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

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photos: Alison Cornell