How to Dress for Graduation

About to graduate, and want to be completely prepared for the big day? Read on to learn what to wear to graduation!

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How to dress for graduation

While most of you are busy studying for finals and gearing up for summer vacation, some of you have something else on the horizon — GRADUATION!

While graduating college is exciting and a relief in some ways, it can also be a scary time in a girl’s life. Sure, you won’t miss the stress of exams, papers, and their associated all-nighters, but leaving the home and friends you’ve grown to love over the past 4 or 5 years is certainly bittersweet. Commencement is the main event of the month, and you’ll want to make sure you look AND feel your best during this exciting time — and CF is here to help!

About to graduate, and want to be completely prepared for the big day? Read on to learn what to wear to graduation!

Tips on What to Wear to Graduation:

Dress to impress.

You’ll be taking a ton — and I mean dozens and dozens — of photos. Today is not the day to sleep in and forget to shower. Pick out something conservative but still sassy to wear. You’ll want to look like the mature adult you’re about to become, but still look great and age-appropriate. Take the extra time to straighten or curl your hair, throw on a little concealer, and put your best face forward. Trust me — you’ll be thankful you did once those photos hit Facebook (or, are framed and placed over the fireplace at your parents’ house!).

Plan what to wear under your robe.

Some people assume that what they wear on graduation doesn’t matter because it will be covered up by a bulky robe. I completely disagree — wearing something great underneath your robe is important for several reasons:

  • First of all, you might not have time to change between the ceremony and dinner with your extended family, your best friend’s graduation rager, or your last night on the town with your best friends. You’ll want to have something on that’s cute and stylish so you can leave college with a bang.
  • Secondly, I have one tip for you all that I wish someone had told me a year ago when I graduated — wear a dress with pockets! Carrying a purse –even a cross-body bag — will look really strange while marching down the procession with 500+ of your classmates. Leave your wallet and such in your car (or with your parents if possible) and only keep your keys, phone, and a camera with you.
  • Also, it’s important to wear something somewhat sleek. A graduation robe will add enough bulk on its own, so a really full skirt will look strange under it. If a skin-tight bandage dress just isn’t your thing, look for relaxed-cute items that will be comfortable but not add any extra volume.
  • Lastly, check the weather. Nothing will cramp your style quite like freezing (or burning up) while you’re trying to listen to a graduation speech.

Cute dresses for graduation:

Products L-R: Red Ruffle Dress – Revolve, Lace Halter Dress – Nordstrom, Off-Shoulder Dress – Nordstrom, Black Dress – Revolve

Here are some cute options for graduation — none are crazy short or revealing and all of them are super pretty and practical. The black dress includes pockets, as well. If you want more graduation dresses, see our post on cute graduation dresses for every budget!

Consider footwear.

The only part of your outfit that people will be able to see is your shoes, so wear a cute, somewhat dressy pair, and be sure to paint your toenails, too! Sexy, sky-high stilettos might be a little inappropriate, but the occasion calls for something fancier than a pair of sandals or ballet flats.

I would recommend a pair of wedges or 2-3 inch heels — this way, you’ll look great but still be able to walk the long distance they’ll probably have you march. Be sure to break in your shoes and practice walking in them before the date arrives – the last thing you’d want to do is fall down or be uncomfortable during Commencement!

Cute shoes for graduation:

Products: Pumps – Sam Edelman, Cream Espadrilles – Castaner, Brown Espadrilles – Nordstrom, Black Wedges – Jessica Simpson

Step up your makeup.

Now is definitely not the day to experiment with new looks, but it’s not a bad idea to wear eyeliner, mascara, blush, and lipstick if you’re comfortable with it. This way, you’ll look great in the far-away pictures your parents will take from the audience!

For ideas on makeup for graduation, see our list of college makeup essentials. You can’t go wrong with something classic and pretty.

Have some fun!

Small pranks — like decorating your graduation cap (see our favorite graduation cap ideas for more!) or writing your fictitious Facebook middle name on the card you give to the announcer before walking across stage — can be a fun way to personalize your experience. Of course, this all depends on what kind of school you go to and what kind of rules have been laid out. Be sure to keep it very subtle though; don’t be the girl that brings a blow-up beach ball or blowhorn to the fancy event!

Graduation Outfit Idea

Graduation outfit idea: White dress, unicorn necklace, Kylie lip kit, Graduation cap bracelet, stacked rings, snakeskin espadrilles, blush pink nail polish

Products: Dress – Revolve, Necklace – Zappos, Lipstick – Kylie Cosmetics, Bracelet – Alex + Ani, Rings – Shopbop, Shoes – Nordstrom, Nail Polish – Essie

An outfit like this would be absolutely perfect to wear during commencement. This pretty dress is lightweight and won’t look bulky under your robe, but will still look great for any activity you’ll attend after the ceremony (plus, it has pockets!). Wedges like these will look great with your robe, but are easier to walk in and a little more dressy than spiky stilettos.

Soft, wavy hair will look amazing flowing out from underneath that funny looking graduation cap, and a medium pink lip color will flatter any skin tone. Finish with simple jewelry — be careful with earrings due to your cap, but you can’t go wrong with simple rings and a graduation-themed bracelet. This quirky necklace can easily be tucked underneath your graduation robe during the ceremony, but it’s a super cute and not-so-serious accessory for afterwards.

More Graduation Day Outfit Ideas

Graduation outfit idea: Floral midi dress in yellow, blue and taupe, rose gold and blue bracelet, espadrille wedges, rose gold tassel earrings

Need more ideas for what to wear to graduation? We’ve got you covered. Look no further than these other College Fashion articles:


Are you about to graduate? What are you most nervous about? Have you already graduated? What advice to you have for other seniors? Are you having a graduation party? What are you most excited for? Leave a comment and continue the discussion!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2012; it was completely updated and revamped in 2019 with new photos, products, and information.

18 thoughts on “How to Dress for Graduation”

  1. I am 39, and graduating in ONE WEEK for my Associate’s Degree in Business Management and Accounting. Yes, I’m on the older side…but hey, it’s never too late to get an education! I have literally cried over what I am going to wear. I have never even been to anyone’s graduation (no, not even my own. I was a HS dropout). I have a long formal gown, with no sequins or glitter, in bland colors (chocolate & ivory). I think, to describe it, it would be a gown to wear to a formal Navy Ball, if that helps you picture it. Do you all think that will be fine to wear? I am scared of getting there (across the country) and looking stupid. Please help!

  2. i dont know if i should buy dress shoes and make make up because it is just another day in life. yes you should like but isnt it general rule to look nice ?

  3. I will be graduating college in 8 days and cannot wait. I already have everything set from my hair to my dress, but would like to say thank you for taking the time to write this blog.

  4. my college graduation is on the way it’s going to be an outdoor event on the school grounds mainly grass and a little concrete what shoes are best…and about the dress what is best a dress ofr a blouse/ skirt/ pants

  5. I think wedges are a good idea but the ones pictured don’t look all that easy to walk in.
    My school requires that we arrive an hour early and we have to stand the whole time BEFORE we are seated. I’m wearing flats to save myself the inevitable body aches that will accompany heels, even if they are only 3 or 4 inches.

  6. Just remember that, depending where you are, it can get really really hot.. Also, if you want to wear heels, consider wedges. They are much more comfortable than pumps and easier to walk in.

  7. I graduate college in 15 days. Still no dress. Ahh! Already know what shoes I’m going for, though. Wedges are my best friend!

    You should do more outfit inspirations for graduation! 🙂

  8. I used to work for a company selling graduation wear in the UK. I don’t know if it’s the same in the states, but I would second Natalie’s comment about wearing buttons (or bringing a brooch, pin or badge), as it allows you to keep the gown/hood in the right place.

    I won’t be graduating myself for a few years but I love the outfit suggestion!

  9. For my high school graduation, I wore black cigarette pants, forest green suede wedge heels, a creme chiffon pussy bow blouse, and a gold/pearl statement bracelet and chunky ring.
    It was comfortable, different, and ultra posh!

  10. The shoe tip is a perfect. At my high school graduation i tripped and fell right on my backside while going to get my diploma. Make sure your comfortable in your shoes and you can walk in them 🙂


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