How to Choose Burial Clothing, Hair, and Makeup

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In life and in death, clothing, makeup, and hairstyles are a way to express one’s personality and values to the world. That’s why choosing the final attire for a loved one is an important part of the funeral-planning process.

Considerations around clothing

Some religious faiths dress their dead in a specific way. For example, Jewish people are typically buried in a plain white shroud, without any jewelry, notes Chabad.org. Muslims, too, are wrapped in a clean white cloth, rather than being dressed in clothing.

For people of other faiths, families typically have more latitude when it comes to how they dress their loved ones. In the past, many families chose formal attire. For men that meant a suit and tie, while women typically wore a dress. However, people are increasingly choosing more casual dress, such as a beloved sports jersey or jeans. For these families, what their loved one wears to the grave is another form of self-expression.

Choosing clothing, and potentially even dressing the body, can have a ritualistic aspect that families of the deceased find comforting, notes mortician and writer Caitlin Doughty in an interview on the NPR program “Fresh Air.” And there really are no wrong ways to make those choices: The family can pick clothing from the closet of the deceased, buy a new outfit, or purchase a burial garment, which is similar to a luxury nightgown.

Whatever the choice, it’s important to make sure the clothing will fit the deceased, as people will often lose or gain weight toward the end of their lives due to illness or the swelling of bodily fluids. Some funeral homes will cut or dart the back of the clothing to make it easier to dress the body, but selecting a decades-old dress that’s a radically different size won’t work. When providing the funeral home with clothes, be sure to include undergarments (including slips) and socks; shoes are typically optional.  

Selecting jewelry and other accessories

If the body arrives at the funeral home wearing jewelry, the items will be removed and inventoried so the executor or family members can choose how to handle them. While some may choose to bury the body wearing symbolic pieces such as wedding rings, others may elect to hold onto the jewelry as a family heirloom.

The family may choose to keep jewelry, tie clips, and glasses on the deceased during a visitation, but want them removed prior to burial. That’s a common request, and one the funeral home can discreetly accommodate. If the deceased will be cremated, no metal can remain on the body. So if any jewelry or other metal items are worn during a visitation, they have to be removed prior to cremation.

Preparing hair and makeup

Funeral homes will often ask families to provide a photo of their loved one, so the staff can style the hair and makeup in a way that reflects the individual’s usual style. While you don’t have to supply your loved one’s own make-up, if there’s a particular shade of lipstick or trademark eyeshadow that you want the staff to use, it doesn’t hurt to speak up. The funeral home will also apply foundation makeup to the body—usually by airbrushing—to make the skin look as natural as possible.

Though fretting about the appearance may seem superficial at first blush, considerations around clothing, makeup, and hair styling all contribute to the final image friends and family have of their loved one. And seeing them look serene and calm, and dressed in death as they were in life, can be a great source of comfort to mourners.

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