How to Wear a Graduation Cap - A Style Guide

Graduation is one of the most important life milestones, after which the sea of opportunities awaits you. It’s the perfect time to let your hair down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. This event will stay ingrained in your memory forever. Therefore, you have to make sure that you’re dressed accordingly. Since the atmosphere is very formal, the outfits and accessories we’ve chosen for you lend a touch of elegance to the entire look. Whether you’re getting your Bachelor’s, Master’s, or a Doctoral degree, keep in mind that the cap and gown are the highlights of your outfit. 

With all the exams and decision-making going on, you’re probably a bundle of nerves right now. But, when it comes to your grad ceremony, don’t worry - with our pieces of advice below, you will look ready to set the graduation ceremony on fire.

The celebratory atmosphere has to be accompanied with the appropriate attire. Of course, the two most important components of the outfits are graduation cap and gown, which are almost always in some dark color such as black or dark blue. These colors are great for pairing with colorful accessories like dress socks, scarves, or shoes. You can wear charcoal pants with brown shoes, or red pants and black shoes, it is entirely up to you. When wearing the cap and gown, pay attention to your body posture, and do not turn your head more than necessary to prevent the cap from falling off. 

You want to remember this ceremony, so take a lot of pictures with friends and family. After all, their motivational speeches and encouragement meant a lot when you were taking exams or waiting for exam results. A perfect outfit and your loved ones attending the ceremony to support you is what will make this event memorable. After the ceremony is finished, you can even frame your grad cap and proudly show it off, and save the tassel to reminisce about your college achievements. 

Pro tip: Do not wash the gown before the ceremony. Instead of putting it into the washing machine, just cool iron or steam it. You don’t want it to be all wrinkled or to shrink. For keeping the gown in good condition, try hanging it on a hanger and don’t touch the material too often because it easily wrinkles. A gown that is in great condition will only emphasize the sleek design of the graduation cap. 

how to wear graduation cap
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What is a graduation cap? 

The origin of the academic dress and the graduation tradition started in 12th century England when universities were first founded, and it continued to this day. Then, the color of the cap used to represent the area of study, and the graduation gowns were worn for religious reasons, and it meant that you were a scholar. 

Nowadays, the graduation cap is a symbol of the effort you put in your education, and your hood marks the discipline you studied. After many years of hard work and dedication, you get to put the grad cap on your head and wear it like a crown. It is a square cap with a tassel on the top. The color of the cap is usually black and made from different materials that include cotton, silk, or even polyester.

how to wear a graduation cap
Image source: Pixabay

How to wear a graduation cap? 

There are different ways to wear a graduation cap. The most important thing for a cap is to be secure and stay in one place throughout the ceremony. However, that is not always the case due to many reasons such as irregular cap dimensions or wrong cap position. These mistakes can easily be avoided if you pay attention to the details. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you if you struggle to decipher how should each feature of the cap looks like:

  • Cap needs to fit your head
  • Tassel needs to be positioned appropriately
  • Check if the cap is straight

Right size

First and foremost, it has to be the right size so it doesn’t fall off. Since the grad cap is pretty large, the students’ biggest fear is to have the cap fall on the ground in the middle of the ceremony or look weird in the photos. It only takes a couple of minutes to determine the right cap dimension. Use a measuring tape to determine the circumference of your head. Write the number down on a sheet of paper, and if you’re hemming and hawing about two numbers, always choose the bigger size for your cap. 

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Where should the tassel go?

Traditionally, in high schools, tassels are worn on the right side, close to the temple. After the ceremony comes to an end and students have their diplomas in hands, they move the tassel to the left side. This is a newer tradition called “turning of the tassel” and symbolizes moving from one life stage to another, while others think it is a symbol for earning your right to graduate. When it comes to higher levels of education, it is placed on the left and shouldn’t be moved to the right side of the cap. The students who receive their diplomas also get a colorful hood as a symbol of success and their academic discipline. 

how to wear cap and gown
Image source: Pixabay

Even it out

Make sure that the cap isn’t covering your entire forehead and leaning more towards one side. When you look at the upper part of your cap, it should be evened out and parallel with the ground. You need to straighten it out from time to time to gain more symmetry and to make sure it is sitting properly. 

how to wear a cap and gown
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The front part of the cap should be an inch away from your eyebrows so your face is fully visible both in person and in the pictures. The cap shouldn’t be pulling your head back but rather standing on top of it. If you want to see if the cap is properly positioned, put a lightweight object on top and take a few steps to see if the cap will move. Also, don’t forget to check the tassel, because it shouldn’t be in the middle of your face.  

How to wear a cap and gown?

Cap and gown are the central pieces of your outfit. These clothing pieces can be dressed up or down depending on the accessories and the look you want to achieve. The graduation gown is worn like a lightweight coat, over your clothes, and it is worn with an open front where you can let the world see your outfit, or closed, where it remains concealed. Of course, if the ceremony is organized later in the evening, the outfit needs to be more formal. Some basic features to look for in a gown:

  1. Below the knee length
  2. Different sleeve shape for different college degrees
  3. Wear it open or closed at the front

Below the knee length

The middle of the calves is the standard length for all graduation gowns. The design of the gown is loose and it boasts an elegant style. This just means that you have to pay special attention to your shoe and sock choice. The rule for gowns is that one size fits all and the length of the gown as a whole is entirely dependent on your height. You should always consult the sizing chart and check twice if the measures are correct. The usual length for the academic gowns is eight to ten inches above the floor.

Different sleeves

The design of the sleeves for a Bachelor’s degree is open and pointed. For instance, sleeve length for the Master’s degree is closer to the wrists, whereas sleeves on a doctoral gown are bell-shaped. Some subtle differences help you distinguish between gowns. Some of the most prominent difference is the sleeve shape and design. The sleeves are mostly always the same length, except the elongated bottom part on a gown for the Master’s degree. The easiest way to recognize doctoral sleeves is to look at the bottom part of the sleeves, where three velvet bars are added as an embroidery.

Open front - show off the outfit

If you realize that your outfit won’t be hidden underneath the graduation gown, think long and hard about the perfect attire to show up in. Of course, the look will probably be a dress shirt tucked into slacks or chinos with a leather belt. Depending on what degree you are receiving, the gown can either be worn open or closed. Even if the outfit is hidden, you can always accessorize it to add more layers to the look and find fashionable Soxy dress socks and BoldSocietyShoes that will elevate the look. If the entire outfit is black, it can look too monotonous. Therefore, refresh your style with socks, an interesting watch, a patterned tie or even cufflinks.

how to wear a cap and gown
Image source: Pixabay



Front part


Bachelor’s degree

Appropriate without a hood



Master’s degree

Usually hooded

Open or closed


Doctoral degree

Usually hooded

Open or closed, usually open


What shoes to wear with the graduation cap?

Since you will spend a lot of time standing and waiting for the ceremony to come to a close, your shoes need to be comfortable. The first thing that comes to your mind are probably sneakers, but choosing sneakers for this type of occasion would look too informal. The best choice would be high-quality leather shoes which are accompanied with some accessories that give more definition to the entire look. Graduation ceremonies are organized in May or June, so we assume that the weather will be on your side. Some shoes that look classy and elegant and perfectly blend into every outfit are:

  • Oxford shoes
  • Loafers
  • Espadrilles

Oxford shoes

A very elegant choice that can go well with a smart outfit such as a suit. If your idea of graduation is formal, the best option is a suit, tie and Oxford shoes. This type of shoe screams elegance. If the graduation ceremony is organized later in the evening, they will transform your attire from classic to business-chic. Accompanied with a high-quality suit, their design and shape will come to life.

how to wear cap and gown
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Even though you might think they are more appropriate for colder days, some models of this dress shoe have tiny perforated holes on the surface which allow your foot to breathe. Also, a great way to spice up your outfit is to pick out extravagantly unique patterned socks that will break the monotony of your black shoes.


A very comfortable choice to pair with your formal attire. In the summer, they are usually men’s go-to choice for sophisticated events. They represent a perfect mixture of style and comfort

graduation cap how to wear

Loafers are boat-shaped so they easily adjust to your foot shape, which means there is no excessive sweat when wearing them. They can be worn with or without socks, depending on your style preferences and the look. If you wear them with vividly coloured fun socks, they can make the outfit pop and look more toned. 


For an event such as this one, these shoes are a smart alternative to dress shoes. Leather espadrilles are like a mixture of loafers and sneakers; they have the elegance of loafers and casual design of the sneakers. 

graduation cap how to wear
Image source: espadrillehaven

If the weather is too hot, espadrilles are essential for summer days and are extremely cozy to wear because of their lightweight design. Classic black leather espadrilles can dress down your outfit but still be a great addition to elegant chinos and a dress shirt. They are usually worn without dress socks.

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Pick the perfect socks to go with your graduation cap

If you want to bring your outfit to life, opt for some crazy coloured socks. They put you in the mood for having fun and dancing all night, like you should be doing after graduation. If you are a more conservative type, you can always choose single coloured socks. For this special day of your life, our advice is to escape the ordinary and mix and match materials, patterns and design on your socks. If you opt for wearing espadrilles, you won’t be needing any fun socks. You can choose between:

  • Patterned socks
  • Single-coloured socks
  • Multicoloured socks

Patterned socks 

how to wear grad cap

Patterns are always playful and cheeky and with the aid of patterns, every shoe type becomes more distinctive and unique. Soxy men's dress socks pair beautifully with classic black Oxford shoes or loafers. Different patterns combined with monochromatic shoes can accentuate their design and put a focus on the bright color of the dress socks

Single-color socks

how to wear grad cap

A perfect way to tone down a look is to find a perfect pair of Soxy single coloured shoes. If you are wearing the gown open, and want your clothes to turn some heads, then choose cool classic socks that seamlessly blend into your outfit. All the attention will be on the clothes, but you will still experience that feeling of comfort you get with high-quality socks. If you decide to up your dressing game, choose different shades of one colour.

Multicolor socks

The mixture of colors in multicolor Soxy socks is a great choice for people who think outside the box. It is easier to match a variety of colors with differently colored accessories. Fun multicolor socks go well with monochromatic shoes. Since the color of the graduation cap and gown is black, the best color for your shoes is black and accessories are there to make the outfit more exciting.

What colors to wear with the black grad gown and cap?

The graduation cap is like an accessory that enriches your wardrobe. Wearing black on black is the epitome of style, but it can be emphasized with a dash of another vibrant color. Elements of your outfit such as a colorful tie, crazy socks, or even a watch can create a stark contrast that is interesting to look at and be the centre of attention. To make your graduation cap and gown more prominent, try pairing different types of shoes with the following dress shirt:

  1. Yellow dress shirt black loafers 
  2. White dress shirt black Oxford shoes 
  3. Red dress shirt black espadrilles 

Yellow dress shirt with black loafers

Yellow is a great color to match with your black loafers and black cap and gown because it can enliven the outfit. Yellow is like a ray of happiness. Don’t think that all accessories need to be yellow for a color-cohesive look. Make your outfit look more appealing with the help of accessories such as a set of golden bracelets or rings. If you’re into decoration, you can also add some golden details on the grad cap. 

how to wear grad cap
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The yellow and black color combination is both elegant and fierce and an easy way to take your look to the next level. Pair the entire outfit with black chinos and single-colored socks to look more elegant. You can always change it up by pairing your black pants with brown shoes. If you want to transform your look from casual to elegant, opt for a classic black suit. 

White dress shirt with black Oxford shoes

A classic elegant white dress shirt is a clothing piece every man needs in his wardrobe. It can come in handy for formal occasions and events when you want to achieve a sophisticated look.

how to wear graduation cap
Image source: blackexcellencexx

Strategically place the accessories on the neckline to switch it up a bit with a vivid necklace. You can wear it with a pendant related to your area of study. It can be in the shape of a guitar, a geometrical shape, or a dog tag. The white of the shirt will look amazing with a touch of color from the necklace. If you don’t feel like wearing a necklace, another fashionable option is a great gold watch.

Red dress shirt black espadrilles 

A red dress shirt is perfect to incorporate into a graduation outfit combination. Convenient for warmer summer days, espadrilles are easy to wear and easy to style. Bright red is perfect for a bold summer look. For a more relaxed look, this outfit will be a real showstopper. 

how to wear a graduation cap

Brown shoes and black cuffed chinos and cool red socks is the outfit to die for. A great accessory for this look would be a red leather belt. A red belt will inject personality into the outfit and make it more fun and intense.  

Shirt color




Black Oxford shoes

Colorful necklace/gold watch


Black loafers

Golden bracelets or rings


Black espadrilles

Red belt

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How to decorate your grad cap 

Creativity is always a great way to play with the plain and formal design of the grad cap. Creativity in all forms should be encouraged, so why not embellish your cap with some interesting details like sequins or embroidery? Pick out a theme and start decorating. The theme can be related to your studies or it can convey a message that you want to get across. Some of our ideas for decoration:

  1. A famous painting remake
  2. American flag
  3. A personalized Hollywood star
  4. College name 
  5. Your pet

Also, if you are a minimalist, you can embellish your cap with some simple design like the date of your graduation. For an edgier look, if you don’t know how to wear cufflinks, you can also decorate your cap with cufflinks or badges. Put your stamp on your grad cap by giving it an artistic transformation. It doesn’t matter if you’re not an artist, it’s the intention that counts. It is not necessary to paint the grad cap, you can just add a few items like pictures, quotes or even flowers that will go well with the tassel and make the look more complete.

how to wear a cap and gown
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Final word

The grad cap is inseparable from the grad gown; it is similar to the way heart chambers wouldn’t function without one another. You can’t experiment with the color of the cap and gown due to the nature of the occasion, but you can make it more fun by personalizing the cap. 

A formal occasion like this one doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be dressed in formal attire at all costs. You can stay true to your style and have fun, but still, look stylish and elegant. 

How did you look for your graduation? Did you decorate your grad cap? Tell us all about you and your friends’ experience on Instagram!