What to Wear to Baccalaureate and Graduation

Dressing Up for Those Big, Formal Ceremonies

Group of graduates with diplomas on university campus (differential focus)
Group of graduates. Thomas Barwick/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Are you looking forward to a graduation, baccalaureate, a senior recital or white coat ceremony? If you are, what to wear to such an important and celebratory event may be something you are wondering about. Should you dress up? Go more casual? Plan for cool or warm weather? Do men need ties? Do women wear heels?

Any and all of these milestone events are great photo opportunities for families. With brothers, sisters, grandparents and other extended family members in attendance, getting a good picture is always a good idea at gatherings like these. What you wear could be on display on the fireplace mantel for years to come - but don't just dress for a photo. You want to be comfortable, too.

Consider the school that your graduate attends. Some colleges and universities are much more low key when it comes to pomp and circumstance than others. While the day may be a momentous one, the fashion doesn't necessarily reflect the significance of the achievement. If your graduate attends school someplace that's very warm - Arizona, for example - being comfortable in the blazing sun and heat will be more important than looking dressed to the hilt. At more conservative schools, like those that are church-based, your clothing choice should be a little more subdued and refined.



Baccalaureate ceremonies are usually held in the campus chapel or another indoor venue, so the weather and walking surface shouldn't be an issue. While baccalaureate tends to be a bit dressier than the larger graduation ceremonies, that doesn't mean you have to wear high heels or a suit and tie. Dress as you would to attend a religious service for a special occasion, avoiding sneakers, flip flops, tank tops and other casual attire.


Graduation ceremonies offer significant climate challenges when they're held outdoors. There may be hours of blazing sun, gusty winds or inclement weather, so it's important to dress in layers, pack all those graduation survival essentials and adjust your wardrobe to something realistic. You may have to hike a considerable distance from your parking spot, or traverse the football field to reach a seat, heels sinking into the turf at every step. Sitting in the unrelenting sun or drizzle for hours is tough even in comfortable clothes.

So check out the logistics and weather report, and make your fashion decisions accordingly. A summer dress will look just as lovely with flats. A jacket and tie can be donned after the ceremony or skipped altogether.

If the ceremony is being held indoors, weather won't be an issue, of course, but the trek from the parking lot is still an issue, and gyms and auditoriums can be drafty. Bring a light jacket or shawl.

White Coat Ceremony

This formal ceremony marks a major rite of passage as medical or pharmaceutical students receive their first, official white coats. Parents are invited, officials make speeches, and flashbulbs pop and flare. It's a big deal. You'll want to dress accordingly - in conservative suits, dresses or business wear - and bring your camera.

Senior Recitals

Music majors celebrate the end of their four years of study with a senior recital that showcases their work. It's an important concert and one that typically features ensembles large and small. The concert is attended by fellow students and faculty, as well as extended family, friends and former music teachers. Musicians may wear a considerably more casual version of their usual concert attire, although the starring senior tends to wear something much more extravagant than their usual attire. Attendees can dress on the more casual side if they like, but within reason and with respect for the performers. 

As for parents, baccalaureate-style attire is appropriate, but it's also fine to wear something slightly less formal, especially if it has artistic style. You might not wear a fabulous, colorful kimono-style jacket to a church ceremony, for example, but it's perfect for a concert. That said, basic black is always chic too. Bear in mind that most parents host a post-concert reception. Unless you're having that catered, you're going to be doing significant pre-concert shlepping - moving tables, lugging crates and laying out trays of finger foods. 


Updated by Sharon Greenthal

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Burrell, Jackie. "What to Wear to Baccalaureate and Graduation." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-to-wear-baccalaureate-and-graduation-3570651. Burrell, Jackie. (2020, August 26). What to Wear to Baccalaureate and Graduation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-wear-baccalaureate-and-graduation-3570651 Burrell, Jackie. "What to Wear to Baccalaureate and Graduation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-wear-baccalaureate-and-graduation-3570651 (accessed May 30, 2023).