What to Wear to a Graduation (Guests & Grads)

graduation dress outfit idea

Late spring and early summer bring so many celebrations to look forward to, including graduations! Whether you’re a graduate or are attending a graduation, I wanted to share what to wear to graduation and a few things to consider as you put together your outfit for the day.

what to wear for a graduation
what to wear to a graduation as a guest or graduation

What to Wear to Graduation

What to Wear If You’re the Graduate

When deciding what to wear to your own graduation, it’s helpful to remember a few things about the day that will impact your choices. You want to look your best, but there are other factors to consider, from the weather to the schedule of the day as a whole, and what type of surface you’ll be walking on (grass, for example).

So before we dive into graduation outfit examples, here are 4 things to keep in mind when deciding what to wear:

Remember you’ll be walking all day and choose shoes accordingly

One of the main things I remember about my college graduation is that it was a full day of walking. From my house off campus to the stadium for the ceremony to lunch afterwards, to friends houses for graduation parties, I probably walked 20,000 steps that day.

When choosing shoes to wear for graduation, we are looking for that diamond that is equal parts comfortable, stylish, and stable. This usually means a block heel or wedge (we don’t want any trips on stage) no higher than 3.5”.

I know that stilettos can be tempting, but you’ll likely be walking or standing on grass for family photos or as part of the ceremony. We want to avoid that heel grass sinkage if at all possible.

When in doubt, wear a dress

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what to wear to graduation, but when in doubt, wear a dress. You could choose a skirt/slacks and top or a dressy jumpsuit, but this is a celebration of your hard work, so it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

For a spring graduation ceremony, I recommend a white, pastel, or floral dress.

For a fall or winter graduation ceremony, I recommend a dark floral print or a seasonal, dark solid (navy, purple) dress.

Know where your gown will hit when choosing dress length

Most graduation gowns hit mid-calf or at the ankle, depending on how tall you are. You’ll feel very covered in your gown and graduation cap, and they can be a little heavy.

To make things easier on yourself, keep the length of your graduation dress shorter than your gown.

Avoid a maxi dress and opt for a knee length, mini, or midi dress instead. These will not only look better when you walk across the stage (no random colors or prints peeking out for pictures) but should keep you cool and be easier to move in.

Choose accessories that won’t get hidden

Necklaces and bracelets will get hidden under your robe, especially if you receive awards, flowers, or cords.

For the ceremony itself, I’d wear simple earrings that draw attention to your face. Classic studs are perfect, or you could choose statement earrings, but try to keep them less trendy as you’ll have your grad pictures forever.

Here’s an example of what to wear to your graduation and a few grad-appropriate dresses:

graduation dress outfit idea for graduates
graduation dress ideas for graduates

What to Wear to Graduation as a Guest

It’s better to be overdressed, but let the graduate shine

Most invitations will state the ceremony dress code, but if you’re unsure, it’s safe to assume conservative yet dressy attire. You’ll feel more comfortable dressed up than dressed down, and whatever you do, don’t wear jeans! 

That essentially leaves us working with a nice dress, a skirt with a blouse, or slacks with a blouse.

Keep the graduate the center of attention with your color and print choices. You can still wear florals, colors, and prints, but try to keep them a little more understated.

Keep it comfortable

Graduation ceremonies are long and if it’s an outdoor ceremony, the sun and heat can make them feel even longer.

Wear something you feel good in as you may be sitting for up to two hours. Avoid anything that’s too heavy, itchy, or tight.

Keep it cool or add a layer

Planning for the temperature of the ceremony is crucial! If it’s indoors, the A/C is usually blasting to accommodate for the crowd, so consider bringing a smart casual layer (dressy blazer, tailored cardigan, shawl).

If the ceremony is outdoors, weigh the temperature when choosing your outfit. Short sleeve or thin-strap dresses will be ideal in breathable fabrics like linen, cotton, rayon or a synthetic blend. If I knew I’d be sitting in direct sun, I’d bring sunglasses.

Here’s an example of what to wear to graduation as a guest and a few graduation guest dresses:

graduation dress outfit idea for guests
graduation dress ideas for guests

Graduation Style FAQs

Can you wear white? What are graduation colors?

Certain schools have traditions around what colors to wear for graduation day. In the south, it’s common to see graduates wear a white dress for the ceremony.

I don’t think you need to be beholden to a certain color as a guest or graduate, though. Whether it’s a middle school, high school, college, or grad school ceremony, it’s a celebration, so wear what feels good to you!

What should you wear to graduation? Is there anything you shouldn’t you wear?

Dresses are the safest bet for grads and graduation attendees if the invitation doesn’t state the dress code.

When choosing a dress for graduation, a good rule of thumb is that it should be more formal/dressier than a dress you’d wear on a picnic but not as dressy as a cocktail/semi-formal dress you’d wear to a wedding.

What should the mother of the graduate wear?

If I had a child graduating, I’d want to err on the side of demure to let my graduate shine on their special day. But that’s not to say that the mother of the graduate can’t have fun or express her personal style!

Moms of grads should wear a celebratory dress, skirt/slacks and blouse combo, or dressy jumpsuit in a seasonal print or color, but nothing so loud that it detracts attention from the graduate.

What should I wear to a graduation party?

For graduation parties hosted by a family or several families, I’d wear something on par with what you’d wear to a spring/summer baby shower or bridal shower. A sundress, conservative mini dress, or summery midi dress would be perfect.

Graduation parties that are hosted by the school, a club, or a sorority/fraternity are usually slightly more formal events. Always check for the dress code on the invitation, but business professional dress is a safe choice. For example, a sheath dress, a midi dress with a conservative neckline, or slacks with a blouse.