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What to wear

Before she died, Dame Deborah James made plans for her own funeral and told the Times: "It sounds morbid, but I want a sombre funeral in black and white because I think people look good in black and white.” Photos released of her family at the funeral show them largely in black, while her co-presenter of the ‘You, Me and the Big C’ podcast Lauren Mahon said her friend had demanded she wear black but team that with ‘disco shoes’.

While many of the funerals we arrange see family and friends dressed mostly in traditional black, there are some services where the dress code is very different. On our website, you’ll find a video testimonial from Martin Stanton. He tells us about the funeral of his mother, who died aged 102 after an ‘amazing life’.

Martin explains: “The funeral was truly a celebration and Tester & Jones were great in allowing us to turn up in Hawaiian shirts and play pop music and dance music. It was a great event.”

Some of our families – like Martin’s - request that ‘no black’ is worn, to make the occasion seem less austere and more of a celebration. Others suggest a colour to be worn – perhaps a favourite shade.

People are certainly more inclined nowadays to wear something which shows the personality of the person who’s died and, at a recent funeral service, not only were the flowers in a favourite football team’s colours but some of the congregation worn football shirts and scarves – and it seemed entirely appropriate.

Times have changed though. In Victorian times, if you saw anyone out and about in Crowborough dressed in black, then the chances are they were in mourning. In those times, mourning clothes were taken very seriously, with widows expected to observe ‘full mourning’ for a year after a death. Even children would be expected to wear dark clothing for many months following the death of a parent.

This tradition took the lead from Queen Victoria herself. The death of Prince Albert in December 1861, at just 42, sent the Queen into a deep depression and she continued to wear black for the remaining 40 years of her life.

The Romans, it seems, were the first to wear dark clothing in mourning – a wool garment called a toga pulla. While, in the Middle Ages, rich people would wear expensive black or white crepe with long trains and hoods, while others would simply wear plain dark clothing.

In some eastern cultures, white is the colour of mourning, with Hindu worshippers wearing this colour, which symbolises purity and rebirth to a funeral.

If you haven’t been given a dress code for a funeral, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and dress in a fairly conservative manner – wearing a dark colour, although not necessarily black. One lady told us recently that she has a black pashmina that she keeps for funerals. She drapes it round her shoulders if most people are wearing black and they can easily take if off, if people seem to be wearing less black.

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