When a loved one passes, you may be overwhelmed by the choices available to dress them for their final journey. You may want to choose a suit or dress that reflects your loved one’s style or personality, or you might prefer something more traditional. Some people may even wish to wear jewelry that was sentimental or important to them in life.
Many funeral homes have a selection of clothing and jewelry to choose from for your deceased family member. However, if you’re looking for a more personalized look, you can also turn to independent designers who specialize in bespoke burial attire. These artists use a combination of design, anthropology, forensics, fiber science, and more to create outfits for the dead.
Burial gowns are designed to fit over a human body, and they usually have high necklines and long sleeves to hide any scarring that could be left from a person’s passing. They are typically made of easily adjustable materials like cotton, wool, linen, or silk. They are also designed to be worn while a person is lying down, with drawstrings and long slits to allow the deceased to be dressed by a mourner or by a funeral director.
Designers who focus on clothing the dead can often be found in the art and fashion industries, but they can also come from a variety of other backgrounds. Seattle-based artist Mark Mitchell draws on his background in theatrical costume to create one-of-a-kind, heirloom-style burial ensembles from fine fabrics. His work is exhibited in galleries around the country, and his collection has been featured in several major national museums.
For those who have pre-planned their end-of-life, it can be helpful to check to see if they left instructions on what they wanted to wear for their funeral or memorial service. Depending on the person, this may be as simple as checking their closet for an outfit that they had set aside to wear.
If your loved ones didn’t leave any specific instructions, it’s a good idea to start by talking with the funeral home about their clothing preferences. They may be able to manipulate an outfit from your closet so that it fits over the corpse, or they might have recommendations on where to purchase burial clothes in the area.
Some people choose to bury their loved ones in clothes that they would have worn in daily life, which reflects the value of equality. Others may dress their loved ones in religious or cultural garb that was significant to them.
In the past, most people wore dedicated death outfits called “burial shrouds.” Similar to bridal nightwear or wedding dresses, these were sewn by women before their big day and kept until needed. They’re still popular in some cultures and religions, but they aren’t the norm in western society. However, a few artists are reviving this tradition with modern garments that can be worn by both men and women. These are often made from linen or cotton, and they feature drawstrings and long slits so that they can be put on the deceased with ease.