Dressing for Graduation—What to Wear Under Your Gown

Decide Whether Casual or Formal Dress Is the Best Choice for You

Graduation outfit

Graduation is a festive occasion - and one with surprisingly few rules when it comes to how you dress or what you wear. While thinking what you wear under your gown may not seem important, the ceremony is still a big occasion in your life. Follow these guidelines for how to dress for graduation, whether casual or formal, and you'll enjoy your big day with both comfort and dignity.

  1. Consider the ability to dry clean what you wear. A fact that they don't always tell you is that many gowns bleed color if they get wet or even hot. So don't wear something you care about too much in case it gets dye on it. It may not come out even if you do dry clean your outfit, and big stains look bad in pictures.
  2. Consider the weather. My high school graduation was unbelievably hot. My sister's college graduation was so cold that my whole family was huddling under blankets with coats on, and we were all wearing long sleeves to begin with. Be sure to watch the weather reports in the days ahead of the ceremony. It may drastically change what you plan on wearing.
  3. See if your school has a dress code. Some schools might not care what you wear while others may have strict dress codes for wearing formal wear. Before you make any decisions, consult your school's policy. No matter what the policy is, you will likely still be comfortable if you choose the right fabrics. If the weather is supposed to be warm, choose cottons or silks, or blends of these fabrics. If it's going to be cold (or rainy), choose a lightweight wool or a wool blend.
  4. Clearance Shoes!

  5. graduation dressDress for the occasion. I was at a graduation where a girl wore a dress that made her look like a bridesmaid, not a graduate. All of her classmates were dressed in clothes that were more along the lines of nice business wear, and this girl looked completely out of place. Floor-length formal wear isn't appropriate (or practical). Even if you have a formal event planned for later in the day, view the two events as separate occasions and dress accordingly for both.
  6. Don't underdress. Even if the ceremony just seems like something you have to attend before you party all weekend, recognize the dignity of the occasion.
  7. Dress with versatility. Obviously it's kind of hard to take off a jacket or sweater from under a gown, but you can probably assess the temperature of the site when you get there and ditch a second layer if you need to before the ceremony begins.
  8. Dress appropriately. For men, a suit or a blazer and nice chinos work well under a gown. If it's hot, a nice dress shirt (with or without tie) and lightweight wool pants are also appropriate. If it's cold, a sweater over a dress shirt will keep you warm enough. Women have a broad range of choices. Pants are certainly fine, as are skirts and dresses. One thing to keep in mind is the length of your gown and the length of your skirt/dress. If you can request or tailor your gown, try to get it a little longer than your skirt. Your pictures will look better and you won't look sloppy in person. Additionally, if you have your gown tailored to a reasonable length, it gives you the option of wearing shorts if it's really hot - just make sure they are of a decent length and remember the dye rule: bad on your clothes, but you don't want it on your skin, either. It'll take days to scrub that stuff off!
  9. Mind your jewelry. A piece or two is nice, but make sure that your earrings aren't too intricate - getting your tassel caught on an earring can hurt!
  10. Think about your shoes. High heels won't work on grass or gravel. You may also be standing for a long time before the ceremony or have to walk a long distance for the processional. Male or female, make sure you have sure footing in your shoes, especially if there is a chance of rain. Slipping as you reach for your diploma doesn't make for the best photo opp.
  11. Assess your silhouette. An A-line skirt holds the line of a gown well, but if it's too stiff, then it might make you look pear-shaped. If you want a broader or more defined shoulder line, consider a blazer.
  12. If nothing else works, get changed immediately after the ceremony. Wear something that is reasonably acceptable-looking under your gown and get changed before post-ceremony pictures. Add a tie or jacket, a sweater, or change from shorts to a skirt. You'll be comfortable and your parents will be pleased to see you dressed up.

Graduation should be a fun occasion, so make sure you're comfortable. It's also a dignified occasion, so be sure your clothes don't detract from the solemness of the day. Regardless of what clothes you choose, wear you cap and gown with pride and make sure to have a good time!


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