The undertaker’s traditional uniform of dark frock coat and top hat is under threat from Darth Vader and Spider-Man outfits.
Co-op Funeralcare, which arranges about 100,000 funerals annually, says there is a trend towards celebration rather than solemnity.
For example, at a recent funeral the cortege was led into the cemetery by a funeral director pacing solemnly, dressed as Darth Vader, followed by 100 mourners in costumes including Beetlejuice, the obnoxious ghost, and the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character.
Figures released by Co-op Funeralcare indicate that 66% of adults believe funerals are becoming more of a celebration of life and a third say they would prefer their own to be a party rather than a mournful wake.
At other recent funerals the directors have sported Spider-Man outfits and a She-Ra Princess of Power costume, in order not to look ludicrously out of place at events themed according to the interests of the deceased, right down to balloons tied to the coffin handles.
A Halloween-themed Darth Vader funeral was one of the most memorable arranged by the Co-op in the past two years, though nobody who attended a leopard print funeral is likely to forget it: everyone was asked to wear at least a leopard print tie to match the patterned coffin in which the dead woman – a dedicated gamer – lay dressed in a Zelda costume.
She-Ra presided over a superhero funeral attended by Superman, Batman and Robin, Captain America and Buzz Lightyear. A further galaxy of superheroes came to the Spider-Man funeral for a devotee of the Marvel comics, whose coffin was dressed with Spiderman stickers and balloons. The entire funeral crew wore Marvel ties and the hearse was topped with a giant Spider-Man balloon.
The fashion is surely one that Del Boy would have found a way to cash in on. A funeral for a devotee of the Only Fools and Horses television series was recently led by a Trotters Independent Trading Company hearse.
David Collingwood, head of the Co-op’s funeral operations, said that if it is possible to comply with a request, his staff make it happen. “We are increasingly seeing this trend of personalisation within funerals, to reflect the passions and interests that our loved ones had while they were alive, rather than being a strictly sombre occasion.”
The National Association of Funeral Directors reports that its members have organised Wild West, Star Wars, classic car, railway and pink funerals. Their website urges the public to sit down and talk about death: “Grab your favourite drink, invite someone close to you round (or switch your smartphone to record) and make yourself comfortable.” Factors to consider include type of funeral, music, crematorium or woodland burial, and how the mourners should dress.
The advice will not be for everyone: the funeral directors’ own research has found that 14% of UK adults say “nothing would prompt them to think about their own funeral” – not even the prospect of the relatives getting it completely wrong and burying them as the Incredible Hulk rather than Superman.