Those who know me and my background may be surprised at the strict dress code I enforce at work. It’s no different than many other funeral homes, and includes conservative clothing for men and women, regardless of weather. You will be sweating in a jacket and tie during a 100-degree graveside service. You will be lifting bodies in nylons and heels. If you sweat heavily or rip your nylons, I expect you to have backup garments available.
Another thing I am big on is absolutely no exposed tattoos. I have eight tattoos – ankles, wrists, lower back, upper back, stomach and collarbones. You would never know it on the job, with the exception of the collarbone tattoos because they are embalming incision marks and I find it useful to show to families when I request they not bring a low-cut garment. Most people do not think of their grandmother’s dress as low-cut, but when they see, on me, just how visible the incisions are, they understand they will have to bring a turtleneck or fully buttoned up blouse.
On a young female, or a woman wearing religious garments that may not cover the neck fully, I will try to embalm the body through the femoral artery and leave the neck area untouched, but this is only possible in bodies which arrive intact and in great condition. If the parents of a teenage girl are adamant she is to wear her prom dress, sometimes I can work with a strategically draped scarf.
However, at the funeral service itself, if my clothing does not cover the collarbones then I use makeup. I have some industrial strength makeup that was designed for covering tattoos, and I have actually covered all eight of mine for a swimsuit photo shoot. It takes a long time and it’s messy, but part of my job is using makeup to cover bullet holes and entire shotgun blasts to the face, so of course I can cover a little bit of skin art.
Many young people cite “freedom of expression” as their “right” to display tattoos in the workplace, and maintain that the only thing that matters is their work performance. I get it. I get that tattooed people, or people with multiple facial piercings or green mohawks or who wear leather pants can be great embalmers and funeral directors. They’ll have to show off those amazing skills at another funeral home; I will not give them a chance at mine. Maybe I’m missing out on the best employee I’d ever have; one who cheerfully works Christmas and stays late to inventory the prep room items and remembers the name of a family he served eight years ago. If he has a tattoo on his face, I’m going to pass.
“But that’s PREJUDICED!” It certainly is. We all judge people based on appearance. Women are not going to date a man who weighs 400 lbs and wears a New Kids on the Block shirt. Maybe he’s nice and will treat you with respect. Maybe he has a doctorate and is independently wealthy and volunteers to read to Ebola kids. I’ll pass.
I have worked with absolutely great people in the funeral industry and now that I’m in a position to hire and fire, I will never hire many of these individuals if they intend to display their tattoos in the workplace. If they would wear long sleeves and gloves at all times, or the aforementioned makeup, I would work with them. But your right to express your strange artistry ends where my hiring decisions begin.
One of my dress codes is no bare legs. If you wear a dress, you need to wear nylons. And in my case, since I have large ankle tattoos, I wear black opaque tights. This means I cannot wear many of my nice navy blue suits, since black tights don’t look good with navy skirts.
I ask for a suit jacket or skirt that matches in terms of style or fabric, as well as a conservative shirt of any subdued color. A funeral home is not the place for bright pinks and purples. I’ve worked in places that are so strict they allow only black suits and white shirts. I’m a little more lenient; if someone is working in the office and not meeting any families, I allow things like sweaters and skirts or slacks, as long as they have a jacket and tie ready.
I have sent a girl home for being dressed inappropriately…a girl who was a personal friend of mine. We’re still friends. I also sent home a motorcycle escort for having long hair and earrings. I refunded the family’s money.
With embalming, I often embalm in a nice suit because I may have just met with a family, but if I’m there after hours, I am in jeans or gym clothes. I’ve ruined too many dry-clean-only suits with embalming fluid. Of course, I’m also in a protective gown, so if the board or anyone else should come in, I am not displaying my body or my tattoos.
I agree that appearances should not matter; performance does. But appearances do and always will matter. Many girls in mortuary school were encouraged to change their hairstyles to find work. One girl had dreadlocks, another had a mohawk, and another who was hired was later told to change her hair because it was waist length but had no style to it. One of the last places that hired me told me I had a week to fix my hair, because it was self-colored and it came out in two shades of brown and I had blond roots showing. I ended up dyeing it a flat black, which did not look good, but was deemed professional enough for the job. Strangely enough, my classmates were discouraged from having black hair because they might look too “goth.”
So, this business is not the place to express your individuality or your fashion sense. Look around at what others in the office are wearing and dress like that. If you need to replace your entire wardrobe, Goodwill or other thrift stores are an option; there are also places who give career clothing for free to needy people.
Shoes are another important piece. I encourage all women to wear closed-toe high heels unless they have some kind of medical problem that prevents this and have to wear flat shoes. In that case, loafers are a good choice. Plan on purchasing a few pairs and shining them regularly; you should keep a shoeshine kit in your desk or car. You WILL ruin your shoes in a wet cemetery at some point.
Wrist tattoos can be covered by your suit jacket, which you should always wear unless you are in the office. In that case, they can be covered by watches or tasteful jewelry.
In the case of facial piercings…just don’t. If you still have them I’m guessing you are not old enough for a career in funeral service, or anything else, for that matter.
This includes overweight people as well. Many in funeral service are overweight. You need to find clothing that fits you properly. Do not wear baggy or tight clothes. It is possible to be obese and still look professional if you wear proper clothing in your size.
I am absolutely judged on my appearance with every funeral I arrange. Fair or not, it’s part of the job. I present a certain look to those who arrive seeking my services, and then I try to make my services match my look.