Style S.O.S: What to Wear for Graduation

Earlier this week, a question about what to wear for graduation dropped into our suggestion box. The question specifically asked about what to wear to someone else’s graduation ceremony (in this case, a sister’s), but we figured there are probably quite a few people wondering what to wear to their OWN graduation around this time of year, and the advice is similar for both graduate and family members, so we thought we’d roll it into one article and ask:

What to wear for graduation?

what to wear to graduation - advice from The Fashion Poliice

If you’re the graduate…

…your graduation robes will mostly cover whatever you’re wearing underneath them. That doesn’t mean you should roll up in an adult onesie or sweatpants, however. Instead…


1. Check for a dress code

Some schools will allow you to wear whatever you like to graduation, but others will request that you adhere to a specific dress, normally asking you to wear something like a white shirt/blouse with dress pants or a skirt. If your school doesn’t have a particular dress code, however…

2. Dress smartly

A graduation ceremony is a formal occasion, and while your outfit may not be on show while you walk up to receive your diploma, it may well be on show afterwards, so wear something you’ll be proud to be seen in, both on the day itself, and when you look back at photographs in years to come. You don’t need to dress as formally as you would for a wedding, say, but at least wear something smart: tailored trousers, skirts or dresses are all suitable – look for the kind of outfit you might wear to church, say, or to a smart office. Avoid very casual items like jeans, sweats, or anything ripped, distressed or too revealing.

3. Think about what you’ll be doing afterwards

You’ll be wearing your graduation robes for the ceremony itself, but some schools will lay on a buffet/drinks afterwards, and many new graduates choose to celebrate the occasion by going out to dinner with family or friends. The robes will come off for this, so make sure the outfit underneath will be appropriate to the activity (unless, of course, you plan on hitting up a club or something, in which you might want to think about going home to change, first!).

4. Don’t wear anything too warm, or too delicate

Whatever you wear, remember that your robes will have to go on top. Robes sometimes have to be pinned into place, and can be heavier than they look, so avoid very delicate fabrics which could be damaged or creased by being worn underneath something else. You should also take care to make sure your outfit isn’t so heavy that you’ll start to swelter under the different layers: graduation ceremonies can last a long time, and the last thing you want is to faint on the way up the podium, or accept your diploma with sweaty hands.

5. Go for something simple and un-fussy

Again, consider those robes: like any heavy layer, they’ll pull at the clothes underneath them, so look for an outfit that won’t require constant adjustment. Many people choose to wear white shirts/blouses tucked into skirts or trousers: if you’re going with this look, make sure that your skirt is long enough that it won’t keep coming untucked, or you’ll spend the entire day rummaging around under your robes trying to correct it: not a great look.

6. Think carefully about footwear

Unlike the rest of your outfit, your shoes WILL be on show while you’re in your robes, and are a good opportunity to inject a bit of individuality and colour into your look. Remember, however, that the walk to the podium can feel like a long one if you’re nervous, and all eyes will be upon you: choose shoes that you know you can walk in easily, rather than ones that are likely to trip you up or make you wobble! If you want to be able to look back on your photos without cringing in a few year’s time, you might also want to avoid anything too trendy or OTT, and go for a more classic look instead. (Or, of course, you may not, depending on how important it is to you to inject some of your personality into your look!)

7. Avoid elaborate hairdos

Finally, if you’re going to be wearing a mortar board hat, it’s best to keep your hairstyle simple, rather than having to balance your cap on top of an elaborate up-do, or have it all come tumbling down when you take it off!

If you’re a guest of the graduate…

…the basic “rules” are much the same: i.e. it’s a formal occasion, so your outfit should reflect that, however it’s not SO formal that you’ll have to resign yourself to being uncomfortable all day or wearing something that’s not really “you”. Think smart, but not flashy:  if you could wear it to the office, say, it’ll probably be suitable for a graduation ceremony, unless the school in question has a very strict dress code.  Some of the types of outfits you’re likely to see in the crowds will include:

  1. Dresses of every description: as it’s a daytime event, avoid things like sequins, glitter, or anything that looks like it belongs in a club.
  2. Tailored trousers or skirts worn with a smart top (shirts, blouses, shells, etc)
  3. Jackets, blazers or cardigans to cover-up and keep you warm.
  4. Heels or pretty flats.

Things you should avoid include:

  1. Denim
  2. Ripped or distressed clothing
  3. Sweatpants
  4. Sneakers, flip-flops, Uggs or other very casual shoes.

Now over to our style squad for a bit of extra input:

Have you ever attended a graduation ceremony? What did you wear? 

Image © Marganz

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