Black Dress At A Funeral? How To Dress For A South African Funeral

Published on Apr 28, 2022
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South Africa is our rainbow nation, our multicultural land and our beautiful home. Being surrounded by so many cultures, traditions, and religions is not only a unique blessing but a beautiful way to share in our customs – even when we are saying goodbye to our loved ones. Respecting our various cultures at a funeral starts with our funeral dress code.

So, the question is: how to dress for a South African funeral? Depending on the culture and traditions of the family, you can usually get away with a respectable black dress at a funeral, but let’s give you a little more detail.

Black dress at a funeral

Throughout history, South African funerals have been an occasion to mourn the loss of a loved one but also to celebrate their lives. By focusing deeply on tradition, the calling of ancestors and the releasing of our loved ones into their next lives, funerals are a big part of our human journey. What you choose to wear at a funeral is a symbol of respect, love, and culture.

Remember that a black dress at a funeral is more than just what you wear. As Africans, we often express ourselves best through our clothing and our colour choices. Everything has a meaning, a feeling and an intention, so be mindful of what you choose to wear at a funeral. That doesn’t necessarily mean you must always wear black but remember that your funeral attire should always be guided by the wishes of the family, the location, and the culture of the deceased.

What to wear to a South African funeral: The do's

Dress in cultural attire

As a sign of respect and to honour, cherish and admire the culture of the deceased where you can. We suggest wearing traditional African clothing where appropriate. Some cultures, like that of the Tswana people, prefer that women wear long strips of fabric that reflect the colours of their tribe. Other cultures, like those of the Xhosa tradition, ask that women wear head attire at a funeral.

Keep in mind that different tribes have varying prints, patterns and colours. If possible, incorporating those prints into your funeral dress is a great tribute, not only to the family but to the deceased and their ancestors. If you are unsure of the appropriate tribal wear, it’s best to go with the next option, classic black.

When in doubt, wear black

There is a reason why it is often called “black dress at a funeral”. This is because culturally, the colour black is seen as the colour of mourning and loss. It is seen as a sign of respect when you show that you are mourning through your choice of funeral attire. You can wear a black dress for any given funeral to guarantee that you have dressed appropriately for the occasion. This tradition also spans many cultures and traditions.

When someone dies, the attention is always on the family and the release of the spirit to the ancestors. Wearing black is a subtle way of blending in so that you do not bring too much attention to yourself and take away from the ceremony.

Dress in flat or low-heeled shoes

While you can wear heels to a funeral or more formal shoes, it is suggested that you bring flat shoes too. This is because the burial ground can be very dusty, rocky and uneven. This is why we suggest wearing comfortable, flat shoes that offer support as the burial proceedings may go on for a while.

Oftentimes, immediate family are offered seating at the burial ground, so it is important that you wear shoes that are appropriate for standing as you may be standing for an extended time.

What to wear at a South African funeral: The don’ts

Don’t wear revealing clothes

Black clothing for a funeral is all about dressing conservatively. Regardless of your preference, all African cultures require you to cover up at a funeral. Showing skin can be seen as a sign of disrespect and rebellion. Not only can it be offensive to the family and the deceased but also to the elders that are attending the funeral.

Women are expected to wear funeral dresses with long pieces of cloth that cover their shoulders – especially if the funeral is in a church. When deciding how to dress for a funeral, remember that as a woman you are also encouraged to cover your knees in a long black dress for a funeral or a longer skirt.

Don’t choose bright colours

Since black is a universal symbol of mourning, try to avoid wearing flashy and bright colours at a funeral. While some cultures see red as another symbol of mourning, you must double-check. Wearing bright colours is a sign of disrespect as you are pulling attention away from the funeral service. You are there to share love and support with the grieving family, not to steal focus and attention.

Don’t go full casual

Lastly, if you need any assurance, rocking up in jeans and flip-flops is not seen as a respectful way to honour your loved ones who have passed. Unless the dress code specifically asks for it, wear closed shoes, put on a decent pair of trousers, a dress or skirt, and make the effort for the occasion.

Figuring out how to dress for a South African funeral shouldn’t be a hassle, and if you’re agonising over your decision, ask the family or settle on black. As long as you are respectful and culturally considerate, you will be properly positioned to honour and celebrate your loved one’s life appropriately.

By taking out a Hollard funeral plan, you have access to everything you need to enable a proper funeral and send off for your loved one. That way you can focus on how to dress for the funeral in a way that celebrates your loved one, while your funeral policy covers the funeral itself.

Contact Hollard today for a funeral quote or to ask questions about our policy.