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What Do Parents Wear to College Graduation? (Ultimate Guide for Parents)

A female graduate with her parents dressed in proper college graduation attire.

It’s finally that time in your child’s life to graduate from college. And yes, it’s perfectly normal to get a little teary-eyed…or a lot teary-eyed. Whether it’s your first rodeo or your fifth, it’s always good to know what you should wear to the ceremony. After all, etiquette and styles change pretty quickly. 

But before you think this is one of those boring blogs that will tell you all you can wear is either a conservative dress or a pants suit, think again. Some hard and fast rules will indeed help you find the perfect outfit, but there are plenty of options out there, and we are here to help. 

So, what do parents wear to college graduation? Let’s get started. 

Men’s Attire for College Graduation

For dads, figuring out what to wear to college graduation is pretty straightforward (unless you’re a dad fashionista, which in that case, more power to you!). 

Go Business Casual

The best rule of thumb to follow if you’re lost on what to wear to a university graduation ceremony is to go business casual or above (ties optional). A nice button-down and some trousers are really all you need (and no, it doesn’t have to be designer. Shoutout to all the dads who strictly do their clothes shopping at Costco).

Dress for Hot Weather

A male college graduate taking a photo with his father wearing a blue button-down shirt in a sunny weather.

If you’re going to the typical summer college graduation ceremony, especially if it’s outside, you won’t regret following this tip. A light linen button-down is a no brainer. And if you really can’t stand the heat, it’s totally okay to wear a short-sleeved button-down or polo shirt. 

But Be Ready for Anything

What happens if it starts to rain? What about if the ceremony is actually indoors and the school has turned the air conditioning on full blast? Dressing with layers is the smartest way to go. 

Add a blazer, buttoned sweater, or pullover sweater to make sure you’re ready for anything. Worst case, you can leave it in the car. 

And Last But Not Least, Don’t Forget Those Shades

Protect your eyes and add a stylish flair to your getup with sunglasses. College students will give you bonus points for dads wearing Ray-Bans or aviators, which never go out of style.

Women’s Attire for Graduation Ceremonies

The saying goes that women have more options on how to dress. But that doesn’t mean you need to be overwhelmed while selecting your style for college graduation. Here are tips that will help you breeze through the decision-making process.

Dresses and Skirts

An easy way to put together an outfit for college graduation is to pick out a dress or skirt that will up the level of formality to your look. You can’t go wrong with a floral print, pastel colors, or bright summer tones. 

If you’re worried about how conservative you’re supposed to appear, ask yourself if the outfit is office-appropriate. If not, you may want to show less skin (nothing beats a comfy maxi dress!). 

Blouse and Pants

You do not have to wear a dress or a skirt. Especially if you’re concerned about the wind causing a seriously embarrassing disaster, opting in for professional pants and a nice blouse is appropriate and could be more comfortable anyway. 

Light Layers

A dad congratulating his son at graduation, with the mom wearing a cowl-neck dress with long sleeves appropriate for an air-conditioned setting.

Before committing to an outfit, remember that you could be stuck in the hot sun or bundled up in an air-conditioned gymnasium. Having at least one or two layers is best for summer or spring graduations. For fall or winter, you’ll want to bring more. 

Ensure You’re Comfortable

Women will often bear the brunt of uncomfortable clothing choices. Even though that skirt looks incredible on you, please test it out and make sure you’re okay with sitting in it for hours. You may change your mind to a more stretchy fabric. 

Seasonal Style Considerations

Beyond considering the physical environment of the ceremony, university graduations are not all held in the summertime. Keeping your color choices seasonal will show off your stylish side. Think bright or pastel for summer or spring and darker tones like plum, olive, or navy for fall and winter. 

Accessorize Appropriately

Umbrellas, sunglasses, and purses big enough to hold your graduation survival kit are good to have handy on graduation day. Moms, it’s probably going to be up to you to keep everything in your bag. Oh, and remember that you may be walking on grass or an uneven pathway, so if you want to wear heels, wedges are your best bet. 

What Should Parents NOT Wear to College Graduation?

To avoid any fashion faux pas, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Wearing flip-flops will definitely draw some attention…and not always the good kind.
  • Avoid denim. It’s too casual for most university college graduation ceremonies. 
  • Loud prints like cheetah or zebra patterns will draw attention away from your graduating child when taking photos. Keep the focus on them. 
  • Don’t wear anything that you might regret if you can avoid it. Graduation pictures are memories to last a lifetime. So, if you end up wearing the one trend that dies out the following week, you’ll be haunted by that decision for quite a while. Sticking with classics is always best. 

Final Thoughts

A mom and dad dressed in business-appropriate attire, giving flowers to their daughter at the stairs after the graduation ceremony.

When your child is graduating, it’s their time to shine. Do your kid proud by dressing appropriately and not embarrassingly. When in doubt, business casual is the way to go. But most importantly, keep cool and comfortable so that you can soak up every minute of such a wonderful day.

Written by The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis is a lifestyle blog about the journey of college to adulting. Here you can find the tips for college, self-improvement, adulting, and more.

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