Special Events

What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony: Outfit Ideas for Mothers

Congratulations on your child’s graduation! It’s an exciting and proud moment for both of you.  As a mom, you want to look your best and feel comfortable enough to enjoy the occasion. 

There is much to consider when choosing an outfit, as I learned when my son graduated from college. But don’t stress!

Here are some tips and outfit ideas to help you decide what to wear to your child’s graduation.

 

Mother of the graduate outfit - floral shirtdress

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1. Dress Up

Many schools don’t have an official graduation dress code, so don’t expect to see clear dress guidelines on the invitation. All you need to know is that graduation is a formal event, so dress up, even if it’s just a little.

The outfit you choose will depend on a few factors, such as the location, school, type of graduation, and personal style preferences.

A good rule of thumb for an appropriate outfit is something you would normally wear to work or in business. Your outfit should be smart, neat, and polished. Think business casual or professional, and you will be on the right track.

College graduation is like a business event, and as such, what you wear can range from business formal to business casual. In any case, you should look pulled together and professional, not glam and party-like.

 

blue sheath dress with cord wedges to wear as mother of the graduate

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2. Leave Your Jeans at Home

You may not feel like dressing up, especially if it means buying something new, but having your child graduate is a significant accomplishment and merits more respect than just wearing a pair of jeans.  Jeans or any denim, capris, and shorts are too casual. Leave them at home!

 Consider these outfit ideas:

  • A classic dress: A simple, elegant dress in a flattering silhouette is a timeless choice for a graduation ceremony. Choose a knee-length or midi dress in neutral, pastel, or bright.
  • Pants and dressy blouse or top: A pair of bright pants and a pretty top or silky blouse are always appropriate and classy. Add a jacket or cardigan to upgrade the look and create a more powerful vibe. Pants with a neutral top or shirt + a colorful blazer are a polished mom look. 
  • Pantsuit: A pantsuit can be a stylish and comfortable option for a graduation ceremony, especially if the event is outdoors or you do a lot of walking. Choose a tailored suit in a lightweight fabric.
  • Skirt and blouse: A knee-length skirt paired with a blouse is chic and feminine for a graduation ceremony. Choose a flowing dress in a bright color or pattern and pair it with a simple blouse in a complementary color.

When my son graduated from college in NYC with a degree in Drama, the suggested dress code was casual/creative.  So, I wore a pair of flowy drawstring dress pants, a black and white graphic top, and a hot pink jacket. I looked professional but a little artsy in keeping with the school’s creative vibe.

If he had been graduating from an Ivy League school in something like law or finance, I probably would have dressed even more conservatively,  meaning I might have worn tailored pants with a classic top or a less bright jacket.

Ultimately, it’s really about how you feel in your outfit that’s important. You need to feel confident to enjoy the day.

 

 

pink floral pink dress with wedge heels and bag - mother of the graduate outfit

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3. Wear Comfortable Shoes

This was an eye-opener! I knew graduations involved walking around a lot,  but I never realized how much.  I can’t stress how important it is to wear comfortable shoes.

While high heels are fashionable and dressy, they could be more practical.  For example,  many afternoon graduations in the spring/summer are often held on the grass, with guests sitting on bleachers under a tent.  You usually have to walk on grass or a stone walkway. 

Flats, wedges, or block heels will be much easier to walk in. You don’t want your heel stuck in the grass or between patio stones.

When I attended my son’s May graduation, it was a long walk from the parking lot, up and down stairs, and over what felt like a mile of concrete to get to the outdoor stadium. I wore low, chunky heel slides, not my first choice, but I thought I would be comfortable. They were o.k. for part of the way, but thankfully, I had tucked a pair of fold-up flats into my bag and switched into those to finish the walk.

I saw many moms wearing pretty floral dresses or pants and a blouse with chunky athletic sneakers the entire time, and they looked fine. It was understandable that comfort was key.

What about indoor graduations? There may not be as much walking, but there’s a lot of standing and mingling.  You can still look polished in low heels or dressy flats at an indoor fall or winter graduation.

Boots with dresses are also acceptable, so long as they are in good condition and not mucked up with dirt or snow.

 

what to wear mother of the grad - blue eyelet dress with woven accessories

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4. Dress for the Weather

Graduation ceremonies are typically very long and drawn out. They are usually held indoors in the fall and winter and outdoors in the spring and summer.  It can boil at this time of year, so many women prefer sleeveless to keep cool. Light, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen blends can also help.

On the other hand, you never know how the weather will end up. It might suddenly turn chilly, so be prepared. It’s a good idea to bring a sweater in case it gets cool or the air conditioning is blasting. A scarf, shawl, light trench coat, or blazer also works.

You might also want to take a light tote:  sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Thinking you might want to take an umbrella in case it rains. Take a rain poncho instead to avoid blocking the view! 

 

 

 

5. Consider Color 

The colors you choose to wear to graduation are important for several reasons. First, you don’t want to upstage the grad wearing anything too bright or loud, but you want to look fashionable and fabulous in photos.   

Many moms opt for pastels or cheery colors worn with some neutrals.

You can also wear classic colors like navy, taupe, green, gray, brown, etc., which are always appropriate. However, avoid wearing the school colors or all black since you don’t want to blend in with your child’s graduation gown in photos. 

 

 

white and purple floral dress outfit for mother of the grad.

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6. Avoid Anything Too Flashy 

While showing some personality via your outfit is fine,  avoid wearing anything loud, distracting, or flashy.  Neon colors, wild patterns, animal prints, edgy silhouettes, or attention-grabbing details that say look at me distract from the real star- your child. 

Don’t even think about anything with sequins, sparkles, or fringe. Graduation is not a cocktail party. It’s best to err on the conservative side.

For example, florals are a natural choice for the mother of the graduate, or you can go for a modern, relaxed print. Elegance is the magic word when it comes to dressing for graduation. Don’t try to upstage the grad.

 

Pink Sheath Scuba Crepe Dress for mother of the graduate

Sheath Scuba Crepe Dress

7. Dress Respectfully

The day belongs to your child and their achievements. Don’t embarrass your son or daughter by revealing clothing that draws unwanted attention. For example, steer clear of anything tight, very short, or low-cut that show that shows off a lot of skin. Avoid dresses with very short hemlines or high slits. This isn’t the time to try and prove how sexy you are. Think modest and classy.

8. Keep it Understated with Classy Accessories

You’ll also want to avoid outrageous, trendy, or flashy accessories. Polished, simple accessories in classic styles will look great.

Since you will be carrying a bag for the entire day, pick one that is manageable and light. It can be neutral or colorful, so long as it is classy. A small to medium-sized purse with structure looks more polished than a soft, scrunchy boho bag or a giant, oversized tote.

Leather is always classier than canvas. Any bag with sequins, sparkle, heavy hardware(edgy), or embellishment (too formal and flashy).

Shop Mother of the Grad Outfits

 

Where to Buy Graduation Dresses for Moms

Some of my favorite stores:

Anne Taylor – I love this retailer for graduation. Professional, colorful. Classic!

Nordstrom– A great selection of dresses and pants that fit the occasion.

Talbots – From High school grad to college, Talbots has classic, appropriate choices.

Dillards  – Very good selection of top brand names dresses for grad.

Macy’s – Lots of price points and brands to choose from.

JC Penney – Budget-friendly, pretty dresses for Mother of the Grad.

Remember, you’re there to celebrate your child’s achievements, so dress respectfully and appropriately for the occasion while feeling comfortable and confident.

More Ideas on How to Dress For Your Child’s Graduation

Picture-Perfect Graduation Ideas for Mom

Modern Mother of the Grad Outfits from  Reals Moms

What to Wear to a Winter Graduation

P.S.S…Did you see the fabulous Graduation cards you can get to announce the graduation?

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48 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony: Outfit Ideas for Mothers

    1. Hi Nancy,
      You can wear a nice dress or pants and a nice top. Wear something like what you would wear to work. Take a look at the photos I just added to this post. Cheers!

  1. Hello Deborah,
    My daughter will graduate high School in May…the cap & gown color is black. I’ve been searching for the right outfit to wear to her graduation; I came across the blazer outfit as an option; I don’t know which color to wear & what kind of shirt to go with it…

    1. Hi Momma,
      Thanks for stopping by. You can wear any color blazer with white or black pants and a pretty blouse, i.e., floral, stripes, or a classic print. Think of a grad like a business networking event. What would you wear to that? You want to look professional and feminine. I hope that helps.

  2. Hi Deborah, is a solid royal blue sheath dress too bright for a mom in her 50’s, who’s daughter is graduating with a white dress, black robe?

  3. Hi. My son is graduating from college in a few weeks. I have a lovely Boden dress I would like to wear, but am unsure if it’s too bold. https://www.bodenimages.com/productimages/productlarge/21wspr_w0705_ivo.jpg (No, that is not me in the photo! Ha ha!) I am 5’10” tall and can’t wear heels due to an injured foot. What style and color shoe would you recommend to make it dressy? I have very fair skin, if that helps with shoe color.

    Thank you for any advice you can provide.

    1. I love it, Jan. It’s beautiful, and although it’s colorful, it is a shirtdress so more classic and businesslike than a ruffle-tiered dress which would be way too much. I would stick to a nude/natural color shoe, so the dress is the focus. For the style of shoe, you could go with a genuine espadrille as shown but flat:https://rstyle.me/+2dAbr2Evih-1OJZAMymQJQ

  4. Hi my son is graduating in May from University and I’m a plus size and have not idea what to wear :’( help please

  5. Hi. I’m going to my son’s first graduation. I’m pear-shaped and looking for a flare dress. The ones I’ve seen are personally not for graduation. I don’t want to overpower him on my outfit

    1. Hi Karen, It’s hard to suggest a one look suits all for a grad or anything else because it not only depends on the how formal the graudation is, but your style personality and body shape too. Many women prefer a very conservative look. This dress is lovely because it can be dressed up and down with jewelry and is great for pear shapes. This would work https://rstyle.me/+7Z0-l_XWl0-08rbYNItNrQ

  6. It’s my son’s High School Graduation at the football field in June.
    I am having difficulties finding a nice outfit.
    Not sure what would be an appropriate outfit for this event. Please I need advice.

    Thank you,

    Felia

  7. Thank you so much, it’s my 1st Graduation Ceremony & I was lost, didn’t know what was appropriate, but thanks to your site I have the perfect ensemble that doesn’t clash with my son’s cap/gown.

  8. Help me, please. I am going to a family member’s graduation she is getting her master’s. The graduation will be in October 2018. I don’t know what to wear. Should I dress up? I don’t want to wear jeans. Should I wear dress pants and a blouse or pantsuit or can I wear a jumper? I have plenty of clothes. I have a brand new dress in my closet. I am in great shape. I am tall slim think Namoi Campbell. Just not as endowed in the breast area. I am thinking of wearing a cream-colored dress with different colors in dress and satin wedges and a clutch purse. I am not sure if going to dinner after the event or if she is having something at home. Will this be okay? I also have a couple of new pantsuits I can wear.

    1. Hi Lady J, No need to worry. The best advice I can give you is to think of this as a classy business networking event. You want to look polished, pretty, and on the conservative side. It’s not a cocktail party, so no glitz, low-cut tops, or short skirts, and it’s not a casual get-together so no jeans or street wear. I like the idea of a classic dress such as a sheath dress or a fit and flare dress like you seem to be talking about. Satin wedges sound like they are going to be too dressy- more for a wedding. I’d go with a lovely suede or leather pump instead. Yes, you could also wear a pretty blouse with dress slacks and some jewelry or a pantsuit is appropriate too with dressy shoes. Here’s an article that might help:https://www.fabulousafter40.com/what-to-wear-over-40-kids-graduation/ It’s a summer post but the suggestions are sound. Have a great time!

  9. Hello, I am going to my son’s high school graduation soon and I am so worried I am going to look bad. I am very insecure because I have recently gained about 50 pounds. I am 39 about 5’5 and weigh about 185 pounds. Can you please give me some examples of dresses that will slim me and also some slimming wear that doesn’t show underneath and smooths and slims.

    P.S. Did I mention this was my high school, years ago in 1996, and I moved away and this will be the first time I have been back since I was in my early 30s and skinny! I don’t want to steal the show but I am so worried and don’t want to feel insecure or bad. Small town people talk… gossip and judge which is why I moved away.

    Thanks, Erika

    1. Hi Erika, The best dress is going to depend on where you carry your weight. If it is in the hips, bottom and thighs then consider a pretty fit and flare dress. If thick through the middle and straight all the way down then a shift or sheath dress would be good. If you are an apple with all your weight in your bust and stomach then a dress that is loose and flowy such as a trapeze style would be nice. As for undergarments, I like the Thinstincts open bust one piece from Spanx underdresses:https://rstyle.me/n/c7yz8cb52f7 I find it really helps. As for the color/print of the dress- choose a solid color or medium print-a print with a dark color background is more slimming than a light color background. Nude shoes elongate your legs and make you look taller and slimmer. I hope that helps and have a wonderful time!

  10. Graduation day can be very long! My son had to check in at 7:30 a.m. to pick up his robe and for the band warm-up. With 550 graduates, it took three hours from start to finish, then another hour to get out of the parking lot of the hockey rink (which is where most graduation ceremonies are held where I live in Canada). It was snowing, and you are correct to think that I wish I’d worn winter clothes.

    But it wasn’t over! The banquet was held later that same day, so it was home with only a few hours to rest and get ready for the formal event. Two summery outfits for a snowy day. Did I mention the heel broke off my new shoes? Fortunately, I had taken an extra pair in the trunk car, along with a roll of masking tape. Yes, my hem caught on one of the chairs, so tape saved the day.

    Definitely get lots of rest before the big day, be prepared for lots of standing and walking on concrete floors. And consider the color of your graduate’s school robe. Bright red was the color for my son’s school., definitely harder to work with than the royal blue robe for my own graduation back in the day.

    Enjoy, Deborah! High school graduation is once in a lifetime.

  11. My ex’s new wife decided to wear a bright red dress with bright red lipstick, exactly what my daughter, the real star of the show, was also wearing. Then to top that she sauntered over to where I was sitting, thrust out her
    gnarled hand as if she expected me to kiss it, with no eye contact or smile exclaiming ‘Hi, I”m Jude’. I very nearly quipped back ‘Yes, it rhymes with rude’ but thought better of it as pointing out somebody else’s bad manners is the epitome of bad manners. I guess all I can do is pray she doesn’t decide to wear white or off-white when my daughter gets married.

    1. Uuuuggghhhh!! I’m having to deal with the “sidechick/fiance” next month at my daughter’s college graduation. I’m praying God gives me the strength to simply ignore her existence. My daughter wants me to wear white, but the graduation is outside on the lawn. I found a cute strapless white eyelet dress and thought that might work with a cardigan and some wedges, but I’m still on the fence about it.

      1. Hi Joanna,
        I think a white eyelet with a cardigan would be lovely. Wedges are perfect for a lawn. You’ll look fab and feel confident at this happy but stressful time. Best wishes!

  12. Thanks. It’s a year too late, but surprisingly, I wore a floral fit and flare dress similar to those shown here. I chose royal blue suede peep toe wedges as my shoe, to match the flower color of my dress and a faux leather jacket in royal blue. It was a cold day, barely above freezing, and the event was held in a hockey arena. Of course, the ice was gone, but hockey rinks are always chilly, so I wore the jacket throughout the ceremony.

    You can’t go wrong with a swing dress (aka fit and flare). Dress for the occasion, then consider the location. I’m sure no one dresses like this for hockey games, but the size of the crowd made the venue appropriate. BTW, we had some snow mixed with rain that day, which is why graduation ceremonies never take place outside in my part of the world.

  13. I recently lost 80lbs and am very proud of this…would like to wear something very flattering yet stunning ? My son graduates same day as my step daughter so do not want to outshine her day but would love to be the hottest mother there for once…”lol” I’m finally smaller than her mother!! I’m normally not a dress type but anything for my girl and she wants me in a dress. Any suggestions would be welcome!!! I am 6′ tall with short medium brown highlighted hair would need a L or XL depending how it’s made

    1. Congratulations on your weight loss Anissa! You deserve to look fabulous. The best kind of dress for graduation would be something pretty but conservative. Many mothers like to wear floral fit and flare or sheath dresses. Lace is also popular if the graduation is dressier or just a solid-colored dress with simple lines and some nice jewelry. Stay away from anything too fussy, too bright, or loud. Here is an article that will help you best wishes! https://www.fabulousafter40.com/what-to-wear-over-40-kids-graduation/

  14. I realize this is a year old, but graduation season is here….advice needed. my son is graduating college this year in Fairbanks Alaska (brr) so I still have the Calvin Klein sweater dress I wore to his high school graduation-it was a cold rainy day so I was glad I had it…and I want to wear it again mostly because it’s hard to find warm dresses for up here. I kind of would like another dress to wear however….so I’ll keep looking for another warm one to wear. if I can’t find one I guess I’ll wear this one again. It’s lovely, but shows all curves since it’s a sweater, but knee length, long sleeved, fold over collar, very tasteful and classy otherwise. So will it be horrible to wear again?

    1. Hi Ruth, There no harm in wearing a dress if again. Stars do it all the time now. If you feel confident in that dress, that is the most important thing. It will come shining through!

  15. Hi Deborah
    It’s my son’s graduation in November in Edmonton, the ceremony will be in the morning at the College and
    dinner in the evening. I have no idea what to wear since will be very cold up there, any suggestion?? Thanks

    1. Hi Marisela, Congratulations on your son’s grade. Yes, Edmonton is cold in November and it could even snow but the grad will be indoors so you really just have to make sure you have a nice warm coat and gloves. As for what you will wear, you can wear a nice dress – something pretty but conservative with shoes or dress boots, or a pair of dress pants and a pretty blouse and dressy booties or shoes. I’d suggest your dress or blouse have sleeves but sometimes that is hard to find so if you have a sleeveless dress you may want to bring a light wrap too. All the best!

  16. Your selection of dresses are beautiful, but when commencement ceremonies are held in the football stadium, these outfits will not do. I need something polished, yet casual. Help!

    1. Hi Brenda!

      I’ve have 2 college graduations one in the football stadium and one in the Field House and another one this weekend. I have worn conservative one colored dresses and wedge open toed shoes to both. And a majority of the mothers were dressed exactly like me. My advice is to not dress down due to football stadium. All the pictures you will take are huge life event pics that last forever. Dress up conservatively. Four hours in the football stands in a dress wont kill anyone. Just make sure you can sit in it. You’ll be very happy you did!

  17. Hello I have a huge delema
    I’m 5ft 2ins and a size 24 .
    It’s my son’s graduation in July and don’t want to let him down . I haven’t much money but have you any surggestions on what I could wear .

    Thank you
    Kind regards
    Joy Riddell.

    1. Hi Joy,
      I’m going to refer you to two bloggers/style experts who specialize in plus size as they will be able to help you better. One is Georgette from Grown up and Curvy. Here is feature I did on her. Check it out and you will find the link to her blog at the end of the post: https://www.fabulousafter40.com/style-ideas-curvy-woman/
      The other is Carol from Evolve Your Image: https://www.fabulousafter40.com/dressing-curvy-body/ The link to her post is at the bottom of her feature.
      They will know much better what would work for you. Wishing you all the best and thanks for stopping by. Cheers, Deborah

    2. Joy, I’ve noticed that a flattering hairstyle (no longer than at the shoulder, some light layers can add motion and liveliness), neutral-shade make-up, and a smile, are the BEST things to wear! For us, an above the knee sleeveless shell in a brighter solid WITH a complimentary short-sleeved lightweight snazzy jacket (you could even use a tailored blouse left open), low heeled sandals – don’t go for skinny strappy, we are actually flattered by more substantial straps and accents, small earrings and substantial (there’s that word again, because we want to look balanced) necklace or a nice scarf (wrap your neck about 2 in lower than avg models). You’ll be beautiful!! Congrats! (I have found consignment shops, goodwill, etc. have some things to work with when finances are a consideration. I’ve even gotten dresses and skirts and shortened them myself!)

  18. Your outfits are very beautiful and I don’t wear tight or low-cut tops. i also wear clothes that make me feel comfortbale an dlook cool like these!

  19. I’m having difficulties finding a dress to wear to my neice’s wedding. I’m not in the wedding and it will be in the afternoon but the party will continue into the evening. So stressed!

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