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The Little Black Dress Doesn’t Do Funerals

I was recently told that I committed an egregious faux pas concerning funeral etiquette. I do not think I did, so I wanted to ask the Dame and E-Hellions.

When I was in high school, I knew “Madonna” through mutual friends. I would define the relationship as acquaintances; we knew each other and traveled in basically the same social circle, seeing each other at school and occasionally seeing each other at parties or get togethers. After high school, I saw her very rarely.

About a year ago, Madonna got a job at my place of employment, in a different department, and we struck up more of a “real” friendship. We have lunch together few times a week and have socialized outside of work, including meeting each others’ families. Her family was invited to my house for a 4th of July grill-out and fireworks this year and we attended a barbeque at her family’s home earlier in the summer. A few other people from work and friends were also invited to both events.

Last Friday night, Madonna’s father died unexpectedly. He was vibrant, funny man (I met him at the barbeque) so it was quite a shock for Madonna and her family. Since we are coworkers and friends, I went to the visitation and service. The service was where the faux pas occurred. Maybe dress code violation is a better description.

I opted for a black, sleeveless, square-neck dress that fell a few inches below my knee. I thought since it is summer and hot, this would be modest enough for a funeral. I have recently begun to occasionally wear hats to more formal events, so I chose to wear a lightweight black hat to the service. The hat had a netting-type veil on it that came down to just below my eyes and the remainder of the netting was tied up in the back, in a sort of fashionable knot. The lady at the department store said it was a good choice for a funeral. Several female relatives of Madonna’s were also wearing hats and a few (not all) of those had veils attached. Madonna’s mother also wore a veil, but it was longer than most and was more like a mesh fabric, edged in lace. I thought the saleslady had been right about the hat being a good choice.

I spoke to Madonna briefly before service and she had a strange expression on her face but I chalked it up to the situation at hand. She gave me the same look several times at the graveside service and again, I chalked it up to shock and grieving. I spoke to Madonna, her Mother and several other members of the family at the Mother’s home after the service, during the funeral luncheon, and all seemed to be fine, considering the situation.

Yesterday, I received an email from Madonna. This is verbatim, including shouty capitals.


I thought I should tell you that your dress and mourning veil were completely inappropriate to wear to my father’s funeral services.

First, you DO NOT under ANY circumstances wear mourning veils if you are not related to the deceased. It was horribly embarrassing to me, especially in front of my family.

Second, your dress was shameful. You should NEVER wear a sleeveless dress to a funeral. You should have worn a jacket or sweater over the dress or chose something more appropriate, with sleeves.

I understand that you are not of our faith and culture, so I will forgive you this once. I would suggest in the future, you stick to plain, regular clothing when you are attending funerals so that this does not happen again.


I’m shocked. I have never seen or heard her use such strong language towards anyone, even people she does not particularly like or have been rude to her. I never imagined that by wearing a hat and veil and sleeveless dress I was violating someone’s faith and culture and being shameful. I immediately sent an apology email because I am mortified that I offended her family. I even offered to write a note to her mother and family apologizing for any unintentional offense, but I have not heard back from her. I texted her earlier today, apologizing again and asking if there was anything I could do, and have yet to hear back.

I am unsure what to do next. Madonna took leave for the entire week and I fear that it is going to be awkward when she returns next week. I am afraid to call her and possibly upset her even further. I’m not sure if I should write her mother a note, apologizing for the mistake or if that would upset Madonna as well.

I asked my other friends about it and they think she is being rude and overly dramatic. I’m not sure if the shock of her dad’s passing is affecting her or if I really did something so bad I should be ashamed.

What does the E-Hell community think? Did I commit a horribly offensive faux pas? Any advice on how to proceed would be much appreciated.    0724-14

(The OP attached two photos of clothing that was similar but not exact of what she wore to the funeral.)


While black veils are out of style with current funerals there are still particular cultures and faiths (such as Catholics) where the wearing of a black veil is an option some still choose.   In places where this is still the practice, it is understood that the widow and more immediate female family members don the veil.   So, you fumbled by wearing a piece of funerary attire that would confuse guests as to your status as a grieving family member.

The photo you attached is not of the actual garment you wore BUT if your little black dress looked anything like the ubiquitous “little black dress” women use for evening events, it was not appropriate for a funeral.   If you would wear a dress to a cocktail party, that is not the dress to wear to a funeral.   And there are some religious faiths that consider bare arms and shoulders in the church as a sign of disrespect.

As for Madonna’s eail, I’m of the opinion that I would prefer to know why my friends are peeved at me than to wonder why they have suddenly cooled the friendship with no explanation.   Madonna is actually correct about your faux pas in spite of the vehemence by which she says it.    You have apologized profusely so the ball is now in Madonna’s court to respond graciously.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sura September 30, 2014, 3:23 pm

    If the OP had asked me while we were both standing at her closet, I would have said this was a little too much (the description of the outfit strikes me as an almost Hitchcockian, “Family Plot”-style send-up of stereotypical funeral attire). However, because letter sounds like she chose the clothing in good faith, and ultimately we’re talking about the hat and the dress of a family acquaintance, it’s nothing to get worked up over, and bad taste in itself isn’t rude. Unless the OP was also standing up front and fawning all over the casket, I doubt anyone was really confused as to whom to offer their condolences.

  • Debi Semke October 26, 2014, 2:13 pm

    I think it is a shame that Madonna felt the need to scold you in such a cold and impersonal manner. Your intentions were to support your friend during her difficult time. I do agree that you were over dressed. I have a little rule about weddings and funerals. I want to dress in something plain and simple, conservative and understated; the idea being that attention should be focused on the bride, or grieving family. You don’t want to draw attention away from those people, because the day is all about them. But if Madonna was really much of a friend she would have talked to you in person or called to express her appreciation for your support, then explain to you (in a kind way) about the way you were dressed in terms of her religion – which you would not be expected to understand if not of the same faith. She is responsible for some etiquette in her behavior too. She over-reacted,was rude and hurtful to you. The important thing in all of this is that you were there for her.

  • Mrs.C. December 3, 2014, 2:33 am

    My grandmother hardly left the house without a hat, and would NEVER have set foot inside a religious house or attended any sort of important event without a hat. She would have wholeheartedly approved of your modest dress and your hat, even with the veil, as compared to the overly casual nature of what most people wear to funerals today. This is just like in the city where I used to live, if you wore a suit or nice (work-appropriate!) dress to the office, people would assume you have an interview or a date; however, they do not think twice about the sloppily-attired people. Now I live in New York where many people still dress well for work… what a relief!

    If I were Madonna, I would have been gratified that you had made such an effort rather than just tossing on dark clothes that you could wear to run errands or to a business casual event. This dress-to-appease-the-least-well-dressed idea is akin to holding back the whole class because one or two people cannot read — only the failing students should be held back. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY THAT OVERDRESSING IS OK EITHER. But you did not overdress… you were just right. Evening gowns and tuxedos are too much; cocktail dresses are not conservative or somber enough. Trousers or a casual skirt and a dark shirt are not respectful or dressy enough.

    Gentlemen should wear a dark suit and conservative shirt/tie/etc. If a gentleman wears a hat (NO BALL CAPS, PLEASE!), he should remove it upon entering a building, especially a house of worship. Ladies should wear a dark suit with a conservative blouse or other shirt, a dark, conservative dress, with or without a cardigan or jacket, or a dark, tailored, dressy skirt and formal blouse, with or without a cardigan or jacket. If a lady chooses to wear a hat, it should be formal, in somber/neutral colors, and she should wear it throughout the funeral, only removing it (if she chooses) after the principal mourners have removed theirs, usually this is at a smaller reception at home, at the club, or at a restaurant after the burial. Also, no obvious logos, please. No need to be a walking billboard at a funeral.

    To me, and to many other more formal families, too casual means: “I don’t care enough about this event to make any effort.”

    The last funeral I attended was outside of my family, it was midwinter and I wore a mid-grey skirt suit (skirt hits at the knee), a light-blue cotton button-down dress shirt, hosiery, grey mid-height heels, conservative jewelry, a small black satchel-style handbag, black leather gloves, a grey felt cloche hat with a blue band, and a black wool overcoat. The last family funeral I attended, my Nana’s, I wore a black skirt-suit with an ivory collarless blouse, hosiery, black leather mid-height pumps, conservative jewelry, a small black satchel-style handbag, a sheer ivory chiffon scarf printed with a lace pattern in black and blush, a black trench-style half cape, and a black umbrella. It was raining hard all day. From what I have read in the other comments, some people might find this attire to be too much for a funeral, but I was not out of step with other attendees at either funeral. The point of all that, is there was no way for you to know that her traditional family would not expect everyone to dress nicely, and if they were really traditional Catholics, they would cover their heads in church every time they went in, especially for Mass, a wedding, a funeral, a baptism, etc! (and maybe even pin a tissue in their hair as a substitute hat when dropping off things for the charity bin, just so as not to be seen without.)

    I think you chose well, and that anyone who would call that little piece of net on your hat a “funeral veil” should take two minutes to research what a funeral veil really looks like… it is fine, flowing, covers your whole face, and literally veils you and your swollen eyes and cried-away makeup from the world. (Please look at photos of Jacqueline Kennedy’s hat and veil from President Kennedy’s funeral to see a perfect example.) And for those of you who say that no one wears a funeral veil anymore, that is not true either — not everyone wants to be the center of attention when grieving, and a true funeral veil gives some privacy and dignity to your tears.

  • Phyllis January 26, 2015, 6:20 pm

    I have attended personal family services, spousal family services, and services for friends. The rules of thumb is
    1. Black conservative (dress sleeves or suit) for family is appropriate for family
    2. Black hats with veils are appropriate for family
    3. Friends of the family should wear dark neutral colors. If black is worn-add a splash of color and no veil

  • Kansasmom February 6, 2015, 12:43 am

    I am so sorry this happened to you. While people do not usually wear hats where I am I feel you were fine As for the culture… It isn’t like she came without her burka She was supporting a friend. I feel it us far more rude to call someone out like that. Frankly I would not have gone to that funeral as I feel it is odd to go if you don’t need to Pay respect to the deceased or to grieve. Maybe if the friend was single but I also don’t feel that would make me abadfriend. Visiting them privately is what I would have done I think the friend is rude and my advice would hVe been to tell her face to face that I was sorry my attendance was not appreciated. It would affect the friendship for sure what a witch.

  • Anne March 16, 2015, 12:04 pm

    Women. She sounds jealous that you looked so good. You may have outclassed her. Sorry, but that’s my take on this. In any case, it is better to err by slightly over-doing something than under-doing, which is an insult in the opposite direction. I am sure you weren’t the only one there “not of her faith,” and thus not the only imperfectly attired person attending. She should just forgive for the day and let it go.

  • E.A. Morgan September 16, 2015, 1:15 pm

    Next time, send a card.
    In fact, just ignore people who are rude over a fashion faux pas. That is just gross to beat up on a friend for dressing in black and wearing a hat. She is the one who should apologize. You would think she would have something else on her mind, graveside, than how a friend appears. As far as that goes, Madonna seldom dresses appropriately, so how would she know?

    I don’t go to funerals. I think they are barbaric . So many people just go for the food at the reception.
    Even street people read the obits and look for the best possible meal.

  • Stacie October 23, 2016, 11:20 pm

    Just from what you have said, one can tell you meant no disrespect. That being said, this doesn’t excuse her behavior but may add a different view so as to help you understand her. My Father just recently passed away and I have always been very proud of him and a Daddys Girl. I surprise myself at things that set me off lately; everyone grieves differently. So while I get it, her reaction, I honestly think at this time that she is just embarrassed that she over reacted or perhaps is brokenhearted and taking her anger at loosing a family member out on others.

    Again, your faus pax was not intended, you have apologized and done the right thing. Perhaps a simple poem or some words of dealing with loss would go over well with her (if you value the friendship.)
    Good Luck to you both,
    *As a side note ~ the above post stating “I don’t go to funerals. I think they are barbaric”, trust me, there is no place I would rather be on that day, trying to hold it together but it is a sign of respect; respect for the family of the loved one loss and if I have to go get a shot of Ativan come hell or high water, I will be there because…. He was a great man and I can and will get thru this to show that respect.

    • K. D. February 12, 2017, 6:11 pm

      I thought your message was right on. M was just mourning, if Op can say she was her sounding board for some of that sadness it is because M knew she would take the words to heart. The best thing to do from there on is just be cool. No more contact, until work or whenever you next would see her, and at that time say nothing but hi, the friendship may be over, that is ok. Op was there when she needed a distraction from all of the sadness. Op was and is a good friend, Just stay the course.
      For others unsure of dress covered at least short sleeves, and knees are harder to cover these days, but if they are religious try and don’t worry the hat was fine.
      For Op you can stand up and say, for yourself, I was a good friend.

  • Robie March 16, 2017, 12:51 am

    I think she is going through a lot of emotions right now(Madonna) she just needs someone to take it out on and that individual was you. Grieving is a process which includes bitterness,pain, loneliness and ANGER. Do not hold any grudges, just pray for her. Cultures are very different and if the good has outweighs the bad in you and her friendship just let it go. Madonna should be thankful that you attended and was there for her when she needed someone the most.

  • Bev S May 8, 2018, 7:10 am

    I would wear a dress like that with a little cardigan or jacket and some modest heels or flats. I personally wouldnt wear a hat to a funeral. I think a black veil is too dramatic for the wife so I definitely would not wear a veil as a friend. I am in Florida so people here tend to wear “lighter” outfits everywhere they go. I would not email a friend after the funeral to tell them their outfit offended me. It would have to offend me as being too short or too revealing before I would snap at friend for wearing it. She should have been gracious and thanked you for being there. A real friend would say something to me in person the next time they saw me. Sending an email like that is tacky and cowardly.