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

If you're heading to your child's graduation, baccalaureate, a senior recital or white coat ceremony, you may be fretting about wardrobe. Do you dress up? Down? Layered? Tie? Heels?

These events are all major photo ops for any family. Your senior may be covered in a big flowing graduation gown, but you, my dear, will be on full display, with your sartorial choices preserved in the family album forever.

(No pressure or anything.) But it's important to balance fashion realities with the climate, the logistics, and the occasion.


Baccalaureate ceremonies are usually held in the campus chapel or another indoor venue, so the weather and walking surface shouldn't be an issue. These events tend to be rather formal, even on campuses where jeans and flip-flops are normal everyday wear. Men should probably wear suits, or a collared shirt, tie and nice trousers, perhaps with a sports coat. Dresses or dressy trousers and a blouse are appropriate for women.


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. There are no hard and fast rules on attire. 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.

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. So wear clothing you can move comfortably in, and that won't show, er, sweat stains.