The day before. my immaculate body in the North Sea
What to wear when you're dead
It may be a question you have never considered. I can’t say this has ever been an issue for me, until, suddenly, it is. Funeral sites have advice:
When thinking about how to dress the person, consider what he or she would have liked to have been buried in, such as a favorite or special outfit. While many people are buried in formal attire, feel free to dress the person in any outfits they might have loved, such as a favorite pair of jeans, a lucky hat, or a beloved piece of jewelry.
This makes me feel a little sad, as I don't have a lucky hat, or any lucky garment. I am sure there are many people who do, although I have to ask myself how luck is being expressed by wearing said garment after death? In terms of jewellery, I think I’d rather leave what little I have to daughters and other relations. It seems you can take it with you, but perhaps I’d rather not.
"... fashion choices among the dead have changed over the years..."
Apparently, fashion choices among the dead have changed over the years. Not surprising, as elements of informality are now present in every sphere of life, compared to how things were even 50 years ago. People used to be buried in their best suit, in an era where the phrase “Sunday best” had meaning. These days, all such etiquette seems to have been lost, and people wear any old thing, from a football kit to a onesy. But who chooses?
It may be that deciding what your deceased love one is going to wear for the final curtain may be one of those choices that we glibly fit into “it’s what they would have wanted.” But would we ever ask? Or do we make a note of this in our wills, or speak to our relatives on this subject?
If we don’t ask, or make a note, chances are we will be buried in whatever we are wearing when we die. This might be a consideration re underwear when we dress each morning – I seem to remember advice on always wearing good undies in case you got knocked down by a bus. But the likelihood is it will be a care home nightie or pyjamas.
Do I care enough to think about this? Do I actually have a favourite outfit? I enjoy masquerading as Miss Marple, but I'm not sure the tweed and cashmere is such a good look post life: too bulky. I might prefer something more beautiful and ready for bed ish, like Auntie Dolly’s brocade dressing gown from the 1930s, with a long crepe de chine slip underneath. Or some very nice brushed cotton / wyncyette pyjamas with a gentle elasticated waist, long sleeves and nice buttons. Sleep wear seems to be mostly what comes to mind, but maybe you should dress in black, as you are going to your own funeral? There are options, after all.
"... dressing the dead is not an easy business .."
When my father died, I took a suit, shirt and tie to the undertaker’s. When my mother died, much more recently, I think I took a purple velvet dress along, but actually, this time is so blurry in my mind, I am not sure. Irrationality rules around this, and I don’t like to think of people messing with her dead body to get that dress on. And in fact, dressing the dead is not an easy business, in spite of the stillness.
However, there are people who make clothes for the dead. The more traditional of these make dresses and suits that can be easily fitted and look like the clothes you need for walking around. But Pia Interlandi, a fashion designer and researcher with an interest in biodegradable fabrics, makes beautiful grave garments. There are many ways in which an item of clothing worn in life is not suited for death. For one thing, clothing is made to be put on autonomously: a shirt that you can effortlessly shrug into and button up while you’re alive can be incredibly difficult to dress a corpse with. “The body becomes stiffer in the joints and unexpectedly heavy,” says Interland. “Because of this, dressing a dead body basically requires a new way of dressing someone, where you turn their garments upside down.”
"...a burial garment sewn from the sheets that the deceased slept in"
Interlandi provides one-size-fits-all garments to clients as part of her work with the Clandon Wood natural burial reserve in Surrey, she has also provided garments tailored to the needs of individuals, such as a burial garment sewn from the sheets that the deceased slept in along with their partner for many years. She has also made robes designed for specific faiths and cultures, as well as garments for people of all sizes and ages.
Perhaps there is something to all of this. Dressing someone in death in the same clothes they wore in life seems like a morbid mockery of both. You only die once; perhaps, like your wedding day, the occasion deserves an outfit of its own. You can see more of Interlandi’s work at her official website by clicking here.
by Jo Colley