What Is Appropriate to Wear to a Celebration of Life?

Updated June 15, 2022
Multigenerational family gathered together in living room before dinner party

Unlike a funeral or memorial service, a celebration of life is meant to be a joyous event focusing on the deceased's accomplishments and relationships they fostered during their life; but every gathering of friends and family to toast and celebrate the life of a loved one is unique. Still a niche event, if you've never attended one you've probably wondered what you're supposed to wear to a celebration of life, and as with other special events, the appropriate attire always depends on the location, the time, and the day's planned activities.

Celebration of Life Dress Options for Women

If you're a woman, ask yourself what would be appropriate to wear to any event held at the same location and time as the celebration of life gathering. Once you've pondered what's appropriate for the venue, you can focus on the individual pieces themselves. Fundamentally, you should avoid wearing anything that's too revealing, bold, or attention-grabbing. Beyond that, there are many options for what you can put together.

Church or Family Home Celebrations

Young woman in green dress stepping inside from the garden

The best attire for a celebration of life held in a church or family home is a casual but stylish dress or pants paired with a flowy blouse, flats (such as Mary Janes, mules, boots, and so on) or heels. Thankfully, this basic outfit would also be appropriate for a potluck or informal banquet celebration of life gathering... meaning you can get double the miles out of your pieces for a fraction of the cost.

Dinner Celebrations

Smiling young woman looking away while sitting at table during dinner party

If the celebration of life includes a sit-down dinner, then you're going to want to wear an outfit that's a bit more formal. A woman could wear a knee-length or ankle length dress, skirt, or even slacks with a dressy blouse or sweater. You'll want to pick fabrics that aren't see-through and are devoid of holes or stains. Additionally, you should always pick colors that are muted and/or understated prints (larger prints tend to have a less busying effect). When it comes to shoes, a closed-toe is the way to go.

Outdoor Celebrations

Cottagecore Farmcore Countrycore Aesthetics

If the celebration of life gathering is held somewhere outside, such as a picnic, or at a beach or park, consider wearing jeans and a casual top, or a longer dress so you can sit without constantly adjusting on the ground. Although it's normally advised for people to forgo shorts and sandals, you can always ask the coordinator of the event to see if they're appropriate for the activities that they've got planned. To avoid getting hurt, you should stick to flat shoes that are appropriate for a lawn or to wear on the beach, and avoid heels at all costs.

Celebration of Life Dress Options for Men

While there's a cultural perception that men have fewer clothing options to choose from when it comes to formal and semi-formal events like a celebration of life gathering, modern fashion dictates this just isn't the case. Of course, men should strive to dress appropriately and respectfully for the celebration, but they can also experiment with fabrics, layering, and prints to create a fun and fashionable outfit.

An Informal Gathering

Man in casual sports coating informal outdoor dinner

If the celebration of life event is an informal banquet or held in a church or family home, a man should dress in an upscale version of his casual attire. He would be dressed appropriately if he wore jeans or khaki slacks and an open-collared shirt with a sports jacket. A necktie is optional, and loafers or slip-on shoes are acceptable. Similarly, thicker trouser fabrics that aren't jean or spandex are a go-to for informal gatherings.

A Dinner Gathering

Man listening to young woman at dinner party

If the celebration of life includes a sit-down dinner, the appropriate attire for a man is semi-formal. A good, well-fitting suit or blazer, coupled with a dress shirt, matching tie, and dress shoes, is always suitable. Yet, there's still room for personalization with these pieces. While you should focus on a darker color palette, you can add a neck scarf or kerchief in a colorful print or fun fabric like organza or tulle to bring your outfit to life. Similarly, accessories like belts, bracelets, tie clips, ties/bow ties, and cufflinks can all add a hint of something to an otherwise standard outfit.

An Outdoor Gathering

Man wearing Hawaiian Shirt celebration of life outdoor party

If the celebration of life gathering is held outdoors, a polo shirt or funky button-down with khakis and jeans are safe, respectable, and comfortable. A man could also wear a Hawaiian shirt, a T-shirt, or shorts that are longer than mid-thigh and canvas shoes, as well as Sperry's, loafers, and dress sneakers. Given the extra leniency, you should still avoid wearing shirts that are too low on the chest or are too tight across the shoulders, as well as trousers that don't stay up properly. Similarly, stains and holes are a no-go, even for outdoor gatherings.

Celebration of Life Dress Options for Gender Nonconforming Folks

Of course, not everyone aligns within the gender binary in their style and aesthetic presentations, and so no matter how you define your experience with gender, there are stylish outfits that you can wear to any celebration of life event.

Brunch and Mid-Day Celebrations

Two friends hanging out

With mid-day and early afternoon celebrations, it's implied that the event is going to be more informal. Here you should stick to solid colors and a flattering cut. If you're wanting to add some of your own style without commandeering the attention, you can wear a funky shoe, dramatic coat, or intricate nail design. These outfits can be a bit more playful than those for evening events, so you should absolutely add a bit of your personality to them.

Formal Dinner Events

Serious androgynous Black woman standing near mural

If the family has scheduled a dinner celebration of life, a great way to see just how formal you should dress is to check the venue that they're hosting it at. If it's a private room in a restaurant with a dress code, then you should think about dressing in floor-length dresses or suits and dress coats. However, if it's being privately catered or potluck style, then you can wear a button down or similar top and a pair of slacks, or a respectable skirt.

Take a Breath of Fresh Air

Portrait of a non binary person standing outside

Outdoor celebrations of life give you the greatest opportunity to dress both casual and comfortable. You can broaden your dress options into athleisure wear, though you should still stray from articles of clothing that have bold sayings or reveal too much skin. That being said, you can add your favorite prints and patterns to these more casual outfits, as well as show a bit more skin since you'll be spending the day outdoors.

Tips for Dressing Children for Celebration of Life Events

Generally, you can dress your kids in basically the same outfits you're going to wear yourself, and with the massive overhaul that children's fashion has undergone in the past decade, there is some seriously sharp apparel available for kids. However, if you're feeling a little lost as to what your kid should wear that they're not going to tear off immediately, here are a few ideas:

Father and son outdoor dinner for celebration of life
  • For more formal celebrations of life, they should be dressed in their Sunday best, such as slacks and a loose button-down shirt, or flowing dresses and skirts/blouses.
  • For less formal events, the cute school clothes you have your kids take their pictures in would be appropriate, and familiar enough to them that they shouldn't pitch a fit having to put them on.
  • If the celebration is outdoors, a child's best play clothes work, as long as they're not too stained or holey, and you should make sure they're wearing sneakers, as they'll want to run around the first chance they get.

Outfits for Themed Celebrations of Life

If you see any sort of specific request on your invitation, pay attention, and dress accordingly. Some celebrations of life adhere to a theme that ties the gathering to something important to the deceased person's life. Perhaps the loved one was a Trekkie, a fitness fanatic, enjoyed a specific sports team, or was highly involved in another pastime, and so the coordinators might organize a celebration of life gathering around what they enjoyed the most in life. In this case, the coordinator should give you an ample amount of notice so that you can source a proper outfit.

Apparel That Shouldn't Be Worn to a Celebration of Life Event

While it might be tempting to put on your favorite pair of thin leggings or your most broken in jogging sneakers to a celebration of life event, there are some things that you should avoid wearing out of respect for the host and the grieving family. A few of the things you should definitely avoid wearing to these events, unless the host specifies otherwise, include:

  • Wearing anything that might be distracting
  • Neon colors and bright prints
  • Flashy or noisy accessories
  • Flip-flops or bedroom shoes
  • T-shirts with graphics and logos
  • Anything with motifs or symbols relating to death (skulls, coffins, poison etc.)
  • Work uniforms

Ultimately, there aren't any hard rules as to what should and shouldn't be worn to a celebration of life event, as different celebrations might include activities that require specialty clothing. For instance, there might be a bouncy castle or other blow-up recreational sets for children and young adults, and so they should be wearing clothes and shoes that are a fit for a lot of activity. If you're ever doubting what you think is appropriate, you can always send pictures of what you're thinking of wearing to the people organizing the celebration of life, and have them give you the go-ahead.

Your Clothing Shouldn't Be the Center of Attention

Although it might be tempting, all eyes don't need to be on your outfit at a celebration of life event. While you don't have to sacrifice comfort and fashion just to dress appropriately, you should try to follow the most basic standards for memorial events so that you're not the talk of the town.

What Is Appropriate to Wear to a Celebration of Life?