Back in Black

June 11, 2015


Wearing black to a funeral

A few months after a cheerful parade celebrating her 100th birthday, complete with a ride in a convertible Corvette, my Great Aunt passed away, and I was thrown into a tizzy trying to find a dress to wear to the funeral. Or should I say, a “proper” dress to wear to the funeral.

I searched my closet for my go-to summer black dress, but remembered it had become a bit too . . .  let’s go with “worn” as opposed to, “snug.”

Wearing black to a funeral
Just because it’s black, doesn’t make it funeral-ready.

My long sleeved wool dress, was the only suitable black dress I had, and a July funeral in Jay, Florida is no place for such an oppressive garment. I own other black frocks, but they are more “night on the town” than “hole in the ground” types of outfits.

Nothing is worse than someone being a little too “hoochie — coochie” – looking at a funeral. I know these days, people accept  all sorts of colors when we gather to marry them or bury them, but for a funeral, I just feel a strong pull to the tradition of sad, sorrowful black. I also like it when it rains at a funeral because it’s like the whole world is shooting out tears.What to wear to a funeral

People who say they want everyone to wear colorful clothing to their “Celebration of Life” are getting birthdays and funerals confused. It’s the same as if  they had a piñata at the service so people would have fun, but then filled it with bees so there wasn’t too much fun.  “Be happy! Wear red! Then cry your head off ‘cause I’m not here anymore!”

What to wear to a funeral, Leslie Anne Tarabella
Elizabeth Taylor loved wearing white to weddings!

The only other set-in-stone color rule in society is for weddings where the only one wearing white should be the person holding the largest bouquet of flowers and being presented the gift of jewelry.

Wear black to a funeral. Leslie Anne Tarabella
No, no, no!

White is for the bride alone, although a few grooms in the 1970’s thought they’d give the all-white tuxedo a try. (Not such a good idea after all, was it, Mr. Polka-Dot Underwear?).Much to my horror, an old girlfriend of my husband’s showed up at our wedding wearing white, and managed to jump into several photos. I swear on a stack of Bibles I had nothing to do with it, but the poor girl was never seen or heard from again, bless her heart.

Back to my Great-Aunt’s summertime funeral, I finally settled on a lightweight tan dress with coordinating tan heels, minimal jewelry and no perfume – because you never want to clash with all the flowers. I was suitably subdued, respectfully bland, but still not in proper black.

Wear black to a funeral, Leslie Anne Tarabella
YES!!! This is it!!!

My husband’s college roommate, John, was raised in the south by a mother from Boston who was extremely proper. After John’s date with a promising young lady, we asked him how it went. He gloomily shook his head and said, “I knew she wasn’t for me when she answered the door wearing all black before sundown.” At 20 years old, I had never heard that rule, but was deeply impressed there were still social and fashion rules I didn’t know. From that point on, John’s mother was my hero, and years later, she attended my wedding and endeared herself to me even more for casting an evil eye at the chick wearing white.

Wearing Black to a funeral, Leslie Anne Tarabella
Absolutely, YES!!!

If any of you aren’t feeling well, I’d appreciate it if you could just hang on a little longer while I find a decent black dress. I promise it will be worth the wait. And if heaven forbid, it’s my turn to be planted in the ground, by all means, wear whatever you’d like. But those in black get preferred seating. And pearls will earn you a souvenir funeral fan.



This article first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers.


Leave a Reply

  1. First let me say I’m so sorry for your loss. How wonderful your great aunt lived to see one hundred and even got to ride in a parade! Well, it was like you reading Fannie Flagg, I almost fell out of my chair laughing at your dress dilemma. If God forbid, you go anytime soon, I will be there in a proper black dress and my momma’s pearls, just for you! You know, you are a hoot!!!! You need to write a book Leslie Anne……………

  2. So sorry for your loss, Leslie Anne. I think your aunt is probably getting a kick out of your post in heaven. How wonderful that she had the parade. Good luck on finding that dress.

    1. I’m off to go shopping for it in the next few hours, because I thought, if someone reads this in the paper and we have a funeral next week, someone for certain will notice I’m not following through!

  3. We do wish you luck on finding the right dress but at the same time hope you don’t need it anytime soon. Thanks for the laughs.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about your Aunt. But how wonderful that you were able to have such a celebration for her 100th birthday! There certainly are certain fashion rules that should never change. No- white at a wedding. Yes – black at a funeral. Loved the “night on the town” vs “hole in the ground” bit!

    1. Her party was great with cheerleaders from the local high school lining the way and people standing along the street waving. It was what she said she wanted for her birthday. Just wonderful.

  5. What a great story! It made me laugh, and it also reminded me of two funerals I have attended in the last 15 years where I realized that not everyone understands these things even if they are Southern. My ex-sister-in-law wore a glitzy sequined long dress (it WAS black) to a family funeral, a very proper New Orleans High Mass with many decades of the Rosary, long black limousines, etc. A few years later, I attended a funeral here in Birmingham for the matriarch of a large family, an old friend of my parents. She had many, many progeny, most of them very comely girls, but they were dressed for clubbing, albeit in black. The woman’s own four daughters were in black lace! I think one even rocked a chiffon skirt. I still haven’t gotten over it!

  6. Oh, my beautiful, witty and funny little friend! What a cute post! Now I’m very sorry about your auntie passing away. She lived a long life! Oh, the black dress! I know, those etiquette rules just don’t seem to hold anymore. But I know some older ladies, older than me, that still hold fast to these rules. Wear no more white after Labor Day, no hats after sunset…I love it! 😉 I’m sure you were just gorgeous! 🙂
    Be a sweetie and keep the funny coming,
    Shelia 😉

      1. I am very new to your blog, but I have enjoyed every word you have written that I have had time to read so far. Many condolences on the passing of your auntie. I am sure she is pointing you out to the saints in heaven after reading this post!

        I dearly love elderly ladies who hold fast to the old ways. I am sure it was a man who decided white gloves and hats were out of fashion! I found myself in a facebook debate with a “man” who thought that it appropriate for him to wear cutoffs and a t-shirt with a beer ad on it to a funeral for someone who was of the “laid back personality and would want mourners to be comfortable” sector of our society. He got told real quick that it has nothing to do with the mourners. It has to do with respect for the deceased, and he better go out and buy a suit, white dress shirt with french cuffs, cuff links and a tie if he wanted to attend any funeral I was at and not get talked about at the lunch afterwards.

  7. Your family was very fortunate to have someone live such a long life…I am so sorry for your loss. When my mother died six years ago this month i bought a new black dress and wore my pearls. The dress still hangs in my closet. I have yet to wear it to another occasion as it always reminds me of her funeral…oh well a reason to purchase another black dress.

    1. Clothing can hold very strong memories for us. I finally donated a beautiful green dress I wore when my son was baptized 18 years ago, and now I regret it. Not that I would have worn it again, but I loved looking at it in my closet.

  8. 100 years and a parade – that must have been an amazing life to celebrate. I have learned to have a few tasteful black dresses in my closet for funerals which always seem to come when you are too busy to shop. Good luck with the dress shopping.

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