“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Henrik Ibsen.
The final viewing of the deceased will leave a lasting impression. Obviously survivors will have many memories, but the last visual will be especially memorable. Burial clothes and overall appearance deserve careful consideration.
You should make every effort to present your love one in a way that captures their spirit and the way they lived their life.
Here are some ideas and things to consider while choosing burial clothes for your loved one.
Traditional Burial Clothes and Funeral Gowns
Traditionally, deceased men are dressed in formal attire such as suits. Women are dressed in funeral gowns or dresses. Funeral gowns for deceased women, also called burial gowns, commonly have long sleeves and high necklines.
Suits and dresses are considered traditional for burial clothing, but there aren’t any rules governing what the deceased should wear. As times have changed, the world is more casual than ever. So the traditional dress may not apply. It is up to you to decide what is appropriate and determine what is most fitting for your loved one.
Who Chooses Burial Clothes for the Loved One?
Families usually provide the burial clothing for their loved one. This responsibility usually falls on the person closest to the deceased. This is usually the spouse or closest living relative.
Funeral directors may also provide the surviving family with a selection of burial clothes and funeral gowns. This can be a convenient option, especially if the deceased has recently changed weight and doesn’t have clothes that fit.
If you are a family member, the funeral director will help coordinate the burial clothes. Be sure to express your wishes and intents.
How to Choose Burial Clothes
During a funeral, the body is commonly displayed for viewing in either a full-couch or half-couch casket. Half couch is most common, where the deceased is visible from the torso up. Because the viewing will serve as the mourners’ final chance to see the person who died, the deceased must be presented in his or her finest look.
Here are some important steps in picking the final outfit for your loved one:
Consider Your Loved One’s Final Wishes
The first thing to consider in choosing burial clothing is the final wishes of the deceased. They may have left a statement in their will about how they wanted to be dressed when they die, or they may have told a family member about their final outfit choice.
In case the deceased has left instruction on what clothes to bury them in, simply dress them according to what they specified. This makes deciding on a burial outfit much easier.
If not instructions were left to follow, did they have a favorite? It is up to you to decide what you think would be the best outfit. Sounds obvious, but a peek into their closet may provide inspiration.
Consider the Personality of the Deceased
Be inspired by their life.
Base your loved one’s burial clothes according to what they would usually wore when they were alive. Did they have a favorite color? Did they dress in a particular style? Think about their occupation, affiliations, hobbies, and interests. What image do you have of your missed loved one and what would truly represent how they lived?
For example, if your loved one was a member of a sports team, you might dress them in their sports jersey. The same thing applies to veterans who are often buried in military uniform.
Even if there is no strong affiliation, you can simply match their outfit according to their style and preference. If you choose from their own wardrobe it will be the most accurate image and will help the mourners to remember the deceased fondly.
If you were close to the person who died, you will likely already have an idea of what they would prefer. Burial clothing does not have to be traditional. It will be most authentic if it comes directly from the person’s wardrobe
Keep It Appropriate
You have some degree of freedom in choosing the burial clothes of your loved one, but you still have to keep the outfit appropriate for the funeral service. If you are considering an accessory or an outfit choice that is controversial in any way, you may want to consult more family or a funeral director just to get consensus on what is appropriate.
Keeping the burial clothing appropriate also means that it should match the age and lifestyle of the deceased. Here are some guidelines to think about.
- Dress younger people in more casual clothes. They seldom wear suits and dresses, so a nice shirt and a pair of jeans could also be suitable for a funeral.
- Older people can be dressed in their usual clothing. For instance, if your female loved one has been sick for a while and had always been dressed in a nightgown, that could be an appropriate burial outfit.
- For babies, some charities and companies create handmade baby funeral clothes. These are available in different sizes to fit tiny infants as well.
Other Burial Clothing & Accessories
Here are some clothing items that complete the burial outfit of your loved one:
Wearing shoes for the deceased is optional. Some families want their loved ones to have shoes because they like knowing that the deceased is fully dressed. The person who died may also have a favorite pair of shoes that would be meaningful if they were buried in them.
For a couple reasons shoes may not be worn at all. The feet probably won’t be seen, especially for half-couch casket viewings. Additionally, putting shoes on the deceased is difficult. The feet become rigid and hard to bend. In this case socks alone will work.
When choosing an outfit, make sure that it is complete including underwear. Funeral directors will not dress the deceased without underwear. This is because you want your loved one’s outfit choice to be dignified. If they always wore undergarments in their life, there is no reason not to dress them with one in their death.
Accessorizing the deceased with pieces of jewelry is also optional. Some people may have wanted to be buried in pieces of jewelry that were sentimental to them such as wedding and engagement rings. They may also be motivated by beliefs that they want to carry with them in their afterlife the personal possessions that were important to them on earth.
However, make sure that you only include pieces of jewelry that you are okay to part with forever. Even if you think it would be good to let the deceased have their jewelry with them in their burial, later on, you might realize that it would have been more meaningful to give to a child or grandchild as an heirloom.
In this case, the deceased can still wear the jewelry during the wake or visitation. Any special items can then be removed before the burial. For cremation, the jewelry will have to be removed anyway since non-combustible items are not allowed inside the incinerator.
For further reading about the selection, read this article.
Important Considerations for Burial Clothes
When deciding on burial clothes, there are other important things to keep in mind. You also have to consider their religion, as well as the method of their final disposition.
Religion is another important consideration to think about when dressing the deceased. Some religions have dress and hairstyle requirements. It is best practice to check with the church or religious leaders about the specific rules for burial clothes.
Here are some general guidelines for different religions:
In Buddhism, the deceased are supposed to be dressed in everyday clothes and not in fancy clothes. Theravada Buddhists usually dress the deceased in white to symbolize virtue.
In Islam, there is no wake, viewing, or visitation since the burial must take place soon after death. The body is washed three times until it is entirely clean and then covered in a white sheet by family members. For women, their hair must be braided into three braids. After being covered in a sheet, a female Muslim is clothed in a sleeveless dress and a head veil.
For Jewish people, the body is covered in simple and plain shrouds called tachrichim, typically made of white cotton or linen. A tallit, or prayer shawl, covers men and sometimes women, and both wear either their normal daily attire or shrouds.
For Catholics (especially open casket viewings), the deceased is usually dressed in formal wear.
For Hindus, bodies are to be cremated. Until the cremation, the deceased will stay in the family’s home which usually takes a day or two after death. The body is dressed in simple clothing, usually white after it is cleaned. Unmarried young women, amd married women whose husband is alive, will be clothed in red or yellow dresses. Traditionally, the bodies of Hindus are wrapped in a white sheet.
Clothes worn during cremation need special consideration since not all types of clothing can be cremated. Some parts like metallic buttons, zippers, and snaps are not allowed to be worn during cremation because of safety and environmental concerns. Materials that are made of metal, plastic, and glass and some clothes made from synthetic materials may be hazardous to burn. The cremation technician will guide you in specifics.
If there is a viewing prior to cremation, some clothes may have to be removed by the funeral director and returned to you. This includes jewelry since they can be unsafe inside the cremation machine.
Clothes for green and natural burials must be biodegradable. The clothing must also be made from untreated natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, or linen.
Artificial materials are not allowed such as elastic waistbands, nylon threads, synthetic linings, buttons, and plastic or metal zips. These guidelines are usually imposed by natural burial grounds and cemeteries because of environmental concerns.
How Burial Clothes Fit
The clothes that you choose for your loved one may not fit them anymore especially if they lost or gained weight due to sickness. Also, rigor mortis or the stiffening of the body after death might make it difficult to move the body around and adjust the clothing to make it fit perfectly.
In this case, funeral directors may have to cut the back of the clothes to make it easier to dress the body. This will not be noticeable. The technicians are very skilled at presenting the body in the best possible light.
Manipulating the clothes helps create a natural appearance for your loved one while being laid in the casket. If you do not want the clothes to be cut, tell your funeral director. They are extremely accommodating.
Traditionally, the deceased is buried in a suit or dress. (But this varies for different religions.) You can also dress your loved one according to what they wore when they were alive. Dressing them in clothes that fit their style and preference and captures their personality is most suitable.
A funeral gown is a dress meant for deceased women. It usually has a high neckline and long sleeves. Funeral gowns are also typically made of easily adjustable materials.
No. Although suits and dresses are commonly used for burials, there are no rules regarding the clothes a deceased person should be buried in. If you think a fancy suit or dress does not fit the personality of your loved one, choose normal clothes that best memorialize them.
Yes. Funeral directors always put on undergarments on bodies for the dignity of the deceased. Make sure to include one when choosing an outfit for your loved one.
No. Shoes are optional. Some families do not include shoes and just opt for socks since they are not usually seen during a viewing. (Sometimes shoes are difficult to put on because the feet are swollen or stiff.)
Families usually choose the burial clothes for the deceased, especially the spouse or the closest family relative. Funeral directors may also provide burial clothing in case the family is not able to supply them.
Yes. The deceased may have left instructions specifying the clothes they want to be buried in. They may also have communicated their final wishes to a family member. In this case, it is easiest to grant the wishes of your loved one.
Usually, yes. The clothes have to be cut in the back to fit on the body. Cutting the clothes also help in creating a natural appearance for the deceased while lying in the casket.
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