Ask Belle: Graduation Attire

Apr 16, 2012

This time of year is a very repetitive one for the Ask Belle inbox. Every other email asks either “What should I wear to my college/law school/biz school graduation?” or “What do I wear to a summer wedding?”  So I’m going to save myself a LOT of trouble and just do one Ask Belle post on each.  This week, graduation attire.

Don’t Forget About the Cap and Gown. When choosing graduation attire, don’t forget that you’ll also be wearing a cap and gown made of cheap polyester.  If you’re indoors, you may be grateful for the protection from the air conditioning.  However, if you’re outside, you might as well be wearing your own personal sweat lodge.

I recommend that graduates choose natural fibers, avoid satin and silk and skip the sky-high high heels (You always end up walking and standing more than you thought.). 

Also, don’t spend an hour doing your hair until you consider what your mortar board is going to do to your coif.  I recommend wearing your hair down in a loose wave for the ceremony.  Otherwise, you risk ruining your hair for pictures afterwards.

Think About the Photos. Much like your wedding pictures, you will have these photos for the rest of your life.  (Unless, like me, your Father deletes them all from his camera because technology isn’t his friend.) So you need to think about how you’ll look in the pictures.  Here are a few things to avoid:

Strapless dresses: You’ll look naked in head shots.

Neons, big prints and sequins: This is an occasion for timeless colors and patterns.

Big earrings: No large hoops, chandeliers or giant zircon studs.  They’ll be too overwhelming in head shots.

Runway makeup: Save the smoky eyes, neon lips and other trends for another time.  Neutral shades and natural makeup is best for graduation.

Keep It Appropriate. Every time I go to a graduation, I run into the same problem: girls dressed like they’re going to the club.  Body con dresses, miniskirts, 5″+ stilettos, halter tops, etc.  When choosing a graduation outfit, ask yourself one question: Can I wear this to a religious service with my Grandma?

Oh, and wear underwear.  When I finished college, one of my fellow grads decided to go commando and was more than a little surprised when a sudden breeze exposed her to an entire parking lot full of families.

WWBW, What Would Belle Wear. My college graduation was in a huge arena, so I knew I would be freezing. So I wore a white suit with a black blouse underneath.  If I had it to do over, I would probably wear a dress similar to the ones below.

From the Left, ModCloth In the Mood Dress ($75), Aqua Cross Front Dress ($79), J.Crew Basket Weave Shift Dress ($148)

I would probably add a skinny belt to all three of these (red for the first one, metallic or snake for the other two).  I’d add a cardigan (red) to the first dress. I’d wear bangle bracelets with the second one.  And I’d wear a statement necklace with the third dress, likely gold or turquoise.

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  1. Trish says:

    I can't wait for the wedding one… I'm only sad that I didn't read this graduation one a couple years ago, 5 inch heels were a poor choice as a I all but limped across the stage to get my degree.

  2. Shannon says:

    I don't even remember what I wore under my cap and gown – most likely because all you could really see was an arresting swarm of Carolina blue. It was like standing in a huge group of monk-Smurfs.

  3. Ellie says:

    Belle can you do a Gold Cup post? I saw yours from last year, just looking for other ideas (esp dresses). What are your thoughts on maxi dresses for GC? I figured they'd make it easier to sit down..

  4. Mel says:

    I am graduating law school next month and totally needed this post. Thanks!

  5. Stephanie says:

    Love all of these. This is such great advice for graduations, too. I kept it simple with my law school graduation and went with a lavender halter dress. I'm so glad I did. Some of my friends went with the trendier strapless dresses, glam make up, bold earrings, etc and even though graduation was just a couple years ago, the outfits already look dated.

  6. Theresa says:

    Belle,

    Do you think the aqua middle dress would be appropriate for a summer wedding (ceremony is 1:30, cocktails and reception start at 5) if you jazzed it up with heels and jewelry? Since the ceremony is early and in a church, I want to look daytime ready and a bit modest. Also I just love that you can wear a real bra with this dress – I'm fairly busty.

    Thanks (and amazing find, the dress is darling)!

  7. JAS1 says:

    Looking back at my law school grad photos, one thing I wish I'd done differently is think about how my shoes and dress looked with my cap and gown. The strappy brown-and-cork sandals and green-and-white floral dress both kind of clashed with the purple, black, and red of my graduation regalia, and both were visible around the hem and neckline of my gown. So I recommend thinking about how your outfit will look peeping out around the edges of the gown.

    ALSO – I am with Belle 500% on re-thinking heels. It was exremely hot and humid on my graduation day, and I ended up having to trek across campus from the ceremony to the reception. Sweaty feet = painful blisters. So take that into account!

  8. JA says:

    Belle – I'm so happy you like dresses from Dorothy Perkins. I have shopped at their stores in England, but I didn't know they had an online store until you linked to them. I have some advice for people wanting to order from them: the sizes are NOT really American sizes, no matter what the website makes you think.

    The first time I ordered, I chose my American size, which is a 6. I'm 5'5'' and I weigh 130lbs. I am ALWAYS a 6 here. But when the dresses came, they were UK size 10, which is very very snug on me. I had to return the dresses and reorder, this time choosing an “American” size 8, which corresponds on their website to a UK size 12. I KNOW I'm a UK size 12, so this whole thing could have been avoided, but my advice is to triple-check their measuring charts, and if you're on the fence, order a size larger than your regular American size, because the conversions that Dorothy Perkins uses tend to run small on the UK side.

  9. Katy says:

    Unfortunately quite a smug comment but I was incredibly lucky that my university regulated what we wore to graduation. Black knee length skirt, white blouse, black shoes, black tights (I went with nude, as did many others). At least the photos will never date…

  10. Cara says:

    I second JAS1 on considering how your clothes and shoes look with your cap and gown. When I see my college photo, I notice my terrible, clunky shoes (which were in style at the time) before anything else. I got it together for my law school graduation. Black and white dress with black shoes.

    As someone with naturally curly hair, I found that pulling my hair half up worked best with the cap. If you leave it down, your hair will stick out on the sides. If you pull it up, you risk looking bald.

  11. XF says:

    Seriously people, don't even think about big prints, even if the shape is classic. Don't do it! I wore a sheath dress with a simple but big navy and white print and in all my pictures I look 25 pounds heavier than I was. Also, get your dresses tailored! I wish someone had told me. Now I'm stuck with embarassing pictures from a happy day.

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