Tips for Finding a Plus-Sized Graduation Dress

Graduation season is finally upon us. This year, universities expect to award around 4 million degrees — that includes a million associate degrees, 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, 780,000 master’s degrees and 182,000 doctorates. That’s a lot of students preparing for the big walk.

If you’re one of the lucky ones, now is the time to pamper yourself. Reward your efforts with a graduation outfit that signifies your hard-earned achievement and showcases your style. But with so many designs and styles to choose from, how do you even go about selecting the perfect plus-sized dress?

If you want to know how to find the right dress for your cap and gown, follow the advice below.

Plus-Sized Dress Tips for Graduation Day

At your graduation, you’ll be taking lots of photos. And if not you, it will be your parents, grandparents, classmates, teachers and more. There’s no escaping the ubiquitous camera flash.

So don’t sleep in or skip the shower. Instead, plan by reading the top tips for plus-sized women searching for the perfect graduation dress.

Know the Dress Code

Almost every school has a graduation dress code. Check out your school’s handbook or ask a trusted professor about graduation-day expectations. Some schools prohibit "revealing" clothes, such as strapless and spaghetti-strap dresses. Skirts may have a required minimum length, such as a hem below the fingertips when your arms are straight against your sides. Some schools even have rules against the amount of cleavage you can expose. 

Be sure to ask about any graduation-specific requirements. Many schools require you to wear a specific brand of cap and gown, typically purchased through a pre-selected vendor. Showing up without the traditional attire — or even improvising with a gown bought elsewhere — can get you banned from the ceremony. At the very least, you may have to rush home and change.

Even if your school doesn't have a graduation dress code, remember you’ll be in front of family and respected teachers. Flatter your figure and show off your style, but try not to choose anything inappropriate for the occasion.

Dress for the Season

While most people graduate in spring, ceremonies take place a couple of times a year, including in winter. When choosing the right graduation dress, think about the season and which fabrics will keep you the most comfortable.


  • Spring: Try out thin materials such as silk, cotton and tropical wool.
  • Summer: Search for light, airy materials like linen, cotton and seersucker.
  • Autumn: Look for heavier fabrics like velvet, faux leather and cotton.
  • Winter: Consider fabrics which hold in heat, such as wool, cashmere and tweed.


Since most graduates have ceremonies when the weather is warm, you’ll want to stick with fabrics suited for spring and summer, as they allow air to circulate and won’t cause you to sweat or feel stuffy during the ceremony. Cotton is particularly useful, as you can wear it in almost any weather, especially when you pair it with other layers.

Flatter Your Figure

The dress you decide on will depend entirely on your body type. It has nothing to do with your size — it just means some clothes look better on specific shapes than others.

The common body types of plus-sized women include:


  • Apple: An overall round appearance, especially around the waist region
  • Pear: Rounded hips and bottom with a smaller, well-defined waist
  • Hourglass: A defined waist with hips and bust about the same size
  • Rectangle: A small to medium bust with hips of the same width
  • Inverted triangle: Broad shoulders and bust with narrow hips and slim legs


The best way to figure out your body shape is to have someone take your measurements. Use a tape measure to determine the size of your bust, waist and hips. If your hips and bust are nearly the same size, but your waist is slimmer, you would consider yourself an hourglass shape. On the flip side, if your bust and shoulders are wide, but your hips are narrow, you may be an inverted triangle.

When you dress for your figure, you can maximize the parts of your body you’re proud of and minimize the ones you’re self-conscious about. With the right dress, you’ll gain a boost of confidence when walking across the stage.

Pick the Right Colors

There’s a lot to consider when picking out the perfect outfit, and color is one of them. But there are so many colors to choose from.

Follow the steps below to determine which color dress you should wear to graduation.

  1. Think about your skin tone: Warmer skin tones go with warmer colors, like yellow and gold, while cooler tones pair with cooler colors, like blue and pink.
  2. Pick a seasonal color: For spring and summer, stick with natural tones like blues, greens and yellows. For autumn and winter, consider deeper hues, like red or purple.
  3. Consider your school colors: Most schools decorate the commencement ceremony space in traditional colors. Keep those colors in mind when trying to select a complementing outfit.
  4. Remember the graduation gown: While most graduation gowns are black, each school will vary. Figure out the color of the gown before deciding on a dress.
  5. Use high-contrast colors: By wearing high-contrast colors, like black and white, you'll flatter your skin tone and stand out in photos.

What’s most important is you feel comfortable and confident on your big day. And pick a color you like, especially if you plan to re-wear your outfit in the future.

Embrace Floral Prints

Since most graduations coincide with springtime, it’s the perfect opportunity to show off a new floral print dress. A cheerful printed dress can work for almost any occasion, including your graduation ceremony and after-party. Floral dresses made of a light, breezy fabric will help you stay cool during the long commencement. Afterward, you can remove the cap and gown to enjoy the rest of the celebration in comfort.

Floral prints look great on plus-sized women and can show off your curves in the most flattering way. There are several styles of floral dresses to choose from, including wraps, high-low hemlines, two-patterned styles, maxis and more. Keep in mind which styles work best for your figure. 

Even if your ceremony takes place in winter or autumn, there are ways to make your favorite floral piece work. To keep warm, consider adding layers in neutral colors, like black, white or skin tone. You can also add a peacoat with a solid, complementing color. And throw in a scarf to keep your neck warm and pull the whole ensemble together.

Find the Perfect Length

Length is crucial, as it will determine if your dress is visible underneath your gown. If your dress is long, it might peek out below, meaning you’ll have to choose a matching color. If possible, bring your gown along when trying on dresses to see how it will look when you're walking on stage. Some dresses won't work with a graduation gown, no matter the length. That is especially true of voluminous or puffy dresses, which can give your body a strange silhouette.

The most common types of dress lengths available include:

  • Mini, which hits the mid-thigh
  • Pencil, which hits above the knee
  • Midi, which hits at the calf
  • Maxi, which extends to the ankle

Maxi dresses can be a great graduation option, as the style is flattering for curvy women. If you decide on a maxi dress, be sure to choose a quality fabric that won’t stretch and distort your figure. And be sure to try out several styles, as even maxi dresses come in a variety of different cuts.

To avoid this problem altogether, look for a dress that is short, but not too short. You want to be comfortable while also looking formal and professional. One popular choice is the tea-length dress, which has a hemline that falls between the knee and ankle. This style is more convenient because the dress won’t be visible at all until after you remove your gown.

Consider Your Footwear

Footwear can have a significant impact on your dress, so be sure to have a pair in mind before making a purchase. Overly high heels, like stilettos, can make it hard to walk across the stage. Plus, when paired with a dress, they can make the hem seem shorter. On the other hand, flats, while practical and comfortable, won’t work with certain dress styles.

A good compromise is a pair of wedges, around two to three inches in height. With this option, you can look good and show off your legs while also feeling comfortable and having extra support.

While you may feel tempted, don’t buy new shoes for the big occasion. New shoes, especially hand-sewn ones, need time to break in and properly conform to your feet. While some shoe companies are trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to break in new shoes, right now wearing never-worn shoes will result in aches, pain and blisters. 

If you can't resist an excuse for a new pair of shoes, be sure to buy in advance. That way, you can wear them around your home before the big day and speed up the break-in process. 

Coordinate With Your Gown

Cap-and-gown fashion dates back to the 12th century, when academics were more concerned with keeping warm in the unheated buildings than looking good. Not to mention, the church was highly influential at the time, and members of the clergy wore gowns and hoods. Fast-forward about 700 years into the future, and styles haven’t much changed.

To find the perfect plus-sized dress for your graduation day, you’ll want to consider the best way to coordinate with your cap and gown. The traditional gown is black, but some schools also use colors like navy blue, emerald green and silvery white. Figure out which color your gown will be before buying a new dress. If orders aren’t available yet, try asking trusted professors or your academic adviser, someone who may know what to wear from previous years.

With dark gowns, you’ll be able to get away with almost any color. The only factor you’ll need to consider is if your dress is longer than the gown and if the colors match. But if you’re wearing a light-colored gown, such as white, keep in mind certain colors and patterns will show through.

Think About the After-Party

Your graduation day is rarely just a ceremony. It could mean a mid-morning brunch, school-wide commencement ceremony, celebratory dinner and late-night party. Think about everything you can expect to encounter in the day and the best way to dress to stay comfortable.

For example, if you’re having a graduation ceremony in an indoor, air-conditioned space, you might want to bring along an extra layer to stay warm that you can easily take off once you get outside. Or, if you plan to have a graduation party outdoors, you may want to plan on wearing flats, as heels can get stuck in the grass or mud.

Everybody’s graduation day will look different, so your perfect plus-sized dress will depend entirely on your special plans.

Remember to Stay Comfortable

While you want to look your best on your graduation day, it won’t matter if you’re miserable and uncomfortable. While you should follow the tips above, remember to choose the right dress for you.

If you don’t like showing off your arms, but opt for a strapless dress, you may be feeling out of place and self-conscious the entire day. Instead, pair that dress with a stylish spring jacket or cardigan. If you hate the wrinkles on your knees, look for a dress that comes down to at least your calves.

The trick is to play to your strengths. Highlight your body’s features you want to show off. If you have killer legs, look for a gown that will accentuate your height. If you have a curvy waist, try a style that will show you off in all the right ways. Ultimately, the dress you wear will depend on you.

Dress Tips for Parents on Graduation Day

Congratulations! Your kiddo has just finished college and is preparing to walk across the big stage. You’re probably gearing up for the celebration and wondering what to wear for the special occasion.

Follow the advice below to ensure your attire is appropriate for your child’s graduation ceremony.

A Guide for Fathers

Dads should aim for professional or business casual attire. Think a suit, or, at the very least, a pair of slacks with a button-down. To add a touch of elegance, you can include a quality jacket and a tie. If the ceremony is outdoors, you can get aware with more casual options, such as a polo shirt sans tie.

Graduation do's and don’ts for dads:

  • Do wear formal shoes.
  • Do wear matching socks.
  • Don’t wear jeans.
  • Don’t wear shorts.

A Guide for Mothers

Moms have a few more options than dads when it comes to picking graduation day attire. Dresses always work and come in a variety of styles, colors and patterns. You can also opt for a skirt-top combo or a pantsuit. Be sure whatever you select is in good taste and not too flashy.

Graduation do’s and don’ts for moms:

  • Do wear white or school colors.
  • Do wear heels or wedges.
  • Don’t show too much cleavage.
  • Don’t overdo accessories.

Let Perfectly Priscilla Help You Get Ready for the Big Day

Graduation is a significant milestone — probably one you’ve been working toward for years. Savor your accomplishment as much as possible by finding the perfect plus-sized dress for the occasion. Not only will you be sure to look radiant in any big-day photos, but you’ll also feel confident and stylish as you make your way across the stage.

Finding the ideal dress doesn’t have to be a challenge. If you think ahead by learning about tips for plus-sized women's graduation dresses, you can ensure your celebration goes off without a hitch. To find your dream graduation dress, shop Perfectly Priscilla's extensive collection of dresses for curvy women today!

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