Since I moved back to Cleveland just a few short months ago, five people I’ve known since childhood have died. Three of them were the age of my parents, and I knew them as Mrs. So and So. The other two were contemporaries who died far too young. One was a high school classmate who died from alcoholism, plain and simple. And the most recent was the older brother of a friend I grew up with who lost a twelve year battle with Multiple Myeloma, a particularly hideous brand of cancer that unleashes an ugly wrath on the bone marrow and blood. (My stepfather lived with it for nearly a decade before dying two years ago.)
All of this means funerals. Out of respect for the deceased and their survivors, the call is for appropriate and respectful dress.
Other than a celebration in a tuxedo, the only other appropriate occasion for a black suit is a funeral, unless you’re a chauffeur or Tom Ford. In my case, a tuxedo is the only black suit I own. My preference for a funeral is the ceaselessly versatile navy or midnight blue, which is a perfectly appropriate alternative to black. A solid dark blue suit is a suit that works anywhere. It can be jazzed up with bold shirts, ties and pocket gear, or it can be sobered up with subtler choices.
I’ve written before about the unparalleled versatility of the navy suit, making it the best option for a first suit. If one’s lifestyle only requires only one suit (and every man should have at least one good suit), I’d make it navy. Some argue that this status belongs to the charcoal gray suit, but I disagree. Gray is gray, and it just paints more gray onto older men with gray hair and a desaturated pallor. The right solid charcoal is a gorgeous option for a suit, mind you, and should perhaps be the second purchase when building an arsenal. But it lacks the subtle pop of color that better complements a more celebratory occasion. A dark navy or midnight swings between merriment and melancholy more effortlessly, in my opinion. The one I wear to funerals is a custom midnight blue suit from Black Lapel.
As for the shirt and tie, I go with white and black. My solid white dress shirts come from Charles Tyrwhitt or Kamakura, my black grenadine tie is from Chipp Neckwear and my black textured knit tie (pictured) is from The Tie Bar.
On my feet go my trusty black oxfords, wingtips or chukka boots from Florsheim, Allen Edmonds or Alden (with black socks, of course).
Funerals are never occasions to make any kind of sartorial splash, except, perhaps, when attending the memorial service of a famously outrageous icon or public figure who would roll in his or her grave if you didn’t spark some kind of fashion fire. (Bill Cunningham’s funeral would be a good example.) Attending a funeral is about showing up, first and foremost. From there, it’s about paying respects respectfully, without making any distracting statements. For me, the solid dark blue suit is the best option.
A note about pocket linen…
When it comes to a hanky, a funeral is an example of where a silk pocket square is useless. Funerals are sad. When I’ve been close to the deceased, I cry and my nose runs. Not only do I wear one in the outside breast pocket of the suit jacket, but I also carry a clean spare in another pocket in case I’m near a fellow bereaved attendee in need. For funerals or even weddings where people shed tears, cotton hankies are the only way to go.