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How Do Funeral Homes Dress Bodies?

Tom May
A woman lying in a coffin

As preparations are made for a funeral or memorial service for a loved one, often the question arises, "How do funeral homes dress bodies?" What clothing is considered appropriate for the deceased to be wearing? Are there special guidelines that must be followed? Once the body has been prepared, attention should be given to several items to assure the most meaningful memorial experience possible.

Choosing the Right Burial Clothes

Many people have no particular idea for the choice of clothing for the deceased. Religious beliefs and traditions dictate the clothing in some instances. If a cremation has been chosen after the funeral, there are guidelines which must be followed. The funeral director can give guidance and assistance in avoiding certain materials. Otherwise, the family has great leeway in the choice of clothing.

A Closed or Open Casket at Viewing

Obviously the setting of an open casket makes the choice of clothing more vital to the meaning of the experience. A closed casket ceremony eliminates the need for having the deceased look their best. The deceased may have left instructions about preferences for burial clothes. There may be articles of clothing that have special significance to either the deceased or the family. If nothing comes to mind, the funeral director should be able to take care of the dressing in a cost-effective and professional manner.

Provide Clothes Usually Worn

If the person were in business, a business suit would make an appropriate choice for burial clothes. Many families chose a more traditional or formal dressing. If the deceased were an avid sports fan, dressing the individual in the team's colors and logos would seem acceptable. More casual clothing is often chosen for younger people.

Some General Guidelines for Burial Clothing

The clothing chosen for burial should reflect the personality of the deceased, and consideration given to those who will be attending the funeral. Items that have special or sentimental value would always be suitable. Some items to consider:

  • It is always appropriate to choose standard, formal clothes for the service. It would be similar to the choices one would make for attending a wedding.
  • Are there customs to take into account? In Brittan, for example, it is considered bad luck to buy new clothing for the deceased to wear at the funeral.
  • If there are questions about choices of clothing, it is always better to err on the more traditional or conservative side.
  • Select clothing that is loose-fitting and easily manipulated. These items make dressing the deceased easier for the funeral home staff.
  • Choose clothing items which will make the deceased look natural. Anything that would make the body look disfigured would be disturbing for the viewers. This will be the last time they will see their friend or loved one. It is important that the last impression is a positive one.
  • Don't include accessories for the face.
  • Avoid choices that are amusing. What might be amusing to a select few could be inappropriate or offensive to others.
Selection of suits laid out on double bed in bedroom

Using Undergarments

Most funeral directors will suggest providing undergarments for the body of the deceased. Many funeral homes will not dress the body without them. While these items are not visible, it is often comforting to family and the funeral home staff to give the deceased dignity and respect in this setting.

The Question of Shoes

Using shoes in dressing the body remains optional. Some funeral homes prefer not to use shoes. It is best to ask the funeral director for the preferences. If the shoes will be seen at all, only the soles will be noticeable. The feet of the deceased will change somewhat and will be rigid. Select shoes that are loose fitting and easily manipulated.

The Use of Jewelry

Funeral homes allow the family to dress the deceased with jewelry. Circumstances usually permit mementoes or other personal items to be placed inside the coffin during the viewing times. Remember some jewelry, like a necklace, is made to be used when standing and looks different when lying flat. Special effects, like wedding rings or jewelry which would have sentimental meaning for family members, can be removed before burial. These items can make special heirlooms for the family in the future. Let the funeral director know in advance which items need to be removed after the viewing.

Changes in the Body

If the person has been sick for a while, or has been on certain medications, the body may have lost or gained weight. Their old clothes may not fit well any more. Because of this, there are times when the clothing must be cut or altered. If there is a particular reason that the clothing should not be cut, inform the funeral director.

Decorum and Inappropriate Choices

If the deceased normally dressed a little revealing or inappropriately, it would be best to be conservative in the choices made. Consideration should be made for the family and visitors of the funeral. There would be no disrespect shown to the deceased by making appropriate decisions for clothing.

Special Circumstances

On occasion unusual requests for clothing are made. Alterations in the clothing may be necessary. The funeral director will let the family know the kind of accommodations that can be made.

How Do Funeral Homes Dress Bodies for Green Burials?

Natural or green funerals have clear guidelines are appropriate clothing for burial. The clothing should be entirely biodegradable in a green funeral. The clothes should be made from untreated natural fibers, such as cotton, wool or linen. Artificial materials like elastic, nylon, synthetics, plastic buttons or metal zippers would be prohibited.

Who Makes the Choice for Burial Clothing?

It is a great responsibility to make the selection for clothing for the burial of a loved one. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made quickly. The best course of action is to let one person be in charge who can best represent the feelings of the family. Too many people involved in the decision-making process can make it difficult to reach a consensus. The decisions should probably be left to the spouse, or the person's closest living relative. In the event there are no close loved ones available, the funeral director will gladly step in to make those decisions.

Making the Moment a Memory

Dressing the body and placing it in the casket are the final preparations made before family and friends gather in a formal setting to remember the deceased. Funeral homes dress bodies with care and dignity, offering their best efforts as a way to honor the deceased and the family. The funeral home staff tries to accommodate the family whenever possible. They desire for families and friends to have final memories of their loved one which are significant and meaningful.

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How Do Funeral Homes Dress Bodies?