Everybody looks forward to their graduation from university. It marks the end of an important era in your life but also the beginning of an exciting new phase. But there’s one thing few people actually think about until closer to the date: what are you meant to wear under that graduation gown?

It’s not an easy garment to pair with many outfits. The collar and mortar board make accessorising a little trickier. So here are some of our top tips and inspiration for graduation outfits.

The official regalia

Graduate Woman In A Classic Outfit

Let’s start with the basics because, in some respects, your graduation ensemble is chosen for you. A crucial part of graduation is donning the unique costume that has been embraced by graduates for centuries. Don’t worry: you can usually hire your graduation gown for the event. 

This academic dress includes a robe, a mortar board or bonnet, and a stole or hood. In Australia, the robe is typically worn openly while the graduation hood is usually lined with satin in the colour designated to your level and area of study. This adds a burst of colour to an all-black outfit.

Depending on the level of study you’ve completed, you’ll likely also wear a mortar board or bonnet. The mortar board or graduation cap has a sculpted crown topped by a flat, square board and tassel. The bonnet is usually reserved for PhD graduates and features a soft body surrounded by a broad rim, completed with a double-tasselled coloured cord. 

Important tips on what to wear to your graduation ceremony

A graduation ceremony, including any preliminary events and after parties, is likely to involve a lot of running around. You’ll be moving between family and friends and across the stage in front of everyone.

Considering how much you’ll be on the move, it’s important you’re dressed comfortably. Be sure you’re wearing an outfit you’ll be comfortable in both sitting and standing. And since you’ll have your moment in the spotlight, make sure you’re completely comfortable and confident in your shoes. 

Most importantly, be aware of any specific rules or regulations dictated by your university. Some institutions will be more strict than others, so it’s best to read up on the guidelines before you start planning your whole outfit. 

It’s common sense, but as a general rule it’s best not to rock up to your graduation in casualwear. That includes shorts, jeans, hoodies or sweaters, shorts, or tank tops. This is also one occasion where you should keep the sneakers or thongs at home.

Graduation outfit ideas for women

Graduate Woman In A White Dress

The traditional graduation fashion for women is a standard, crisp white blouse and black slacks or a skirt. This outfit makes sense; the buttons help you secure your heavy gown, the ensemble is comfortable, and the monochrome look complements the official regalia. 

But fashions are broadening and many women are subtly changing the traditional look with little adjustments or all-out rebellion. 

Consider embracing one single colour with a plain black or white dress. This doesn’t have to be simple; you can include floral stitching, crochet, or lace to add a touch of elegance. 

Your dress doesn’t have to be black or white either, as long as it complements the gown and the colour of your hood. Consider a statement colour you can match your accessories to or why not go for a beautiful polka dot pattern - something edgy but understated?

Your shoes and accessories are where you can make your outfit stand out. Now is not the best opportunity to try stilettos for the first time! You might want to save those sky-high heels for another time and opt for mid-height or low block heels instead. Alternatively, it’s completely acceptable to wear an elegant pair of flats.

How to accessorise your graduation outfit

Graduate Woman Accessories

Let’s face it, your outfit will be predominantly black once you’ve donned the gown and mortar board. So accessories can go a long way to help you personalise your image.

A splash of bold lipstick is a great way to add some contrast against the darkness of the mortar board. Why not match the colour to your nail polish?

Jewellery is always a good choice but it’s best to keep it simple around the neckline, where you’re likely to have your gown secured. Instead, where a ring or bracelet that reflects your own personal style. 

Finally, you’ll likely want a clutch or small bag to store your phone and other necessities. Neutral and metallic accessories look stunning against a white dress. Or you can find a bag in a colour that complements your hood. 

Graduation outfit ideas for men

Graduate Man In A Stylish Outfit

Men have it a little easier, since they’re usually expected to wear suit pants with a nice long-sleeved shirt and an optional tie. Pants in a dark colour look good against a light, crisp shirt. 

A stylish look is to match your tie to the colour of your graduation hood. This outfit is easy to cap off with comfortable leather shoes.

Are you ready to graduate?

Your graduation should be a day to remember! So the most important rule is to be comfortable and have fun. 

Get some more inspiration with these graduation hairstyling tips or get ready to party with this epic graduation song playlist