Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

December 22, 2010

The Garment Bag of Death

Filed under: Elements of Style,How To Wear It — Miss Plumcake @ 3:23 pm

Let me explain to you once again the importance of having a Funeral Outfit ready at any given moment. It’s important. WAY important, and there’s no excuse not to have one at the ready. That way you can save yourself the trouble about worrying what on earth to wear and get to the important things: Judging the people who left the crusts on the finger sandwiches.

Funerals are hard, you’re grieving and if you’re not grieving you’re concerned about someone who is. You don’t really have the time or the brain space to devote to putting together an appropriate outfit on the spur of the moment. Unfortunately there’s no occasion where the appropriate outfit is more important and gaffs are more obvious so the stakes are pretty darn high.

For this reason, you need a Garment Bag of Death.

The Garment Bag of Death should hang in your closet at all times and contain the following:

One conservatively cut, minimally embellished black dress with a hemline no higher than the bottom of your knees and which covers your shoulders and upper arms. When I say black I mean black. I don’t mean a pattern with black in it, or a dress with a black skirt and cream bodice. Solid black. I don’t care if you don’t like black or if you never wear it except to funerals. Funerals are Not About You, so show your respect for the deceased and the solemnity of the event by sucking it up, putting on your big girl panties, and conforming, just this once, to the social norms. A fitted, well-tailored suit is also appropriate.

One pair of appropriate and polished dress shoes that don’t hurt your feet.
I’ve said before Armani makes excellent funeral shoes because they have nice solid heels that are elegantly shaped but not too high. Flats are perfectly acceptable provided they are not scuffed or too casual. If you choose to wear heels, don’t go for stilettos, you’ll thank me if it’s a graveside service.

A fabric clutch, prepacked with two handkerchiefs (one for you and one for someone who needs it), a pen, a pad, and a mirrored compact. I hate big clunky day bags at funerals. They’re sloppy and incongruous, and you always have to dig around for Kleenex or a pen or who knows what. Having a small, fully-loaded clutch or fabric bag hanging and ready means you don’t have to think about anything. Just drop in your keys, phone, ID and cash (if necessary). You’re appropriate and ready to go.

Accessories. A strand of pearls is always ideal. Buy an inexpensive vintage costume strand at a local antique shop and hang it around the hanger. A brooch is also nice and appropriate, provided it is understated and could not in any way be described as a novelty item (e.g., a rhinestone dachshund).

Appropriate Undergarments. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I had the dress, the slip and was absolutely perfect except there was not a clean pair of my preferred species of underpants to be found at stately Château Gâteau for love nor money. Whatever you require to make your funeral outfit look seamless, have it ready and in the bag.

Ideally you should switch your Garment Bag of Death contents to reflect the season. There’s one GBoD outfit for spring/summer and GBoD for fall/winter. As soon as you wear it, wash everything and pop it back in the bag.


  1. I completely understand. I learned this the hard way when my mom passed and I had no GboD.

    Comment by Linda — December 22, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  2. Bravo! I’d always had one funeral outfit ready to go which worked really well at that point because everyone who died that I knew were kind enough to perform the duty in the wintertime, so a black wool crepe dress with a black wool crepe jacket was great. A black wool crepe dress in May-October funerals almost put ME under, so I made myself a black cotton dress (very plain, short sleeves) that I could match up with a black jacket if need be (and funeral homes are frigid). The last funeral I had to attend (as always, these are spur of the moment/get yourself on a plane NOW situations) was in August. In Tampa, Florida. In what even THEY considered a heat wave. And the graveside service was at a military cemetery with weeny little shelters for the immediate family, which luckily I was considered a member of. Everyone else was under umbrellas, 6-10 deep, out in the blazing sun. I was able to get through with my black dress. So, the GBOD is aces in my book.

    Comment by Toby Wollin — December 22, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  3. For women, is a conservative, minimally embellished black pants suit acceptable? I’ll do big girl panties, but not so much panty hose. I live in CA where my husband was the only man at a funeral who wore a suit-type JACKET (and he almost always wears shorts, but broke out the grown up clothes for the occasion).

    Comment by Debs — December 22, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

  4. Very smart advice. I, too, have learned this the hard way (including underwear; stressful situations are no time to try to remember if your seamless slip is in the suitcase, the laundry, the top drawer or under the boyfriend’s bed.

    Also: may I just say that the red-embellished Louboutin heels made the family at Jimmy Goldsmith’s memorial service look like they were en route to a singles bar?

    Comment by raincoaster — December 22, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

  5. What about pantyhose? Is it necessary? Will sheer black tights do?

    Comment by Frances — December 23, 2010 @ 3:58 am

  6. I flew into Minneapolis for a sad funeral recently, on quite a cold day. An uncle of the deceased, whose wife had come in pants, looked at me appraisingly and said “So that’s why you could wear a dress. Your boots come up to your pupick.” (They were in fact a respectful knee-high pair with a 1.5″ stacked heel.)

    Comment by Nancy — December 23, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

  7. @Nancy, I’m sorry to disagree, but boots are inappropriate for a funeral. A fitted pant suit is extremely preferable over knee-high boots. I’ve got something I’ll publish next week about the five things I never want to see at a funeral (sequins, boots, brown suits, your knees and bad clothes) but basically boots are either too sexy or too casual to be appropriate for a funeral service. For posterity, the times when you may wear boots to a funeral are as follows:

    If you are burying someone with whom you were in an organization where the standard uniform was boots: i.e., if you are a Texas A&M cadet, as was the deceased.
    If it is part of a required dress uniform.
    If you are Texan and you meet at least one if not all of the following requirements: you are in oil, you are in cattle, you own a professional baseball or football team

    If you are Loretta Lynn.

    Comment by Miss Plumcake — December 23, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

  8. Alas! Alas! When it is 9 degrees outside and there is a long walk to the grave followed by a graveside service, we must still wear thin-soled shoes and sheer stockings? For this middle-aged woman with Raynaud’s (tendency to frostbite — I’ll spare you TMI) that seems unrealistic. Surely not ALL boots are sexy or casual.

    Comment by Nancy — December 23, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  9. This is brilliant advice, Miss Plumcake. Unfortunately, my life has been full of occasions that require funeral attire. At an early age, my own dear departed mother emphasized the importance of maintaining the proper seasonal dress/coat/shoes/undies/hat for such an event, even when it is within your own family and you are one of the key mourners. No one looks forward to funerals, but they are an inevitable part of life and you might as well show respect to the deceased and their loved ones in polished, understated dignity.

    Comment by Rogena — December 23, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

  10. I was not funeral ready when my grandmother died – I do not own a black dress (and will wear red to celebrate for the deaths of some people who shall go unnamed). I had to rip the seams out of the lining of the dress so it would fit. And I was not thinking of how my underwear would look under the dress, as I had not worn the dress for years:

    Fortunately, my sister had some underwear to lend me.

    Yes, it was a yellow dress (with a jacket that I was not wearing in the photo), but at least it was not the jeans and the sweatshirt that more than one other attendee was wearing.

    Comment by The gold digger — December 23, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  11. @Nancy: at which point you wear a wool pantsuit and lace up shoes. And move someplace warmer.

    Comment by Miss Plumcake — December 23, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

  12. Just yesterday I attended a funeral for a friend’s mother. Her mother had been living with terminal cancer for a while now, and had pre-planned her own funeral. She requested that she wished for everyone to wear bright colours, especially red, because the funeral was to be a celebration of her life, not a sad occasion.
    I wore a white top, brown pants, red scarf and blue shoes. The congregation was filled with people in pinks and greens and reds and yellows and every other colour under the rainbow.
    While I understand that some people still hold onto the traditional belief that funerals must be black and solemn, many of us believe that it shouldn’t matter what you wear. You should bring your fullness of life to celebrate the person who lived and died and was loved by many.

    Comment by Leebee — December 23, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

  13. I honestly could not tell you what anyone wore to my brother’s funeral. I wore a black, knee-length dress with a black jacket and black heels, but I do not remember what anyone else wore except for our good friend who was in the Navy and wore his dress blues. I remember who was there and how grateful I was that they came to pay their respects, but I was absolutely not focused on their attire. That being said, I had to go to the mall to buy my outfit for the funeral at the last minute (and funerals always are at the last minute), so keeping a GBoD at the ready is excellent advice.

    Comment by Cat — December 23, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  14. @Leebee and if the family requests you wear colors, by all means wear it. But funerals aren’t about you and what you believe is right, so unless otherwise specified: Go traditional.

    Comment by Miss Plumcake — December 23, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

  15. Since Jewish funerals are as soon as possible after the person’s death, one is ‘lucky’ to get enough notice of the funeral to change clothes at all. I have gone to several funerals directly from work,and once directly from a hike, and borrowed a decent jacket and scarf from total strangers in the cloakroom. It is a shabby feeling; the only mitigation is that everyone has the same problem.

    Comment by starlady — December 24, 2010 @ 1:32 am

  16. Questions about the bag? Why fabric? Should it also be black or is that not important? If you have an understated black leather clutch can you use that instead? Or is leather bad for funerals?

    As an aside – mostly because I’m curious – should children also wear black to funerals?

    Comment by Rebekka — December 25, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  17. My Nana had the cutest rhinestone dachshund brooch, but she sure as heck wouldn’t have ever worn it to a funeral.

    And yes, you do not want to suddenly discover that the perfect top you were planning to wear with you black suit to your Nana’s funeral doesn’t actually show under the suit jacket and it looks like you’re going without. I ended up with an ascot which looked great, but those were a bad ten minutes.

    @Miss Plumcake My sister wishes to add to the boots-permited categories: You are the deceased.

    Comment by Ellen W. — December 31, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

  18. I find this advice to be very…hegemonic for lack of a better word.

    Sure if you’re Christian, this is what you do, but it’s not what a lot of cultures do.

    Hindus wear white. Jews don’t generally wear black. I wore a white skirt with blue flowers to my grandmother’s funeral. My dad’s girlfriend wore an all black suit and my sister and I laughed and told her she was dressed too conservatively.

    I also think what you wear to a funeral reflects the person who died. I don’t live in a world where people follow rules like this. I imagine my funeral would be filled with multiple shades of purple, I’d wear red to my Mom’s.

    Different strokes for different cultures and folks.

    Comment by bloomie — January 4, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

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