Graduation is for many students the most exciting part of their education journey. It is a signifier of all the hard work they have done and how much they have achieved, as well as a chance to celebrate the new experiences they have had over their university lives. However, graduation can also be intimidating. The dress code of gowns and caps, as well as the strict structure and traditions can mean that students feel stressed and even avoid going to graduation because they do not know what to wear! In this article we will explain the dress code at graduation in the UK, so that you can attend in style.
The most important thing to wear to graduation is a gown. These can be hired or bought from places approved by your university. Some students also choose to wear a cap, hood, or sash that is specific to their course. Under your gown, wearing smart and formal clothing that shows your personality is the best idea, so a suit or dress. Guests are advised to also wear smart and formal clothing.
While this should have given you a basic idea of what to wear to graduation, please read on for further details as well as what different gendered clothing traditions there are around graduation in the UK.
Table of Contents
What to wear to a graduation ceremony?
The most important thing in your graduation ceremony is usually the cap and gown, which are required by most universities. These will be discussed more in the next section. This of course only applies if you are the graduate. In this case you should also wear smart clothes, and generally dress up as there are usually lots of photos taken at graduations.
If you are attending as a friend or family member of the graduate, wear smart clothing.
Another important thing to consider is that you will be standing around for quite a while in your robe and sometimes a hood, which can get very warm especially if you are graduating in the summer. Pick clothes that are not too think and heavy, and that you can stand up in and walk comfortably.
Most universities also allocate coloured hoods or sashes depending on your qualification, so if you are getting one of these it is worth choosing your outfit to match!
For more information about what to do after graduating, please check out this helpful Think Student article.
Is there a dress code at a graduation ceremony?
Most universities will have a graduation dress code available on their website, and even if yours does not it is worth checking out others (such as this one from Fitzwilliam Cambridge) for ideas and guidance on what to wear.
Generally, the dress code means wearing an academic gown and sometimes a cap, which you need to order from a shop approved by the university before graduating. Sometimes you can hire these. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about hiring a gown.
The dress code also sometimes includes a hood and sash from the university; however, these are not required as typically only students in choirs or going onto further university study choose to wear them.
Apart from this, the dress code is normally formal and smart clothing, which is modest and comfortable. Some students choose to wear national dress, or uniforms, and in most cases, they are expected to ask the university about this in advance.
What to wear to graduation under your gown?
Under your graduation gown students are usually expected to wear a suit, dress, or similarly smart clothing. At some universities students are expected to wear white bowties and academic bands, so check if this is needed for your university if you are wearing a suit.
Some students also choose to wear a cassock to graduation, especially if they are graduating in Divinity Studies. They usually are required to not wear a clerical collar with their cassock as this would not fit the rest of the outfit, and are still required to wear a gown on top.
If you choose to wear a dress or skirt, ensure that it is not too short and is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Going for a mid-length or cocktail style dress is advisable as it can be very warm in graduation halls, and students are usually expected to wear black- or neutral-coloured tights.
If you are wearing national dress, again it is important to ensure that you will not get too warm during the ceremony, and that your robe will fit with your outfit. Wearing a uniform means it is key to check what ceremonial badges and cords are required, which can be found from your university.
Advice about when other than graduation you may be required to wear a gown can be found in this article from Think Student.
What to wear to graduation – Male
Male students are typically asked to wear a suit with a formal dinner jacket under their robe. Many graduates find that suits can be hired at a much lower price than buying one, and this also means you can choose a more expensive one than you could otherwise get.
Other than this, male students are expected to wear smart shoes, typically brown or black, and black socks as these may be shown under the gown.
Wearing shorts is not permitted no matter how warm it is at most universities, however choosing lighter fabric trousers such as linen will make it easier to cope on a very warm graduation day.
Choosing a tie or bowtie that matches your hood or sash, if you have one and are allowed to, can be a great way to inject some personality into your look.
However, do check if you need to wear a specific colour or type of tie as some universities require white or black bowties traditionally. If this is the case then you can again usually hire a bowtie or bands from the outfitters where you bought a gown, which is cheaper than buying one outright.
What to wear to graduation – Female
Female students are typically expected to wear a dress, or skirt and smart shirt, or a suit under their robe. If wearing a suit, they should typically follow the same rules as male students, however they may not be expected to wear a jacket if they are wearing a blouse style shirt.
As mentioned above, dresses should usually be longer in style, in order to be comfortable and modest throughout the day. However, this does not mean they cannot fit your personal style, and a little glitter or fun colours are a good choice if you want to dress up a little.
Graduates often have to walk a long way, in a procession and then across a stage, so wearing comfortable flat or mid-heel shoes that you are confident walking in is key to having a comfortable day.
If you cannot afford to buy a new dress or suit, it is worth checking out stores like Depop where second-hand dresses and suits are often available at a much lower price.
Also, you can look into hiring clothes. This usually means you can wear a dream outfit much more cheaply, and not have it sitting around after you buy it with nowhere to wear it.
What to wear to graduation – Parents
Parents are expected to wear smart but not overly fancy clothing to graduation. Most men choose to wear a suit, and women dresses or suits similarly to a graduand.
A common piece of advice is to dress as if you are attending a wedding – not overly flashy, but smart and comfortable as you may be in group photographs later! Often, family and friends can match the graduate in terms of how formal/flashy an outfit is.
Parents should also follow the same rules as graduates about modest outfits, typically being expected to wear longer skirts, and to avoid showing excessive amounts of skin, however this is less strict for guests as they are not representing the university.
What should you not wear to a graduation ceremony?
A graduation ceremony is a smart occasion, so dressing to match will help you feel appropriately excited and proud! However, wearing the clothing suggested above is most advisable, as it is usually required by universities.
Some other rules on what not to wear include avoiding jeans and shorts, and definitely not slogan t-shirts. Smart clothing does not need to be uncomfortable, so wear what you are comfortable in, but do try and look professional.
A final tip for looking smart at graduation is to bring plenty of safety pins and clips. This will help you to make sure your gown fits well, and that your hood does not slip off during the ceremony. It is all about being comfortable on one of the most important days of your life!