Dressing a deceased loved one for a funeral

It’s one of those questions you never think much about until it’s your turn: How do you dress the deceased? 

Amongst the many choices you may be required to make when planning a funeral for a loved one, picking the clothes they will wear is a deeply personal one. 

No doubt there will be some tears shed, some memories recalled, and some difficult choices to make, but the good news is that there are useful guidelines you can use to help you make this decision. 

The golden rule of thumb for dressing a loved one for a funeral 

There’s something of a misconception that the deceased must always be dressed in their most formal clothing, like a classic suit, or a formal dress. 

However, if you simply don’t feel like that’s what your loved one would have wanted, then you don’t have to do what’s deemed ‘traditional’. 

Instead, the rule of thumb is to choose something that they might have worn to a funeral themselves. That usually means a respectful outfit but not necessarily something overly formal. 

You can also look for items in their wardrobe that you know they loved. Like treasured pieces of jewellery, a favourite scarf, or a lucky pair of socks could add a perfect personal touch to their outfit.  

At the end of the day, you are the one who knows them best. If you think a bright sunflower dress or a comfy pair of shoes is what they would have chosen to wear, then don’t be afraid to select those items. 

Be sure to provide the funeral director with a full set of clothes, including undergarments, socks and shoes (unless of course, your loved one was renowned for preferring bare feet!). 

Cultural considerations for dressing the deceased 

Keep in mind, you may need to think about cultural traditions when deciding on how to dress a loved one for a funeral. 

In Maori culture, the task of choosing clothes to dress the deceased falls to the whānau pani (the chief mourners, typically the family of the deceased). If the kaumatua (elder) previously outlined their wishes for attire, this can be an easy process of following their plans. In other cases, the family will make this decision based on their knowledge of their loved one, whether that includes a traditional cloak or contemporary clothing. 

In Samoan culture, male mourners will often wear a lavalava (traditional wrap) with a white shirt and tie, whereas women will often wear a pulu tasi (muumuu). This can mean that the family will choose similar attire for their deceased.

Chinese culture is also prevalent in New Zealand, and outfits for the deceased can vary greatly from traditional cheongsams (for women) or changshans (for men), to formal western attire (often for the younger generations). 

Yet as always, it is up to the loved ones of the deceased to make the best decision. That might mean traditional attire, modern western clothing, or a mix of the two. 

Planning funerals in New Zealand

Planning a funeral is no small task, especially with the job falling to the dearest loved ones of the deceased, who are often the most emotionally affected. 

It can be a challenging time, but also one that may help you to find some solace in preparing a loving and heartfelt farewell. It’s also a time to consider your funeral plans. Do you know what you’d like to wear? How about whether you’d prefer a burial or cremation? And the big question – who would pay for it all?

Setting up your plans and organising funeral insurance can help with the costs of your final goodbye, and to take care of important decisions well ahead of time.