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Dressed for a successful (final) exit Add to ...

When my neighbour’s father died, I was told the funeral cost $25,000. The coffin was beautiful. My neighbour said he didn’t want his father wheeled in and out of the church in a cheap-looking box. I agreed, then said dying is so costly.

It made me think about my last exit, still a long way off (I hope). Funerals are all about appearances, aren’t they?

When I go, I want people to say (if anyone shows up) that “he always had style.” Look at that beautiful coffin. Why, it’s a work of art – very dignified – and look at that polish, for crying out loud. Must have been shined by hand 30 or 40 times at least. My Lord, they’re going to be impressed when that baby comes wheeling through the pearly gates.

I like to think I have tasteful style. They say good taste is always in style, but fashion comes and goes.

Funerals are the one time they make a big fuss over you, and you can’t show up. Well, you do show up. You’re on display. It’s a front window of Bloomingdale’s, or Holt Renfrew, sort of thing. People pass through the visitation, they stop, they look. They comment (internally). Outwardly they always say: “They did a good job.”

The thing about death is it so often comes unannounced. One minute you’re shopping at Loblaws, the next you are hit by a bus. Someone once told me about their grandfather who went to the bank one morning, took out some money and had a heart attack on the steps on his way out. It’s true – you can’t take it with you. And just as your mother told you always to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident, these sorts of occurrences are a reminder that it’s wise to try to look your best always.

Of course, the funeral home usually does the dressing, and the people there know the drill. But funeral homes rely on heirs to supply the right goods. My concern would be that my heirs might inadvertently grab that joke Mickey Mouse tie when the funeral director calls for my coffin clothes.

Funeral dressing should be conservative. Most deceased men look like bankers, no offence to bankers. This is entirely appropriate. Unless the deceased is a country music star, the shirt should be white. The tie should not light up. The suit should not be covered with sequins, requiring sunglasses to look at it.

Most open coffins are only open from the waist up, so that’s where it counts. Like those TV news anchors who look great on camera, but insiders know they’re wearing shorts and running shoes with no socks under the desk.

It’s probably a good idea to have a suit bag in your closet marked: “For my funeral.” This bag should contain the appropriate suit, shirt, tie, underwear, shoes and socks – a “funeral kit”. (Why don’t they sell these sorts of kits?)

The catch is that if your heirs really want to get you in the end, and switch bags, you can’t stop them. That time my sister says I tried to push her off the garage roof (I don’t remember that) might just be her motivation for payback. My sister knows I’m ultra-conservative when it comes to clothes, but when people ask her about my polka-dot loud shirt, she might say with a deadpan look: “Yeah, he was really like that – his taste in fashion was all in his mouth, you know.”

So planning doesn’t hurt. And you can only plan when you’re alive and kicking. In fact, it might be a good idea to specify your preferred shirt colour and style in your will. The Harry Rosen suit. The Brooks Brothers shirt. The designer tie.

You’re getting ready to go out on stage in front of the world – you want to look your best (even though you’re not really there). Presentation is 75 per cent, isn’t it? In fact, with funerals, it’s 100 per cent.

The only exception here is probably cremation. In that case you’re burnt (literally). Your tailor-made $150 shirt is ashes. Your Harry Rosen suit and Italian shoes – ashes. In fact, you are ashes, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? They’re not kidding, you know, with the dust to dust, ashes to ashes line.

While I’m thinking of it, I’ll have to check my closet and see if my suit bags are properly labelled. In fact, maybe it’s time to go on a shopping spree. Stop by Harry Rosen’s. Visit my local tailor to ask what the correct lapel width is these days. Double-breasted suits? Wide tie or thin, coloured or striped?

Also, I may even call my sister to apologize for trying to push her off the roof (I still don’t remember that). When it comes to drop-dead style, anything is worth a try.

Douglas Cornish lives in Ottawa.

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