I usually do a special occasions post later in the season but I’ve been so overwhelmed by requests this year that I’ve pulled it forward. It’s the things we have in common that draw us together and this year it seems that one of those things is graduation ceremonies. My friends started asking me what I was going to wear for the eldest’s on New Year’s Day. The ceremony isn’t until July so I’d imagined thinking about it in June but looking at their shocked faces I realised that would be a mistake. So, I’m going to run through my personal ‘dressing up rules’ and then give you a few suggestions of outfit ideas for graduations – and of course everything in this post can be applied to weddings, important work meetings and summer occasions like the races too.
A big day in your life
Our nearest city is Lancaster and it is home to two universities (Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria) as well as a teaching hospital. Because of this there are certain times of year when there’s an influx of midlife mums from all over the country and so I love going into town to see what they’re wearing.
The city thrums with a different hum depending on the stage of their offspring’s university cycle. I notice that for Open Days in June they’re all generally dressed in smart casual and there’s an air of expectation as they shepherd their offspring through choices that seem so far away. They return in the October of the following year looking slightly startled, it’s happening, their cherished one is flying the nest and they’ve been up since dawn packing two cars with everything the child can’t possibly live without. My favourite time though is July, when they come to celebrate the outcome of three or four years of dedicated ‘study.’
Graduation is probably the first major event that you celebrate with your adult child. It’s a big deal for both of you. It’s the culmination of all of your parenting from the first picture books, through the years of primary school projects, the tense times of trying to pull GCSE maths from the depths of your brain so that you can help them with their homework to the day when you realise that, on some topics at least, they outsmart you.
I don’t think any parent gets their child through university these days without some element of struggle and personal sacrifice, even if it’s just the quiet acknowledgement of the many hangovers you’ve funded. But this is the day when it all comes together and yes, a lot of their success is down to them and the work they’ve put in. However it’s also a celebration of your own parenting, all the tiny little moments of saying ‘you can do it’… and they have.
It’s a big day all round, you want to feel your best and you want them to be proud of you too. So, here are my personal rules of celebration dressing. You may not agree but you might find that they help.
My personal celebration dressing rules
Start the outfit with the shoes.
Nothing is more important – they need to look good, you need to feel comfortable and for graduation ceremonies, you need to be able to pick up your pace when required. Time and time again I watch the graduation parties coming into town when the main event is over. Everyone’s a little bit flustered because the parents have been struggling to park in an unfamiliar city that the student knows so well – but only by taxi. They’re walking in a family group to a restaurant they’ve booked when suddenly there’s a shout from across the street – it’s the offspring’s best Wednesday night drinking buddy that they may never see again so they dash off for a bit of banter and back slapping.
They stride ahead together with their long, young legs, leaving the mum behind unable to catch up in the towering heels she never usually wears. The eye rolling begins and the evening rapidly veers off course… That’s why we need to start with the shoes.
Remember your role
It’s an important occasion and as a mother you’ve invested countless hours of encouragement, cajoling and tongue-biting to get to this point but ultimately it’s their day not yours. Son or daughter, they are the star of the show and (in my opinion) there’s never been an occasion that calls more for understated elegance. There is no need for a hat or a fascinator… or a corsage… I saw all of these things last year. Coco Chanel’s maxim “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off” is a good one for occasions like this.
Buy something you’ll wear again
This is a bit of a ‘note to self’. I’ve sold too many dresses this year that I’ve only worn once so I’m on a mission to focus on outfits that work across different situations. When you look at my suggestions, you’ll notice that the accessories do the talking and that the core elements of the outfit are quite simple. This method enables you to use the accessories afterwards to dress up simpler looks such as jeans for a night out and the dresses will work for other smart events. It’s better for the budget and the planet too. So, let me take you through what I’ve found.
Outfit ideas for graduations, weddings and summer occasions 2019
Monochrome with a flash of sunshine
My first selection is based around elegant monochrome pieces but livened up with a splash of this season’s statement yellow. Bags and shoes are interchangeable depending on your preference.
- Black Dress with ivory belt this is such a simple, elegant solution and it’s hand washable. There are low splits at the side so you can stride out too
- Yellow and white shoes the fact that these pick up the belt with their off white strap is a detail that really pleases me. They have an adjustable strap and an on trend squared toe plus they’re comfortable too
- Yellow crossbody bag well priced in canary yellow, the strap enables you to go hands-free if you want to
- Panelled chiffon dress – ultra chic, the panels on this dress are slimming too
- Chair-leg shoes architectural heels are a key feature this season and this is an affordable way into the trend
- Suede clutch the panel on the dress is more mustard than custard so the shoes and this bag tone with it perfectly
- Spotty shirt dress – cotton shirt dresses are timeless and polka dots are everywhere this year. This one is a linen cotton blend and you could change the belt for black suede or patent if you wanted to take it up a notch.
- Yellow, black and white shoes as always, the devil’s in the detail and these slingbacks have a touch of black as well as white on their strap, pulling the whole look together.
- Zebra clutch I couldn’t resist the contrast of the zebra with the spots, a look that shows you may be a mum but you have your finger on the pulse
- Silk shirt dress this handwashable 100% silk dress will feel cool and flow beautifully, I’ve used strong accessories to lift it
- Statement Bag a dress as simple as this needs statement accessories to give it some oomph and this little bucket bag would do the trick
- High Vamp Shoes picking up on the zingy lemon yellow of the bag, these Scandi-style slingbacks ensure the shirt dress doesn’t look too classic
Green with accents
Green continues to be a leading colour this season, it’s versatile and it goes with most other colours – choose your favourite combination.
- Green Dress with blue spots I saw this at the press day, it’s a lovely cut (particularly flattering on the midriff) and very vibrant
- Two tone shoes the perfect match, blue with a flash of green
- Saffiano Clutch – there’s a lot going on in this outfit so I’ve kept the bag simple with saffiano leather (new stock just arrived)
- Wrap Dress the ruffle brings this classic wrap dress bang up to date
- Crocodile Shoes because the dress is so simple, I’ve made sure the shoes have texture for an extra dimension
- Scarlet clutch designed by me to have every feature you need including a leather backed mirror for lipstick touch ups (new stock just arrived)
- Straight Cut Shirt Dress good for anyone who’s a column but wants to add curves
- White Block Heeled Shoes I know we wore white shoes the first time but they’re supremely on trend – pair them with jeans this summer to update your look
- Simple white clutch – this will be great to use on holiday as well as for formal occasions
- Dress – remember the frame size exercise in the core wardrobe work? These larger spots will suit bigger frames and the smaller ones in the previous outfit will flatter smaller frames. This is washable viscose so easy to wear and care for.
- Shoes – balance out the volume of the dress with a sharp shoe in this year’s beige
- Bag this clutch will go everywhere with you this summer and it will work with everything
Navy with pops of colour
Navy is always a good workhorse, it can look a bit plain though so I’ve chosen pieces that have a little extra flair.
- Polka Dot Wrap Dress – a midi length with a dipped hem and ruffle details too – every flattering detail in one dress and machine washable too
- Bag – bubblegum pink lifts the navy away from the office and this will sit elegantly in the crook of your arm
- Pink Suede Shoes – pink slingbacks with a block heel – an important feature if you’re going to be having drinks on a lawn after the ceremony
- Colourblock Dress – a lovely fit and flare dress with a block of cobalt – the colour that’s really hard to find this summer. Ignore the model shots, they’re really poor
- Cobalt Shoes – summer’s best shade of blue but be quick because they’re selling out fast
- Straw Clutch Bag – breaking up the formality with a straw clutch that you’ll use all summer long
- Ponte Dress as you know I can recommend this personally and it’s in the sale at the moment. I advise going for the longer length though if you’re 5ft 7 or over
- Pink and red shoes – this is how I styled my dress for dinner in the Lakes, with a pair of pink shoes although they weren’t as nice as these
- Simple clutch – there’s enough detail in the shoes and dress so I’ve kept the clutch simple in scarlet saffiano leather
- Polka Dot Jumpsuit one of the most elegant graduation mums I’ve seen was striding along in a navy jumpsuit. This is stunning but it’s already showing low stock.
- Patent Shoes an easy way to introduce this summer’s key shade of beige in a Jackie O style with a silver buckle
- Snake clutch – the perfect animal print to tone with beige and ensure that it stays chic rather than frumpy
Red all over
Finishing with my favourite – red. Because it’s a bold colour, the pieces need to be kept simple. I’ve focused on strong architectural shapes so that it doesn’t shout too loud.
- Jumpsuit a perfect red for cooler skintones, this is relaxed chic at its best
- Cone Heeled Shoes an architectural contrast to the drapey fabric, these shoes ensure the look stays sharp
- Silver leather clutch – another one from my own collection, these have just arrived. Silver is summer’s key metallic this year (new stock just arrived)
- Ponte Dress – it won’t surprise you to hear that I love this dress but I mustn’t buy another red one. I like the elegant structure and the detail at the back
- Snake Shoes another personal recommendation from me – my shoes of the year so far
- Scarlet suede clutch – with a gold chain strap if you need to be hands-free because you’re the photographer in the family
- Dress with simple statement sleeve detail currently in the sale. This is the red version of the navy one I have – if you remember I said that the cut makes me think of Armani. Now that it’s reduced it’s even better value
- Black and white shoes the beauty of the dress is in the architecture so the accessories need an extra level of detail to accentuate its simplicity. These slingbacks do the job perfectly
- Tassel clutch – the zebra clutch is the finishing touch, I think I’m going to have to buy this to add to my other ponyskin clutches, they’re so useful for lifting a jeans outfit on a night out
- Dress this is an absolute bargain if you can get one while they’re still available. A gem of a dress from a beautiful, small brand that seems to be hitting hard times. The tailoring is immaculate and the neckline is elegant. I’ve found them to be generally true to size but with little stretch so if in doubt, size up
- Chanel style shoes a dress like this one requires an elegant shoe and this is perfect
- Snake clutch bag – add a touch of trend to a very classic look that doesn’t cheapen it in any way, the perfect final detail
And so there you have it, my outfit ideas for graduations, weddings, the races and any other formal summer occasions – all we need now is the sunshine!
I probably won’t manage to post on Friday. I lost a day of work unexpectedly yesterday when I went to the hospital for a routine shoulder check-up only to be told that I can’t keep postponing the operation they tell me I need. So, six hours later I’d had the X-rays, scans and the pre-op assessment. All I have to do now is wait for a date and then spend six weeks with my right arm in a sling – I’m not letting my mind even go there until it has to! And just as an aside, I know when I first mentioned the problems I was having after the car crash a few years ago that some of you mentioned you’d had rotator cuff surgery too. Have you by any chance had to choose between a tenodesis or a tenotomy procedure? It’s a decision I have to make – a quicker recovery with a ‘Popeye’ biceps or a longer recovery with a normal looking arm. I’m struggling to decide so any experiences would be really helpful. Thank you and have a great week.
Disclosure: ‘Outfit ideas for graduations, weddings and summer occasions 2019’ is not a sponsored post
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