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Graduation Attire – What to Wear to a Graduation Ceremony (on a Budget)

Judging from the comments on my recent post about going to a wedding for less, it seems that graduation ceremonies are definitely hitting people hard at this time of the year. I’ve opted to focus this post on the outfit side of things, because this can soon send the costs soaring. Academic dress can be a big expense, especially when you are unlikely to have any need for it afterwards. Here are some tips to get prepared for a high school graduation (but this post applies to other levels of graduation as well), particularly if money is tight:

Academic Dress

Where can you get your cap and gown from? One of the simplest solutions is to see if you can buy or hire them from your school. Many high schools will have package deals arranged with companies like Jostens and Graduation Source so that students can get a better deal. Looking for second hand academic dress can be another option. Many students will try to sell their cap and gown after their graduation ceremony to recoup some of the money that they spent on them.

If you don’t want to buy used caps and gowns, buying online can be another smart move. As I write this post, Graduation Source is selling high graduation packages that include cap, gown, tassel and diploma cover from $45.95. However, the price comes down to $27.95 if you’re ordering two or more packages, so you could arrange to order for two or more students and split the costs to take advantage of this. Other places to check out include American Cap and Gown , Economy Cap and Gown, Graduate Affairs and Caps and Gown.

What to Wear Under Your Gown

If your school has a strict dress code for high school graduations, this will already be dictated to you. If you’ve got free choice, there’s no reason why you can’t wear clothes that are already in your wardrobe as long as they’re not too casual.

There will always be some students who will go all out and dress like it’s prom night, but this isn’t a requirement unless the dress code dictates it. For guys, a nice shirt and tie and slacks will usually suffice. There is a bit more scope for girls (unless your school has strict requirements) and you can usually wear a relatively formal dress or team a nice blouse with a nice skirt or pants. If you want to wear a dress that you can also wear in the post-ceremony celebrations, this post from The Fashion Bomb has some ideas that you can use to guide you. A classy pair of shoes will round off the outfit, but if you’re female, make sure that you’re not likely to trip up in them when it’s your turn on the stage.  Think business casual dress when putting together an outfit for yourself or your graduate. Most high school students have an outfit in their closet that suits this appropriate dress code.

Keep the color scheme of the gown in mind too. For example, dark or bright colors may show through a white gown.

What Should Guests Wear?

Smart casual is usually the order of the day for guests. Male guests can wear slacks and a collared or button down shirt, while females often opt for a casual dress or slacks and a nice top. If the ceremony will take place in the evening, something more formal will be required. Be aware that some schools will require guests to adhere to a strict dress code, especially if the students are also obliged to.

There’s no need to go overboard when choosing outfits for a high school graduation ceremony. This is especially true for students as the gown tends to cover everything but the shoes, so the need for brand new clothes isn’t as pressing as it would be if your outfit was on full display. The academic dress is the main concern and because this can be expensive, you probably won’t want to buy a new outfit to go underneath it if it isn’t strictly necessary. If you’ve got to comply with a strict dress code though, you may not have much choice but to buy something new for the occasion.  In this case, take your graduate to their favorite discount retail store and have them pick out something that they could see themselves wearing again, so that it’s not an outfit that will only be worn once.  In college, there are a lot more opportunities to dress up, so paying a little more for something nice that they will wear again is also a good option.

Swap With Friends and Family

If you have a girl graduating, have her friends come over for a sleepover one night and have them bring a bunch of outfits.  They can all try on each other’s clothes, they’ll pick out an outfit that they’ve never worn before, and you won’t spend any money buying a new outfit!  If you have a guy graduating, some of them can fit into their dad’s dress clothing, so that’s a good option too.

If you and your child get into the habit of not going overboard and overspending for special occasions, you’ll save a lot of money over the long term and their closet will not be full of clothes that they never wear!

Sally Aquire
Sally is a UK-based freelance writer. As well as personal finance, she also writes on health & beauty and lifestyle topics. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, shopping, hanging out with friends and generally making the most of her downtime!

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