Friday, 26 June 2015

Graduation Season: Some Tips and Advice from a 2014'er

So that time of year is upon us again, when the mortarboards fly in the air and the celebrations begin - oh I remember it well.

Some of you may or may not be aware, but I graduated from the University of East London in November last year - after six years studying! I transferred after three years at my first University (Greenwich) to UEL, where I completed a degree in Creative & Professional Writing and Media Studies. So my graduation was approached with gusto, unsurprisingly - I admit, I did turn into a bit of a 'Gradzilla' around this my boyfriend/mother/sister will probably attest. My head was filled with ideas about what I'd wear, how the photographs would come out and fears about tripping up on stage (thankfully I managed not to do that). So, today I'll be giving a few tips on how to have the best graduation you can, and how to make a day filled with emotion, apprehension but mostly joy even better. 

First off...

I cannot emphasise this enough: get your graduation bits ready well in advance! Seriously, you must. Order the gown, book the tickets, make sure everything is ready. You really do not want to leave this kind of thing to the last minute, trust me. I've seen people do it, and it rarely ends well. Most Universities have advice on graduation matters, so make sure you speak to them if you're worried about anything - a quick phone call can really put your mind at rest. Don't wait it out - please get everything sorted as soon as you can. And yes, you really must get your head circumference right - those mortarboards can get tight if you get it wrong.

Now, the fun bit...

Picking an Outfit

Now, for the guys, this bit is usually easy. A suit is generally the preferred option - with your choice of shirt. Now, most graduation robes are black or dark blue - so the best option I'd suggest is a grey suit - gunmetal or light grey is a good choice. And always the smartest shoes you've got! Always.

Suiting Up

Like the guys, suiting up for women is definitely a possibility - as this is a dressy occasion, something like a pencil skirt/shirt combination is perfect. The advice is generally the same as the guys: a grey skirt, and free choice of shirt. Footwear wise, whatever is comfortable, but it has to be smart. Now if you're a pumps type, go right ahead. Heels? Whatever you're happiest in. I would keep away from the skyscrapers however, mainly because there is a lot of walking involved on the day. More about footwear later...

Another alternative is to wear a shift dress/bodycon in grey, which also looks fantastic. 

Best places for suits: M&S (my personal choice), but places like Next are also very worthy of consideration. I would say, don't go too expensive. Graduation is costly enough!

Dressing Up

When I had my graduation, I knew exactly what I wanted - the prettiest, best fitted and most gorgeous dress I could get. I had saved up quite a few pennies for my dress shopping expedition - and I was going to use them well. 

I was incredibly lucky - when I was shopping for my dress, it was August and Phase Eight were having a sale. I picked up my dress for £65, rather than £115. How brilliant is that? Around the time of graduation, places like Monsoon, Phase Eight and Karen Millen usually have sales - so it's always worth checking them out. If not, another idea is to visit their outlet stores, which are found in various places around the country (my local one is in Braintree Freeport). You might be able to find some past season pieces. In addition, TK Maxx also have a good selection of clothing. I recently picked up a jersey dress from there, reduced from £100 to £25. It might take some hunting around, but there really are some brilliant finds if you look. 

Now, as I said, most graduation uniforms are black, so dress choice is quite easy. But not for us UEL grads, we get navy blue, and a rust-coloured sash! So our choice was generally block colour, or a floral pattern. But as a general rule, most dresses will suit. The only thing I would say is don't get anything too low cut, because the sash will not stay in place! Mine was pinned to the front of my dress with safety pins, and that worked incredibly well. The best dress cut I can recommend is body con, skater, or fit and flare. Something formal, but stylish is usually perfect.

My shop recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but include: Phase Eight, Karen Millen, Monsoon, Coast or Oasis. 


Now, as far as I was concerned, I was going to wear heels, and there was no two ways about it. High ones, as well. I found my perfect pair at M&S - leather platforms. Oh they looked good, no doubt, but the idea of walking around in them all day was a bit off putting. 

Like I said previously, if you want to wear flats or boots, go right ahead - as long as they are smart. Ballet pumps are a good choice, and if you like the pointed style, they're good too. 

Heels can be anything from kitten to platform - it's entirely up to you. But for those of us who choose the platform route, I have a fantastic tip to lessen the pain. 

M&S do a fantastic range of tights with stitched in foam pads, especially for high heels - these saved me from so much pain when I was charging around the O2 all day, from the indigO2 to the photography studio, to the bar - I don't know how I'd have managed without them, to be honest. So those of you deciding on your best heels, you could do a lot worse than invest in these. 


I tend not to be too prescriptive about what makeup people should wear at graduation, because everyone's style is their own. I tend to prefer lighter makeup for comfort reasons - heavy foundation usually results in a breakout in my case. It's just purely for comfort reasons. But I did have my signature eyeliner on, as always. I decided on a barely-there base, topped up with a small amount of blusher and powder. I didn't wear much lipstick that day, but I did ensure I had lipbalm on hand to deal with any dryness. Again, it's your choice - if you're wanting a bright red lip for example, go for it. Why not?


Right, the straight up truth: you will get hat hair. It's entirely unavoidable. In my case, it was quite extreme. But nothing a mid-evening restyle won't fix. Dry shampoo and hairspray are your friends here. And buns and mortarboards never mix. It's hair down, or a loose pony. If you're able to put your hair in a bun after the ceremony, this is an excellent choice. I restyled my hair once the day was over, and it worked very well. By the time I went out to the evening meal at Jamie's Italian with my family, my hair was still looking pretty good, if I say so myself.

Some other small points about the day, just in general:
  • Get gowned early - you don't want to be waiting in a long queue half an hour before your ceremony begins. 
  • You will get lost. Several times. 
  • Stage nerves are common, especially if your ceremony is being filmed or streamed live (mine was). Don't worry, you're not alone in feeling shaky. 
  • The wait for photographs is insanely long. Use the time to check makeup, teeth for stains/food, hair, everything else. 
  • Even if you do trip up, laugh it off. It's all part of the experience. 
  • Don't get too caught up in the formality of the day - have as much fun as possible. 
  • Always throw the mortarboard, but be careful - that thing doesn't half hurt if it hits you.
And finally...

This is an occasion you will remember for the rest of your life, the conclusion to your academic chapter (even if temporary, if you plan on going onto further study) - it's the transition from undergraduate to Batchelor's status - savour it, celebrate it, but most of all, enjoy it. The best advice I can give, no matter what you're wearing, is to do whatever makes you feel confident - because if you feel confident on the inside, it will show on the outside, no matter what style you opt for. 

Huge, huge congratulations to the Class of 2015, of which my dear sister is also a member - now get celebrating. And remember, always take a selfie with the free wine. Never miss that opportunity. Even if you do look as tired as I do:

Best of luck with your graduations,

Rosie x

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