Burial Clothes: Dressing The Deceased

A guide to choosing funeral clothes to dress someone who has died, for their viewing, burial or cremation

Last updated: 2 August 2019

a row of shirts hanging in a closet

Image by Steve Adcock from Pixabay

When you are arranging a funeral for someone, the funeral director may ask you to provide the clothes that you wish for the person to be buried or cremated in.

If you’ve chosen for the person to be embalmed and for a viewing in a chapel of rest, then it may be important to you for them to wear an outfit that’s really “them.”

For other people, it’s comforting to dress the deceased in comfy pyjamas or nightdress, or a favourite piece of clothing – such as a football shirt – that the person used to wear. It’s a way of continuing to care for someone in death as in life, which can be reassuring when you are grieving.

When someone’s body is being dressed for the funeral, it’s usual for clean underwear, socks or tights to be among the clothes provided to the funeral director by the family.

Washing, dressing and grooming a person's body for their funeral, is known as laying out. If you want more information, we have a full guide on how to lay someone out. This is something that some bereaved families like to help with, as a caring gesture to their loved one, or part of their religious custom.

Choosing burial clothes and cremation clothes for the deceased can depend upon the type of funeral you are arranging, so it’s worth being aware of what a person can and cannot be buried or cremated in.

  • Here’s what you need to know about dressing the deceased for their funeral.

Burial clothes for a traditional burial

When someone is buried in a traditional grave or vault, families can choose to dress them as they wish, including with accessories such as shoes, glasses and jewellery.

It’s most usual these days for families to provide the burial clothes, but funeral directors also supply more traditional-style gowns for dressing the deceased.

Funeral gowns

Available in natural or synthetic fibres, most funeral directors provide a selection of burial gowns and funeral robes to bereaved families to choose for their loved one.

These were the traditional way of dressing the deceased for many generations, and are still a popular choice – especially for the funerals of older people, or for people who lost or gained a significant amount of weight before they died. If the person who died was of a bigger build, bariatric burial robes are also available in a range of appealing fabrics and colours.

Funeral gowns are designed to be straightforward for the funeral director to dress the person who has died, with dignity. Often made of soft or satin-like materials, burial robes often resemble smart night gowns, pyjamas and dressing gowns. This kind of burial outfit can be tailored specifically for men, women, or as a unisex option.

Choices can also include burial gowns with religious motifs such as the Sacred Heart, with Catholic funerals in mind.

Some modern burial wear is designed with false shirt fronts and other embellishments, to resemble day wear or evening clothes.

Burial gowns made of natural fibres such as calico or bamboo are suitable for green funerals in woodland burial grounds.

Traditional funeral robes and shrouds are rarely sold directly to the public. The funeral director making the arrangements should be able to help.

Burial shrouds

Shrouds are large pieces of cloth, wrapped and folded around someone’s body. They serve to clothe and enfold the person’s entire body and may be used in place of a coffin or casket.

The person’s body may be dressed, or naked underneath their shroud.

Shrouds are usually made of natural fibres such as cotton, linen or wool and are an important part of Muslim and Jewish funeral rites.

Cremation clothes

Certain clothes, accessories and materials cannot be cremated, due to environmental laws.

If the person who has died is going to be cremated after a viewing or open casket funeral, some burial clothes may need to be removed. Valuables and sentimental items will be put to one side by the funeral director – to be taken home by the family, or with their permission, donated to charity.

If it was someone’s wish to wear their wedding ring or other precious metal jewellery at their funeral, be aware that this kind of soft metal cannot be recovered after the cremation process itself.

Clothes that cannot be cremated include

  • Treated leather, such as shoes, boots and biker jackets

  • Rubber soled shoes

  • Spectacles

Green and woodland burial clothes

Green and woodland burial grounds have clear guidelines about what can and cannot be worn for a natural burial.

Green burial clothes must be made from untreated natural fibres such as cotton, wool or linen. They should not have man-made features such as elastic waistbands, nylon threads, synthetic linings, buttons and plastic or metal zips.

Clothes should be entirely biodegradable for a green funeral. If the person who died didn’t have clothing that was entirely free of man-made materials, it may go against their principals to buy a brand-new outfit for their burial.

If that’s the case, consider a burial gown or shroud made from a material such as cotton, hemp, wool or bamboo fibre. Funeral directors offering green burials should have options for you to choose from.

Burial clothes for stillborn and tiny babies

Aware that having the opportunity to dress and spend time with their baby can be very important, a number ofbaby burial clothes charities provide handmade baby clothes to parents who are grieving the death of their child.

Standard baby clothes can be too big for a child who was stillborn, or died after their premature birth. These clothes are handmade in a variety of sizes to fit very tiny infants and are usually gifted to parents who would like to dress their baby, via hospitals and funeral homes.

Among them, Cherished Gowns makes burial gowns for tiny infants, made from wedding dresses donated to the charity. The clothes are tailored, sewn and knitted by volunteers.