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What to Wear Under a Graduation Gown and Cap

What to Wear Under a Graduation Gown and Cap

Graduation is an exciting day – getting to put on your cap and gown, collect your certificate and celebrate your academic achievements. However, many people still find themselves stuck on what to wear under a graduation gown.

We've put together our tops tips for what to wear under a graduation gown for women and for men, as well as some hairstyle tips to keep your mortarboard steady. Bear in mind you worked hard to get to this point over many years, so putting thought and effort in at this stage to look your best reflects your achievement and approach.

What Do You Wear for a Graduation?

  • Weather

The clothes you wear under your graduation gown will be very different if you're graduating in August or November. The gown itself will add a layer of warmth  - it was a medieval overcoat after all - so if it's going to be a hot day, make sure you're wearing something light underneath. If your graduation is in winter, make sure you wear layers that can easily be removed and added if you find you’re too hot when inside but want some photographs outdoors. 

  • Comfort

You're going to be in these clothes for several hours, if not all day. There will be pictures, walking and a lot of standing around. Being comfortable is key to enjoying the day; if you get blisters or things start to pinch, you won't be able to enjoy yourself as much. If you can avoid wearing brand new shoes, we suggest that you do. But if you are planning on wearing heels or smart brand new shoes, either have plasters at the ready or have a spare comfier option available to avoid battling with this throughout the day. 

  • Formality

As fun as it is, graduation is a serious occasion and should be approached with the appropriate dignity and respect. Your clothes should be appropriately formal – it's typically not black-tie, but don't be the person who shows up in a t-shirt. Bear in mind these photographs will be around for a long time, and a more classic look will stand the test of time better.

Some institutions have rules about academic dress, such as the University of Oxford's 'sub fusc' rules, so be sure to check ahead of time if your institution has anything similar.



For men, deciding what to wear under a cap and gown typically comes down to finding a nice shirt and formal trousers. Neutral colours are ideal and dark trousers will look best under any colour gown.

  • Ties are optional in most cases, but they do add another formal element, meaning they can help elevate your look.
  • Blazers or suit jackets can get very warm under a graduation gown. If you would like to wear a blazer for photos, consider asking someone to hold it for you while you’re wearing your gown.
  • Make sure your outfit is ironed so you look sharp – wrinkled clothes can undermine an otherwise crisp look. A tired or creased t-shirt is not the best in our view.
  • Shoes for men should be closed-toe, formal shoes, and should be clean and polished. Trainers usually aren’t appropriate for graduation, even fashionable ones, so try to avoid those.


There are many options for what to wear under a graduation gown for women, from skirts to dresses, trousers, pantsuits or playsuits. However, when asking ‘what do you wear for a graduation?’, there are some guidelines you should follow.

  • For women who prefer skirts or dresses, try to ensure that the skirt isn't too long or puffy – combined with a gown, this can make the outfit look heavy and shapeless. 
  • For shoes, avoid tall, narrow heels or, if you're set on wearing them, bring a spare pair of shoes that are more comfortable. Wedges or block heels are a great way to get the lift from the heel while also staying comfortable. Flats, pumps or formal sandals are the best options to combine style and comfort. 
  • Most graduation outfits favour neutral, darker colours to avoid overshadowing the gown – which, of course, is the focus of the look – but if you prefer to have a pop of colour for contrast, look for colours that complement your institution's colours.  Look on your institution’s graduation pages as there are often details and pictures there, or ask the robemaker for details. 



The mortarboard, in particular, needs to be worn correctly and fit well. No one wants it falling off or wobbling all the time. Depending on the look you prefer, you may wish to tie up your hair or leave it down. Both can look amazing on a graduate, but how can you be sure it will fit under your mortarboard and leave you feeling confident about wearing it?

  • Bluntly, spending a lot of time on your hair could be a waste of time. Mortarboards can cover and squash hairstyles flat – you probably haven’t worn anything quite like this before…
  • If you choose to wear your hair in an updo, make sure it's a low style and sleek, not bulky so that your mortarboard will fit over the top. Buns and ponytails can be a great look, but they should be at the nape of your neck rather than high.
  • Alternatively, try an updo that won't interfere with your mortarboard. French braids or a halo braid across your head can give you an elegant look, keep your hair out of your face, and you can still wear your cap.
  • For those who wear a headscarf, especially those concealing a bun, bear in mind that you may have to wear a larger mortarboard than your head size alone would justify. The same can be true for those with dreadlocks and cornrows or similar hairstyles.  Your robemaker should always make sure you have a hat that fits. 
  • Most graduates opt to have their hair loose – just make sure that your hair is clean and brushed or combed. Curling, straightening or waving your hair will help you have a more polished, even look.

However you choose to wear your hair, make sure you have plenty of kirby grips (also known as bobby pins) on hand to help pin your mortarboard in place. 

So now you know what to wear under a graduation gown. Once you've nailed the look, check out our tips on taking the best graduation photos so you can always remember the day. If your graduation is coming up, see our shop for gowns, accessories, mortarboards and more, from university to children's graduations.

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