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Graduation day is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about your graduation day attire. Even though your school or college may provide you with your main graduation day clothing and materials, there are other pieces of graduation attire you must take into account. For instance, if you’re wondering how to wear graduation stoles or how to wear graduation sashes, here at CollegeWear, we’ll help make sure you’re in tip-top shape for what’s not just an important day in your academic career, but your life. 

And, regardless, all your friends and family will be there taking pictures. So, you may as well look the part for the occasion!

What is Graduation Day Attire?

Simply put, graduation attire or graduation regalia is what graduates—as well as certain faculty members—must wear on their graduation day. Of course, everyone will have their eyes on the graduating students. But, teachers, professors, and anyone else partaking in the graduation day ceremony will also need to wear the appropriate attire dictated by the school.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional cap and gown. But, what is graduation attire and what does it consist of? We’ll break it down for you.

In general, the main components of graduation attire are:

Additionally, as part of your graduation day regalia, you’ll typically be asked to wear something “nice” underneath your cap and gown that’s presentable. This could include a dress, a suit, a skirt and blouse, dress shoes, heels, elegant sandals, etc. Some students may choose to get their hair and makeup done, or get a haircut and a shave. At the end of the day, though, you can wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. Just remember that even though your cap and gown are covering your clothing underneath, you may want to take some photos that showcase your whole outfit. 
Pro Tip: Order your graduation attire ahead of time. You’ll have to get measured for your gown. It should fall somewhere between your knee and your ankle, and you should be able to tell if it’s too long or too short. Once it arrives, try it on to make sure it fits when it arrives in case you have to make any changes prior to graduation day.

What is a Cap and Gown?

A cap and gown are the main features of graduation day attire, from preschool all the way up to graduate school. According to The Washington Post, the cap and gown dates back to 12th century Europe. But, back then, gowns and hoods were traditionally worn by the clergy until students adopted the look. Not only did it distinguish them as scholars, the attire also kept them warm! 

Eventually, the style was brought over to the United States, and students who attended prestigious academic institutions which were around at the time—including Princeton, Brown, and Columbia University—sported the look.

Over the years, various councils have met to discuss what would eventually become known as modern-day graduation regalia. According to the Utah Daily Chronicle, the last meeting of the kind was in 1959 by The Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies. At this meeting, certain things—like the type of sleeves on the gown (pointed sleeves for bachelor’s students and oblong sleeves for master’s students)—were decided. 

Ultimately, the decisions were more of suggestions, and overtime, individual schools have taken it upon themselves to alter graduation attire to their liking. For example, even though the committee recommended black robes, many universities choose their own colors to distinguish themselves.

What once was the every-day scholarly attire is now graduation attire. Could you imagine going to school everyday wearing a cap and gown?! But, most students would probably say that wearing the attire for graduation day makes the experience extra special.

What is a Graduation Hood?

A graduation hood —as you just read—was commonplace in traditional scholarly-wear. In Colorado State University’s History of Academic Regalia, during medieval times, “Hoods seem to have served to cover the tonsured head until superseded for that purpose by the skull cap.” However, these days, it’s much more common to see college students wearing a hoodie to class than a hood!

In terms of graduation attire, though, the hood is worn primarily by graduate students who are earning their masters or doctorate. A hood is not generally for those graduating with their Bachelors (not that this means you shouldn’t be very proud of yourself!). The hood is worn in the back of the gown and may be a different size and/or color depending on the degree you’re earning and what college you’re graduating from. 

What is a Stole/Sash?

When talking about graduation attire, you can’t forget to talk about graduation stoles/sashes. Though the two are clearly different words, they are the same thing. As a matter of fact, the sash is considered a “stole of gratitude”. A stole or a sash is a piece of fabric that goes over your shoulders and can help you stand out from the crowd of other graduates by choosing from different types of graduation stoles. 

The stole or sash can come in different colors, which typically represent your academic program/major, but not always. Some people decide to get a stole or sash that represents their cultural heritage, and others may get a stole or sash with the Greek letters of the fraternity or sorority that they belong to. Others may get a sash to honor a family member that has played an important role in the student’s life.

These days, there are so many stoles/sashes to choose from. And, though some colleges may have guidelines regarding stoles/sashes, many allow you to choose what you’d like and/or customize a stole or sash to your liking!

Read More: What Do Different Stole Colors Mean?

What is a Graduation Cord?

A graduation cord is similar to a stole/sash as it’s also worn around the shoulders, but it looks like a rope. Unlike sashes/stoles, cords are more often than not geared towards an academic achievement, whether it’s an academic institution you belong to or an honor society, or to demonstrate that you’ve won some type of award. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between a stole/sash and a cord(s); you can wear a cord and a stole/sash together and you can wear more than one cord. 

However, it’s not practical to wear more than one sash/stole, though some graduates may do it. 

Graduation Medals 

Some graduates may earn a graduation medal, too. This is to demonstrate an extraordinary honor, such as valedictorian. Because medals are typically purchased for the graduate by the school, this is not usually something you can buy on your own and add to your graduation attire yourself. But, if it is awarded to you, then you should definitely show it off. You earned it!

What is the Difference Between a Stole, Sash, and a Cord?

So, you have stoles, sashes, and cords. What’s the difference? 

The first difference between a stole/sash and a cord is in how they look. Stoles and sashes are typically made from some type of fabric, and satin is usually the most common. However, people who get a stole/sash to represent their cultural heritage may get a stole made from a different fabric, like serape or kente cloth. 

Again, you can customize a stole/sash to your liking, whether that means choosing the fabric, the color, or symbols you want to be on your stole/sash. Cords, on the other hand, are thick ropes that come in different colors; some might come in two colors or are worn together as two separate cords of two colors that are meant to be coordinated.

The second difference is in what they represent. While cords typically give recognition to an academic achievement, stole/sashes may be more correlated with a club you belong to, your cultural identity, or Greek life. Cords can come in different colors and can be placed on top of your stole/sash. 

Lastly, the difference is in how they are worn. Though both are placed over the shoulders across the back of the neck, some students may wear a lot of cords, with no sash/stole. Some students may wear a sash/stole, and not any cords. Some students may wear both. It just depends!
Wondering where to get graduation stoles? We can help!

Other Graduation Accessories 

There are other accessories that can be part of your graduation day outfit, as many schools don’t mind if their students have fun with their graduation day attire. Some students will decorate their cap, for example, with felt, gems, fabric paint, etc. But, you’ll have to make sure your school approves of this, first. 

You will also have your tassel. The tassel is attached to your cap, and sits on one side. Schools will sometimes provide tassels, but you may also be able to customize your tassel as well. 

How To Wear Graduation Attire

Now that you know all about graduation day attire, how do you put it all together? With so many pieces involved, it can feel like you’re putting together a whole contraption that takes a lot of mental energy to figure out. And, let’s be honest: now that you’ve made it to the end of your academic program, the last thing you want on your mind is more homework! 

That being said, you don’t want to show up at your graduation commencement with your graduation regalia on wrong. So, we’ll help you get yourself situated.

Step 1: Lay Out Your Entire Graduation Wardrobe

To get ready for graduation day, pull out your clothes the night before and lay them out on a desk or table. You can even do this a few days before, as the days leading up to graduation can be stressful as much as they are exciting. The last thing you want to do is wake up on graduation morning to find you’re missing a piece of your graduation day attire!

Lay your clothing out in the order of how you’ll put them on. First, your outfit for the day. Next, your gown and hood, next your stole/sash and cords. Finally, your cap and your shoes. 

Pro Tip: Get yourself a full-length body mirror so you can dress yourself properly and/or ask someone to help you out. College friends will have lasting memories of getting ready together for graduation, and most parents of high school students would be delighted to help their teenage children get ready on this special day, too.

Step 2: Put on the Gown

After getting dressed and taking care of the essentials—like, brushing your teeth, drying your hair, shaving, etc.—put on your gown. Most gowns have a zipper in the front, so look for that when you put on your gown. Make sure it’s sitting comfortably and correctly on your shoulders; that it’s not lopsided or hanging the wrong way. 

How to Wear Your Graduation Hood

If you’re wearing a graduation hood attached to your gown, this can be another tricky adornment to add to your graduation attire. A graduation hood goes on after your gown, and it has to be turned/twisted back and forth in a special way in order to allow the correct colors to show in the back. 

The colors are typically determined by your school and degree, similar to a stole/sash. Some hoods have a loop at the front that attaches to a button, allowing the hood to stay in place. By the time you reach your graduate school commencement, you should have enough experience with putting on your graduation regalia that you’ll be able to maneuver getting the hood attached. However, this might be another instance in which you’ll want to phone-a-friend if you need help

Step 3: How To Wear Graduation Stoles/Sashes 

Now the exciting part; layering on your sashes/stoles. First, take your stole/sash and hold it out in front of you, so that the letters or symbols are facing away from you. Then place it over your head and lay it on your shoulders. Make sure they are even on both sides, and that one side is not longer than another. Move around a bit to make sure it’s not slipping off of you, too. You may want to use a bobby pin to hold it in place if need be. 

How To Wear Your Graduation Cords

Graduation cords are put on the same way as a sash/stole. Place it around the back of your neck so it’s hanging off your shoulders in the front of your body. If you are wearing multiple cords, see if you can layer them on top of one another so they do not get tangled up. 

How To Clean Graduation Stoles

Even though you’ll do your best to keep them clean, graduation stoles can sometimes get dirty — and this can happen before your actual graduation day, too. Knowing how to clean a graduation stole can help you from a little photo blunder on your big day. All you have to do is wash the stole in cold water and steam iron it!

Step 4: Put on Your Graduation Cap

Now it’s time to complete the graduation day look! Proudly place that cap upon your head, and make sure your tassel is turned to the correct side. In many ceremonies, you have to turn your tassel from one side to the other to symbolize that you have graduated. Of course, if you’re just walking to your ceremony or waiting for commencement to start, you can take off the cap until you’re required to wear it. Just don’t lose it!

Step 5: Add Finishing Touches

Finally, add your finishing touches. This could be freshening up your makeup, fixing your hair, and getting your shoes on. If you need a jacket or want to bring a bag with you, make sure that’s all ready to go, too. 

The Bottom Line

Graduation attire has certainly changed a bit over the years, but its roots are in traditional academic attire dating back to long ago. While schools may have different guidelines and preferences on graduation day attire, students generally can customize their look by designing a stole/sash that’s unique.


Interested to learn more about our custom graduation stoles/sashes? Learn more here:

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