5 Cool-Girl Looks That Won't Clash With Your Graduation Gown

After you’ve moved on from the stress of classes and your last final exams of college, there’s one more thing you have to figure out: what you’re going to wear at graduation. It’s high stakes. These commencement pictures are going to be ones you have forever. Your mom will probably pull them out at every family gathering, and the Instagram feed of everyone you know will be filled with them for about a week following the actual ceremony. One you get a real job and haven’t seen your best friends in a few months, graduation photos will be the go-to for those infamous happy birthday Instagram stories. This outfit will be immortalized forever, and it needs to be perfect.

Most likely, your graduation gown will be closed as you walk across the stage to accept your diploma, so it’s mostly about what’ll look good in the photos after. Erica Kam, a sophomore at Barnard College says that the most important thing to remember when picking out an outfit for under your gown is that “you’re probably not going to be taking your robes off for many, if any, of the pictures you take, so you want something that won’t clash with them (since they’re the more important part of your outfit)!”

Aside from avoiding colors that clash with your gown and following your school’s dress code (if it has one), pretty much anything goes! As long as you look good and feel good, your options are almost completely open. But with that much choice, you might need a little help narrowing down your options. Here are some of the best tips for looking as good as (finally) graduating feels.

  1. 1. A white sundress

    The classic choice for under a graduation robe, a simple white sundress goes with any gown color. Most people will wear white at graduation, so it’s always a safe choice. Audrey Lent, a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, says “I wore a white dress since it was required by my school. It was a knee length, a-line dress made of eyelet lace that looked really nice, but it was also light and flowy, so I wouldn’t get hot during graduation.”

    If you’re going with white, since it’s the most common choice for graduation dresses, you might want to make it stand out a bit. Whether you wear a unique silhouette, add some fun accessories, or an unexpected fabric, wearing something different makes your choice a little less expected.

    You could wear something like this lace v-neck dress from H&M ($49.99) that has a mix of see-through and opaque white lace, or you could wear something completely different. You can wear this dotted shirtdress from Madewell ($118) that takes the formal button-down-shirt style and makes it more playful with lace trim and raised polka dot details. Another option is this button-front, cinched-waist dress from Zara ($69.90) that’s made a bit more excited with an asymmetric hem and large buttons.

  2. 2. A tea-length dress

    Most people will wear a short dress with their graduation gown, but I think a long dress can actually look really interesting with a graduation gown. Seeing a little bit of your dress peeking out underneath your gown is a way to show off your personal style even when you’re walking across the stage with your gown closed. At my graduation, my gown was black, and I wore a floral dress that hit at about mid-calf. It was the exact same length as my gown, so you could see a bit of the dress underneath when I walked.

    If you’re wearing something that’s a bit longer, you definitely want it to match with your gown, so make sure that the patterns and the colors work well together. A delicate floral pattern won’t be too distracting in your graduation photos, and light, airy fabrics are perfect for the warm weather.

    Wrap dresses are always a great choice because they’re just dressy enough without being as formal as a gown. Floral-patterned ones like this one from Gap ($79.75) are a bit more casual—perfect for a more laid-back graduation ceremony. But if your graduation is on the dressier side, a long lace dress like this one from H&M ($79.99), or a dress in a nicer fabric like this yellow ruffled one from Zara ($29.90) could be a better option.

  3. 3. Statement pants

    Although it’s the norm to wear a dress at graduation, rules are meant to be broken. Statement pants can be just as dressy, if not dressier, than a sundress, and can often be more fun. Just like longer dresses, one upside of wearing pants is that you can see them peeking out under the bottom of your gown. Whether you wear something slim and tailored, wide-legged or flowy, statement pants are a great way to set yourself apart in a sea of other graduates who are wearing the exact same thing.

    You could go for a bit of an understated statement with a single-toned flare pant like these pull-on ones from Madewell ($79.50) (extra points for comfort), or you could go all-out with an over-the-top pattern like oversize polka dots or bright florals. Paired with a plain blouse, these floral pants from H&M ($24.99) are sure to set you apart from the pack, as will these striped ($29.90) and polka dot ($39.90) ones from Zara.

  4. 4. Matching skirt and top

    Some might say that wearing a crop top and skirt at graduation is a bit risky. But since your gown is closed, you’ve got nothing to lose. Antoinette Luna, University of Puerto Rico ‘20, wore a two-piece outfit at her graduation. “It was much more comfortable and inexpensive than getting a full length dress or a gown. The robes at my school were zipped up so it didn't super matter what we wore!”

    If pictures of your graduation outfit are going to follow you everywhere, you might as well look super cute in them—and this outfit combination gives you almost complete freedom in how you do that. You can wear anything from bright patterns to more muted colors. You can wear a breezy, easy cotton skirt and top, or you can wear a tailored skirt and structured tank.

    Separates like this striped skirt set from ASOS ($27) is cute without being too revealing, and although the tops in this linen skirt set ($35) and this red button-down set ($25) from Nasty Gal are a bit more revealing, the longer skirts allow you to get away with it.

  5. 5. A full-length jumpsuit

    Jumpsuits are just like statement pants, but they expand the fun to your whole outfit rather than relegating the print or pattern to just your pants. Aside from the general problem of being extremely inconvenient to use the bathroom in, jumpsuits are an easy outfit to put together without having to consider too many components. Like a dress, all you need is one thing: the jumpsuit itself. After years of hard work in high school, the last thing you need to stress over is putting together a complicated outfit. Just add some accessories and a killer pair of shoes and you’re good to go.

    This white lace jumpsuit from Topshop ($100) will work well if you’re not ready to give up the classic graduation-white, but want to wear something unique. You could also wear a floral jumpsuit like this one from ASOS ($51), or something more casual like this polka dot one from Old Navy ($36).  

  6. 6. What patterns, prints and colors to wear:

    While you have so much choice in the silhouettes and styles you can wear underneath your graduation gown, you might forget how important it is to pick the right colors and patterns.One think you have to make sure is that your outfit complements your graduation gown. Although that might be hard with some school colors, you’ll thank yourself when they look great together in the pictures.

    In terms of prints, delicate patterns are probably the safest bet, especially when you have a school color that’s hard to match. If you wear a floral in a color combo that completely clashes with your gown, it’ll be much more obvious if those florals are the size of a fist than if they’re the size of a dime.

But no matter what you wear at graduation – whether it be statement pants, a crop top, or the classic white dress – you’ll look great knowing you successfully completed a challenging four years (or more) of college. And if you don’t like what you decide, don’t worry, you can just zip up your gown in the pictures.