What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony

For the past few years, I’ve had a lot of requests for what to wear to a graduation ceremony and the surrounding events. I guess it’s a reflection of my age and that of many of you, my dear readers!

Well, last spring, my oldest child graduated from high school, and I paid very close attention to what people were wearing at his graduation ceremony so I could report back.

I was actually disappointed with my own outfit at my son’s graduation. I was warned that high school graduation ceremonies tend to be quite casual. Plus I was worried about wearing a dress while climbing up and down the bleachers so I opted for pants, a blouse, and a cute jacket.

I was fine, but when I look back at pictures, I don’t love what I was wearing. And as I took note of the other moms coming into the arena that night, the ones that stood out to me and looked super pretty and pulled together were wearing dresses.

The bleachers didn’t seem to hinder anyone, and while there were certainly plenty of people in more casual attire, it seemed that dressier options were more prevalent. If I could do it again… or, um, when I do it again, I will wear something more like this.

I came across this striped ruched sheath dress when I was shopping at Nordstrom a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that it would be perfect for a graduation because it walks the line between casual and dressy, plus it’s stretchy and comfortable for hours of sitting.

This dress comes from the Nordstrom-exclusive 1901 brand, named for the year they opened their first Nordstrom store.

You get a lot of bang for your buck with Nordstrom-exclusive brands because you aren’t paying extra for a label, and they make good quality clothing and accessories in fresh, modern styles. I’ve been pleased with just about everything I’ve tried from the 1901 line, as well as their Caslon and Halogen lines.

I particularly love the side ruching detail on this dress. I wear a lot of dresses in this style, and there’s a good reason for that! It’s figure-flattering and very forgiving for those of us who have a few extra lumps and bumps we want to disguise.

Jo-Lynne Shane wearing 1901 Ruched Stripe Sheath Dress with Nordstrom

This dress does the ruching particularly well, and the material itself is a nice, thick, stretchy cotton. The website indicates that it runs true to size, but I actually sized up to a 10, and I like the way it fits. It’s not quite as body-con and gives me some wiggle room.

Graduations often happen in May and June, when the weather is a bit unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to bring a layer. You could easily throw a denim jacket or cardigan on top of this dress, and it would still be appropriate for the festivities.

What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony: 1901 Ruched Stripe Sheath Dress with Steve Madden Esmeralda Slide Sandal and Tory Burch McGraw Hobo

The other thing to keep in mind when dressing for a graduation ceremony is your footwear. I went with these shoes for two reasons. First, I love the bright pop of yellow against the navy dress. If your school colors are blue and gold, it would be even more perfect!

But more importantly, if the graduation is outdoors, you will likely be walking on grass or astroturf at some point. The last thing you want to be wearing is a pair of stilettos. A wedge or block heel is far more conducive to walking on soft surfaces.

Steve Madden Esmeralda Slide Sandals

These mules offer the height I want to keep the look dressed-up, but with the stability of a block heel. They run true to size, or size down half if you have narrow feet.

A good option for those who prefer a lower heel is this 2″ block heel ankle strap sandal. It also comes in this bold yellow, or you could go with the tan or mauve as well.

What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony: 1901 Ruched Stripe Sheath Dress with Steve Madden Esmeralda Slide Sandal and Tory Burch McGraw Hobo

My accessories are from the new Kendra Scott summer collection. Both are pretty and modern, but still understated.

This filigree bracelet has an interesting tapered shape to it, and it comes in silver, gold, and rose gold. You could layer it with other pieces, but I chose to keep things simple and wear it alone.

And I’m totally in love with these hammered gold disc earrings. They’re large without being oversized, and they have a modern but classic look about them that works perfectly with this dress.

Finally, I carried my ivory hobo because it works well with the dress, and because it’s a nice size for an event that may last several hours. It won’t take up a ton of room in your seat, but it’s large enough to carry the odds and ends you might need over the course of the evening.

Plus the style matches the formality of the occasion — it has that dressed-up casual vibe that is so versatile.

Of course everyone’s dress code will vary a bit based on location and the culture of the area in which you live, but I feel like an outfit like this is a pretty safe bet for most graduations. You shouldn’t feel overdressed or underdressed in something like this, and it’s comfortable and practical while still befitting the occasion.

Outfit Details:

1901 Ruched Stripe Sheath Dress // Steve Madden Esmeralda Slides // Kendra Scott Didi Disc Earrings // Kendra Scott Uma Filigree Bracelet //  Tory Burch McGraw Leather Hobo

This post contains affiliate links. When you shop through my links, it helps support my business (at no additional cost to you) so thank you!

photos: Alison Cornell

Join the Conversation

25 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony

  1. Last weekend we sat through my second daughter’s graduation from the University of Colorado.  I wore sweats, snow boots, a scarf and a heavy coat!  It started snowing the night before and snowed through the whole ceremony!  Google it — made the Today show news!  The students even had a snowball fight!  It was fun, and funny and VERY MEMORABLE!  We were blessed to all be together and able to go no matter what the weather!   Love these rites of passage!

    1. We live in Colorado and were laughing at those photos!! I bet that was SO fun, although I’m a little glad I was inside!! Ha ha!!

  2. Dang!  Our number three graduates tonight from his masters program and the colors would have been perfect for our alma mater!  (I still have two more to go with our youngest, so I’d love to try this dress.)

    As a very experienced graduation attender, I can say you’re spot on that much of the crowd is on the more casual side.  And I have to say, while walking in I always feel like our family is a little overdressed.  But eventually I re-think what a special occasion it is and don’t regret it.  

    I think you can pretty much wear anything and find you’re in good company…  Your shoe tip is excellent!  

  3. LOVE this dress and you look terrific in it!!! Also love the pop of yellow in your shoes! If I were 25 yrs younger, I’d snatch that dress up in a flash!! I’m MUCH older than you but I still enjoy seeing good fashion on you younger girls.

  4. That is a perfect graduation outfit.  I would pair it with a white denim jacket.    The mules are the perfect touch.  Love it all!

  5.  Very nice outfit!  The dress does looks like it would be very comfortable.  And I love the pop of yellow from your shoes.  It was 46 when I got up just a little bit ago, which I love.  This is day 2 of us not needing the central air, but it will have to be turned back on tonight.  Enjoy your hair appointment and have an awesome day!

  6. I. Love. Everything. About. This. Outfit.
    The bag, the shoes, the dress, the jewelry… all so fabulous and should be worn together, no substitutions. Thanks Jo-Lynne!

  7. What a stunning outfit!  That dress looks great on you & I love that pop of color on the shoes!  Thanks for the tip on the TB sale.  Now the big decision, to buy or not to buy??  Would you say the TB bag is about the same size as the Dana Buchman one you styled from Kohl’s?  My ideal size is a medium tote as I don’t carry a whole lot in a handbag!  Hair cut & color for me today as well!  However, I’m on the every 6 weeks schedule but could really go every 5 weeks!  #makingthatcolorlast

    Enjoy your day!  

    1. No, I don’t think the Tory Burch is nearly as big — it’s a great everyday size for women who don’t carry a ton. Sometimes it’s a little on the small size for me, but I’m a tote girl through and through. 🙂

  8. I hope you keep this dress Jo-Lynne. It’s amazing on you and truly can be worn casually or for dress up I would think. And the yellow shoes with it?? I’m just in love!!!

  9. Love this outfit…and you look great! As always your style is on point. I’m def thinking of buying the TB bag. Does it slouch a lot at the top or does it hold its shape pretty well? Have a great day! 😊

    1. It totally holds its shape. It’s not slouchy at all. If you don’t snap it, it stays wide open — which is a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it, but it doesn’t bother me. I love how easy it is to get in and out of, but when I fasten it, nothing falls out.

  10. Thanks so much for the heads-up on Nordstrom’s 1901 and Caslon brands. I really haven’t considered shopping at Nordstrom because there isn’t a store convenient to me but I will now. I really like what 1901 and Caslon offer and the styling ideas they offer is nice too.

  11. Hi Jo-Lynne!
    What a comfortable, classy outfit and you look lovely!
    I was wondering if you could share some of your all-time favs from Stella & Dot? My daughter is having a Shop For A Cause night to benefit an organ donation organization on behalf of my 18 month old granddaughter who passed away unexpectedly a year and a half ago. I live out of state from her so I cannot attend the party in person. Anyhow, I thought of you because of your affiliation and know that any recommendation you make would be solid.
    Much Appreciated,
    Mary Ellen 💜

  12. The dress is perfect on you. You could even wear it with strappy sandals to dress it up some or pair it with runners & a Jean jacket for casual. It’s like the LBD! Sadly, it would be too short on 5’8” frame. 😢 

  13. I think these days it’s anything goes for graduations. I’d prefer to heir on the dressier side too, though. We’ve been through 3 graduations so far and I’ve done 2 dresses/1 pants. I didn’t like what I wore to our sons college graduation because I had to wear a dress I’d just thrown in my suitcase for a different occasion. I’d bought a cute lace dress from Loft, and the weather wasn’t cooperating. This dress would be a great option!

  14. Those shoes really MAKEk the outfit. I love shoes so much because they always fit – unlike my clothes – I usually have about 3 sizes hanging in my closet! I do have a style question for you: are the white ceramic watches “out”? I have one by Michael Kors, and still think it looks fresh for spring and summer … but has this trend passed? Thanks and I love your blog!

Want More?