Monday, September 08, 2008

What (Not) to Wear to a Funeral

Last winter, when I was attending way too many family funerals, I thought about writing a post about modern mourning attire, or rather, the lack thereof. Today, there are no rules about what a member of the deceased family should wear, no family dressmakers who will rush over and sew up a year's worth of black clothing overnight, no funeral department at the local Tar-zhay where a person can pick up something suitable in a spare half-hour between picking out a plot and ordering the coffin. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find a plain black day dress when you need one. I found mine at T.J. Maxx, and this is pretty much it, or the current season's version of it. When I wore it with a black jacket I felt pretty presentable.

After the last funeral of the series I gave up on the idea of a post about mourning attire as too grim and self-centered. I also concluded that it's probably better, more democratic, and certainly more economical, if people can pay their respects wearing their everyday clothes. After all, it is the substance of their respect that's important, not the symbol.

One would assume, however, that there are still rules, protocol, in fact, that apply to official mourners like ambassadors and First Ladies. One would also assume that official mourners would have the resources to obtain the appropriate clothing at a moment's notice. And one might assume that the First Lady of France, the former model Carla Bruni Sarkozy, representing her country at the funeral of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the 20th Century's great couturiers, would appear at the memorial in an outfit doing credit to both her country and his memory.

One would be wrong about Madame Sarkozy.

Okay, her jacket is probably an original YSL smoking. Her pants might also be YSL, but they're creased and look a trifle too small, like she had fished them out of a bag containing clothes from her old modeling days and pulled them on, unpressed. And even if Madame Sarkozy has the best rack of any First Lady since the Empress Theodora, she should have worn a bra. It was a freakin' funeral, for the love of Pete.

The oddest thing about the way she appeared at this event is that Madame Sarkozy usually dresses very well indeed.

How to say "oh, honey, no," in French

After I found the above photo i whipped out my 1964 edition of Elegance, A Complete Guide for Every Woman Who Wants to be Well and Properly Dressed on all Occasions by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. If you're a fan of chicklit, you might have come across the novel Elegance that was inspired by Madame Dariaux's Guide. The Guide is better. Anyway, considering all Madame Dariaux has to say about everything else, her comments about funeral wear were rather short. Some excerpts from the one-page entry:

A woman who attends a funeral dressed in a conspicuous manner shows proof of a total lack of good taste and good manners. Even if you are not a member of the immediate family, you should dress in black, or at least in whatever you own that is most dark and neutral, and you should wear no makeup. During the course of a year it is unfortunately likely that you will be obliged to attend a funeral ceremony, and you should prepare for this eventuality in planning your wardrobe, just as you prepare for the luncheon and dinner invitations you expect to receive.

The best choice, aside from a black suit of wool in the winter and linen in the summer, is a dark gray flannel ensemble, both worn with a black hat, gloves, shoes, and bag. . . .

Well, with the exception of the hat, at least I'm prepared.

By the way, if you're interested in fashion design, like, doing it, not just wearing it, you might want to pick up a copy of Yves Saint Laurent: Style. It's full of reproductions of YSL's sketches, done, interestingly, on graph paper, as well as lush photos of finished clothing. See how the Master did it.


Donna Lethal said...

Do you remember the scene in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" where Mary Steenburgen wore a black cocktail dress to her husband's funeral?

Yes, Carla should have known better.

Maisy said...

What a ridiculous article. I smell a whiff of envy. Problem: -the polyester black dress syndrome!

Bruni was dressed in a trouser suit, a tribute to Saint Laurent's role as the designer whose early collections made it acceptable for women to wear trousers.
She looks natural and lovely like many Italian and French women.
Linen is a cool, trendy and better than the old polyester or the boring cotton. Perhaps she could have worn a little scarf or necklace. Nonetheless, she looks lovely.
Move with the times. Move ahead and look forward!

Anonymous said...

She should've worn a bra... However I like her outfit, if she'd worn a bra it'd be an A+