If you’re preparing a loved one for burial, you may not realize that the clothing you choose to dress them in can have an impact on their final journey. But with a little consideration of the deceased’s personal style, religious beliefs and other factors, you can help them make a graceful transition to their final rest.
Burial garments are specialty textiles designed to cover the body of a person who has died. They are often intended to create a more uniform look when seen from the front and can cover a portion of the face, hands and feet. Often they are used in conjunction with embalming, which is done to preserve the body for viewing. Until recently, the majority of clothing used to dress the dead was mass-produced and made from cotton, wool or polyester, all of which are petroleum-based fabrics that take a long time to decompose. In an effort to provide an alternative, some funeral homes have started offering their own line of burial garments.
One designer, Mark Mitchell of Seattle, Washington, draws on his background in theatrical costume to create one-of-a-kind custom burial ensembles from fine fabrics using couture and heirloom-sewing techniques. Other designers, such as Jae Rhim Lee of Boston, Massachusetts, and Pia Interlandi of Australia, merge art and science in their work. Lee’s sculptural work is both elegant and functional, while Interlandi’s Garments for the Grave collection of burial clothes uses water-soluble fibers and is designed with ease of dressing in mind.
When considering a loved one for burial, many people find it comforting to remember the clothing they have worn throughout their lifetime. Choosing clothing that was a favorite or that represented the person’s personal style can be comforting for mourners, as it will allow them to feel close to the deceased. For many families, the choice of footwear is also important. Shoes can be uncomfortable for the deceased’s feet, especially if they are in a closed casket. For this reason, a lot of families choose to bury their loved ones in socks.
In the case of stillborn or premature infants, standard baby clothing can be too large and is usually provided by the hospital where the child died. Non profit organizations such as The Littlest Angels Gowns or stores that specialize in preemie clothing offer custom gowns for these babies and their parents. Alternatively, some people choose to sew their own outfits for a loved one who has died. Allison Kennedy of California is the founder of a non profit called Kennedy’s Angel Gown Project, which makes and donates burial gowns for stillborn babies. The dresses are hand-sewn from donated wedding dresses, and she can make up to a dozen of them with just one donated gown. She says that one in 160 babies are stillborn, and she found the lack of clothing options for them heartbreaking. The couple launched the non profit to fill this need. They have since expanded their mission to include other areas affected by high rates of stillbirth, including hospitals in Oregon, Texas and Illinois.