of life is to commemorate and celebrate a person’s life. The occasion is about respect for the memory of the deceased. That said, if you’re dressing in jeans, keep them smart and well-fitting. For example, dark or neutral coloured jeans are great options. These can be paired with a blazer or cardigan which will take your look from casual to semi-formal in an instant. Alternatively, opt for black jeans—they look smart and will work with most colour combinations.
Unless specifically told otherwise, it’s best to err on the side of caution and be more formal than not.
A celebration of life is not a time to show off your summer vacation tan, or the latest fashion trend. Unless specifically told otherwise, it’s best to err on the side of caution and be more formal than not.
Here are a few things you should avoid wearing:
- Flip-flops/casual sneakers
- Clothing with inappropriate graphics, logos or slogans. This includes athletic wear! It’s important that your clothing isn’t overtly distracting from what will likely be a deeply emotional event. Be respectful and considerate when choosing your outfit.
A celebration of life is not the same as a funeral. The mood is much lighter, and attendees are encouraged to share memories and stories about their loved one. Even if you’re not a guest speaker or reader, it’s likely that the communal atmosphere can lead to some spontaneous sharing amongst strangers. In this type of setting, it’s important for your clothing to reflect the nature of the event: lighthearted but respectfully somber.
Though some celebrations of life may have more formal dress codes (such as black tie), most will be business casual with a slight upgrade to semi-formal. So while you shouldn’t wear jeans or sneakers, you also shouldn’t go all out in a suit or cocktail dress. You’ll want something that’s comfortable and versatile so that you can easily move between sitting, mingling, and singing along with the music (many celebrations feature live performances by singers or musicians).
With these guidelines in mind, you should avoid wearing flip flops and t-shirts; opt instead for button downs or blouses in muted colors such as blue or green. White or black are best avoided—although white might look appropriate at first glance, it can come across like an attempt at formality rather than an expression of genuine grief and celebration.