What to wear to a graduationIt’s graduation season!

If you or someone you know is graduating this year, you may be wondering what to wear.

The answer?

It depends on the time, location, and formality of the graduation ceremony.  They’re not all created equal.  

Let’s take a closer look:


Graduation ceremonies held in the morning or afternoon (before 6 pm) tend to be less formal than evening ceremonies.

Just like weddings and cocktail parties, fancier dress it typically required after 6 pm.


What to wear to a graduationGraduations in cities and big towns tend to be more formal than those held in the suburbs or in rural areas.


If the ceremony is held outside, there are several things to consider:

The Weather

If it’s raining, you’ll need an umbrella.  If it’s cool, you’ll need a sweater. If it’s hot, you’ll need sun screen, sunglasses, and probably a sun hat.

Check the forecast before you leave home so you know what to expect.

How Far You’ll Need to Walk

If the ceremony location is a long walk from where you park your car, you’ll need shoes that can go the distance over gravel, concrete, or grass.

Don’t wear too high a heel, too thin a heel (you’ll aerate the turf), or fabric shoes that can be stained by freshly-mowed grass. 

Instead, opt for a low-heeled, closed-toe shoe that works well with your ensemble. 

You can change into your “strutting shoes” for the graduation party afterward, but opt for practicality if you’ll be walking a quarter mile or half a mile to a stadium.  Your feet will thank your for it later.


If the ceremony is held indoors, again there are a few things to consider:

Building Temperature

Large gathering spaces tend to be either too hot or too cold.  Rarely are they “just right.”

So opt for layers.  Have a sweater handy if the air conditioning makes it too cold; take it off if the crush of people makes it too hot.

How Far You’ll Need to Walk

Again, consider the distance you’ll be walking from your car to the ceremony when selecting your shoes.  Opt for comfortable shoes for the walk and change into your “cute” shoes later.


Kindergarten, Grade School, and Junior High graduations tend to be more casual than those for high school or college.  As a guest, opt for a cute casual dress or a blouse and skirt (or trousers).

High school ceremonies can be casual or semi-formal, depending on the school.  Wear a casual dress or a blouse and skirt (or trousers) for a public high school, a semi-formal dress or a pastel social suit for a private high school.

College or university graduation ceremonies can also be casual or semi-formal, depending on the school.  Wear a casual dress or blouse and skirt (or trousers) for a community college or public university; wear a semi-formal dress or social suit for a private college or a prestigious or Ivy League school. 

Professional or Military School ceremonies tend to require semi-formal attire. If you’re going to watch a doctor, lawyer, or officer collect his or her diploma, opt for a semi-formal dress or social suit.



Most graduations involve the ceremony followed by a social gathering at the school or at a relative’s house. Wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable, allow you to move and eat freely, and that you can wear for several hours.





Wardrobe MagicFinally, remember that these kinds of milestones mean lots of pictures, so opt for clothing colors and styles that are flattering to your skin tone and figure. If you’re not sure what’s right for you, download a copy of Wardrobe Magic to find out.

    2 replies to "What to Wear to A Graduation"

    • Janet

      Tonight we attended our daughter’s 5th grade promotion celebration. The school had sent home instructions about what to wear. The boys were to wear long pants and a dress shirt. The girls were to wear a dress or skirt and blouse with no lingerie showing. By and large the kids did well. The parents on the other hand, did not. The school requested that the parents wear business causal. Only about 60 percent of the parents opted to follow those instructions. Do these parents really not understand that faded blue jeans, tennis shoes, Birkenstocks, flip flops, t-shirts with athletic logos and ball caps do not constitute business casual? Where do these people work?

      • Diana

        Hi Janet,

        I’ve never understood the “do as little as you can get away with” attitude, but it’s everywhere. My parents taught me that you should always leave things better than you found them. I wonder what kind of message these folks are sending THEIR kids? Sad.

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