Burial Clothes: Dressing The Deceased

A guide to choosing burial clothes to dress someone who has died for their funeral

Last updated: 24 February 2020

a row of shirts hanging in a closet

Photo by Steve Adcock on Pixabay

When you are arranging a funeral for someone, the funeral director may ask you to provide the clothes that you would like them to wear in their coffin.

If you’ve decided to have your loved one embalmed for a viewing in a chapel of rest, then it may be important to you for them to wear an outfit that really suits them.

Choosing burial clothes and cremation clothes for someone who has died 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 choosing burial clothes for someone's funeral.

What type of burial clothes are appropriate for a traditional funeral?

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

Many people find it comforting to dress their loved one in a favourite piece of clothing – such as a football shirt, comfy pyjamas or a nightdress– that they liked 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.

What type of burial clothes are appropriate for green funerals?

Natural and woodland burial grounds have clear guidelines about what burial clothes are appropriate for a natural burial.

Burial clothes for a green funeral should be entirely biodegradable, and made from untreated natural fibres, such as cotton, wool or linen. They should not include artificial materials, such as elastic waistbands, nylon threads, synthetic linings, buttons and plastic or metal zips.

If the person who died didn’t have clothing that was entirely free of synthetic materials, it may also be against their principals to buy a brand-new outfit for their burial. In this case a burial gown or shroud made from a material such as cotton, hemp, wool or bamboo fibre might be more appropriate.

What type of burial clothes are appropriate for babies?

Several baby burial clothes charities provide handmade clothes for a baby's funeral.

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 charitable schemes run by hospitals and funeral homes.

What type of clothes are appropriate for a cremation?

Cremation clothes are different from burial clothes, because a number of items cannot be cremated because of safety and environmental concerns.

Clothes that cannot be cremated include

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

  • Rubber soled shoes

  • Spectacles

If the person who has died is going to be cremated after a viewing or open-coffin 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.

What is a funeral gown?

Traditionally, funeral directors have provided bereaved families with a selection of burial gowns and funeral robes to bereaved families in a range of natural fibres.

This practice is still popular 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 very overweight, bariatric burial gowns 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 and women, and is also available as a unisex option.

Burial gowns with religious motifs such as the Sacred Heart for Catholic funerals, are also available.

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 you find the right one for your loved one.