Formal occasions such as weddings and funerals can send so many people into a tailspin as they panic about how to dress appropriately. One of the regular questions I see is can you wear white shoes to a funeral?
Understanding the relevant dress code for events is crucial, especially on a somber occasion as you don’t want to upset family members by appearing disrespectful.
Having sadly been to a number of funerals over the years I’ve found that most people get it right but when someone turns up wearing the wrong thing it is noticed and people do talk about them.
So if you want to know what to wear on your feet for a funeral service here’s what you need to know.
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What Shoe Color is Acceptable For a Funeral?
When considering what shoes to wear to a funeral or memorial service you need to first consider the formality of the occasion.
Most funerals are formal and somber occasions where the dress code primarily is based on the traditional color of black.
This means that women are likely to wear clothing consisting of either a black dress or skirt and trousers and men would wear a black suit and tie. To match the black formal attire most people would wear closed-toe black shoes to match. A white shirt to go with a dark suit would not feel out of place but a white dress would stand out. Conservative clothing in a formal style is what is expected and footwear should match this.
Open-toed shoes or women’s sandals should generally not be worn however in very hot weather you can perhaps get away with it provided your footwear is black or in a dark color. Make sure they have low heels as high ones would draw attention to the inappropriate footwear. Men’s sandals however are not appropriate. I know it sounds sexist but men’s sandals always tend to look casual whilst some women’s sandals are a little dressier.
Casual clothing and footwear is definitely something that shouldn’t be considered funeral attire. If you were thinking of wearing sneakers. flip-flops, athletic wear, t-shirts or bright colors then think again.
So can you wear white shoes to a funeral? Well, the answer is if the event is a formal occasion and involves a traditional church service the general rule is no you can’t. Obviously, nobody is going to stop you going or enforce the rule but you will stand out like a sore thumb.
As a side note, I am from the UK, and over here white women’s shoes are considered incredibly tacky and cheap (look up the term Essex Girls) so that just makes them an even worse choice to wear to a funeral.
The Exceptions To This Rule
Can you wear white shoes to a funeral in Western cultures if there are exceptions to the formal funeral attire dress code?
Yes as with everything in life, nothing is as straightforward as you might first think. As with any rules, there are exceptions, and wearing white shoes and bright clothing is allowed when these apply. Here are three reasons why I think wearing white shoes might be allowed:
When the person whose funeral has made it known that they didn’t want a formal conservative funeral. Plenty of people are now writing wills that specify mourners should wear bright colors, casual attire, or even fancy dress. If this has been specified before the funeral then subdued colors of clothing and footwear can be ignored in favor of something different.
Secondly when it is a living funeral. Living funerals are becoming increasingly mainstream so much so that our local pub has had three of them in the last month to celebrate people who were still alive. A living funeral is generally for someone who has a terminal illness but wants to throw a party to celebrate their life before they die. On these occasions, dark colors and formal clothing are usually replaced with normal clothing or a much less somber dress code.
Whilst Western cultures prefer black or dark clothing at a funeral many cultures don’t necessarily do the same. What might be considered inappropriate in one country doesn’t always apply across the board. This means wearing white clothing and shoes could be acceptable funeral attire for some people. I’ll talk more about this later on.
Is It OK to Wear Sneakers To a Funeral?
Wearing white shoes of any description is not appropriate attire for a formal funeral. Wearing ordinary white shoes is bad enough but wearing white sneakers (or in fact sneakers of any color) is even worse.
A funeral is a somber occasion where people show their respect to the deceased. A casual dress code or people making a fashion statement isn’t acceptable because the first shows you don’t care and the second makes the even more about you than the person who has recently died.
Sneakers also shouldn’t be worn at weddings or job interviews. They are purely for casual wear.
Your shoes need to be formal and suitable for the occasion. In case you still have any doubts here are some examples of the types of footwear you should be thinking of wearing.
What Shoes Should a Woman Wear To a Funeral?
For a formal funeral, a woman should typically wear black closed-toe shoes with either a low or a mid-heel. High heels or open-toed shoes wouldn’t normally be considered appropriate. In the height of summer when the weather is very hot you could get away with black formal sandals provided the rest of your outfit is in dark colors to match.
Here are some examples of appropriate footwear you could potentially wear.
These black pumps have a mid-heel height and they are conservative in style. These could be worn for work, a job interview or for a funeral without drawing attention to your shoes.
An added bonus is that they should be relatively easy to walk in.
If you aren’t so good at walking in any sort of heel like me then you could opt for ballet pumps. Ballet pumps are not showy because of their classic design and are really easy to wear.
If you are going to wear sandals because the weather is very hot then choose black formal-looking footwear with straps.
Any sandals that slide on your feet or that look casual should be avoided. You want to look smart instead of looking like you are going down to the beach.
If you do choose to wear sandals please make sure you have a pedicure before wearing them at a funeral. Nobody wants to see gnarly feet and toes when they are in mourning for a loved one.
What Shoes Should a Man Wear To a Funeral?
For men, the dress code of black shoes is generally simpler. Sandals are out I’m afraid and conservative black shoes are in.
Generally, lace-up black leather lack-up derby shoes are something you can’t really go wrong with. Slip-ons can of course be worn at a push but they are nowhere near as formal. Try and avoid any leather that has fancy designs on it and suede shoes where you can.
Can you wear brown shoes to a funeral and still meet the dress code? Well, I have a whole post on that subject that you can read to give a guide on what to do if you are considering that color.
These are the ultimate classic derby shoes that are understated classics. Whilst these are on the pricey side they would work for weddings, funerals, work and job interviews so they are a great investment.
If your budget doesn’t extend to Hugo Boss prices these Aldo Oxford shoes can also work really well for conservative occasions.
Whilst slip-ons are not as formal they could certainly work if you didn’t have anything else to wear. They probably wouldn’t make you stand out as they are relatively plain and understated.
Why White Shoes Are Inappropriate Funeral Attire
Can you wear white shoes to a funeral and not look odd? Well frankly unless it is because of one of the three reasons I mentioned earlier probably not.
When you wear white to a funeral you are causing a stir for a number of reasons:
You Stand Out
Funerals are about the deceased person and not you. People are there to mourn (or celebrate the life of somebody else) which means you need to be in the background and blend in with everyone else.
Nobody wants fashion statements or people wearing white clothing or shoes because it isn’t the norm. It isn’t that difficult to wear black so know the dress code and stick to it.
It is Disrespectful
Black is a sign of mourning and for some people, it is the preferred color because it shows respect.
Therefore some family members and friends are not going to be impressed by a person who fails to show that respect by dressing inappropriately.
The Power of Tradition
Never underestimate the power of tradition. Wearing black at funerals goes back to the days of the Roman Empire!
So why should you be the person who chooses not to wear dark attire and be different? Follow tradition unless otherwise stated.
You Look Like a Lazy Slacker or Disco Dolly
If you wear sneaker-style shoes then you are going to look like a lazy slacker who simply couldn’t be bothered to make the effort for the occasion.
If are a woman and wear white shoes you look like a disco dolly who has escaped from the 1980s. This is not a good look.
White Shoes Are Not Practical
You shouldn’t forget that white is the worst color to wear if you want to keep it clean.
Many of the funeral services I have been to involved standing by a graveside at some point. At my mother’s funeral we had to walk across soggy grass in the pouring rain (it was July).
Avoid wearing white shoes if you don’t want them covered in grass stains and mud and definitely think carefully about wearing any kind of heels that might sink into the ground.
What Cultures Wear White To Funerals?
Finally, I thought it was worth talking a little more about different cultures and their use of color at funerals.
Can you wear white shoes to a funeral in other cultures? Well yes. Just because we in the West stick to black as a traditional color of mourning it doesn’t mean that everyone else has to. In fact, in parts of East Asia white is the traditional color of mourning.
Some Sikh, Hindu, and even Muslim funeral ceremonies are based around people wearing white. If you are attending a funeral like this then white shoes or clothing would be considered appropriate clothing.
Generally, if you are worried about getting the dress code right then just ask the organizer and I am sure they will be happy to guide you. However usually if the funeral is going to involve a different dress code people are usually told this well in advance.
I have always stuck to black and have so far not gone wrong. You should do the same and save yourself from looking out of place and hurting anyone’s feelings.
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