Style Guide: Choosing the Ultimate Graduation Get-up

Written by Robert | 18/06/2014

Summer is in full swing and graduation season is fast approaching. Mums are choosing feathered fascinators, dads are agonising over parking plans and whole families are planning military-level operations to ensure that grandma is manoeuvred in an out of the ceremony as comfortably as possible.

It’s a nerve-wracking, high-stress day that promises to be the biggest in your life thus far. Irrespective of your final result, graduation is a pivotal moment and when you see your graduation picture in the family album, you’ll want to remember just how darn swell you looked – and not how awkward, stiff and sweaty you looked. (N.B. You’ll be sweating buckets either way; just be glad scratch-and-sniff photography isn’t available yet.)

For most graduation ceremonies, a traditional two-piece suit is de rigueur and nowadays, there’s more choice than ever. It’s 2014, and the commodification of luxury means you can pick up a regulation two-piece for £15.00 along with your weekly shop – and what’s more, you’ll get Clubcard points. Jokes aside, the fact is that most men assume that sourcing a sharp, Bond-like suit is an esoteric art that’s best left to the rich and famous.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and you deserve to look and feel on your A-game when the big day comes around. With help from two of the North’s most esteemed tailoring houses and two of the South’s savviest personal stylists, we’ve put together a guide to graduation style that will see you sailing through the big day and into the world of work.

Graduation Style Consultants


Desmond Merrion

Mullen & Mullen

Sartoria Lab

Lisa Gillbe Style

Fit, fabric and colour: the fundamentals


If there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s that fit is crucial. It’s the factor that will make-or-break your whole look and spell the difference between bumbling, top-heavy awkwardness and cocksure, Casino Royale cool.

Depending on your budget, you have several options. A bespoke, made-to-measure suit will usually cost north of £600. It is a highly personal investment that, when cared for correctly, can look brand new for decades.

The second, more wallet-friendly option is a ready-made, off-the-peg suit. For cash-strapped graduates, the high street will normally be the first port-of-call, with a quality suit costing between £110 and £200. “In these days of mass production and designer driven labels, the price of a suit isn’t necessarily an indicator that you are actually purchasing anything of real quality,” says Des.

“If you pit a pricey designer-label suit against an own-label equivalent from one of the British high street stalwarts, the high street suit will often beat it on the quality of cloth, lining, trimmings and construction,” he adds.

But even with high street suits, fit is key. Sarah suggests leaving some of your initial budget aside to take the suit to an alterations tailor. “Men often buy suits that are too large for their frames and incorrect sleeve length is a real giveaway,” she says. Lisa says that “young people can often get away with off-the-peg suits; they look good and people expect an entry-level suit,” although, like Sarah, she says that visiting an alterations tailor will pay dividends in the end.

Lisa Gillbe's Graduation Look

Lisa’s look #1: GALAKSJ navy suit, £273 at Ted Baker; COCHETT leather bag, £107 at Ted Baker; TERRIF shirt, £42 at Ted Baker. Shop Ted Baker at Mainline.

How will you know if an off-the-peg suit fits? Damien suggests the following: “Stand naturally and look for creasing, flares and ripples. Look at the shoulder and bottom – they should lie flat, without creasing. Check the back of your collar – it shouldn’t stand out (float) or bunch in the back. Finally, check your jacket. The lapel should not bow (too tight) or hang forward (too loose)”.

Both Damien and Des advise eschewing ‘outlandish’ skinny fits in favour of classic fits. As a mantra, Damien invokes Yves Saint Laurent’s famous saying: “Fashions fade, style is eternal”.

Sarah stresses the importance of wearing your suit correctly: ensuring that only the top button is done up (if the jacket has two buttons) and ensuring that any sewn-up rear vents or pockets are split open prior to wearing.


Material is another key consideration. Lisa warns that a flannel wool or tweed suit can make you look bulky, and advises against Teflon or polyester-based suits for their lack of breathability and cheap-looking shimmer. Wool or cotton-based is best, with wool blend, worsted wool and cotton blend offering cheaper alternatives to high-end cashmeres and silks. 


Damien suggests muted colours such as navy blue or grey because “Your graduation suit will double as your job interview suit.” Des also suggests solid, dark colours and points out that these colours will match virtually any shirt and tie. For shirts, Lisa suggests pastels such as light blue in place of white, which she says can appear corporate and cause light skin to look washed-out. However, Damien assures that white can be a classic and timeless option if in doubt.

Lisa Gillbe's Graduation Look Number 2

Lisa’s look #2: Dot to Dot shirt, £63.00 from Ted Baker at Mainline; Rolling blazer, £255 at Paul Smith; Damson Star pocket square, £50 at Ted Baker. Shop Paul Smith at Mainline.

The finishing touches


“For graduations, family heirlooms in the form of cufflinks, tiepins and such are always a special touch”, says Sarah. “Remember that subtle details make all the difference. A plain white pocket square with a simple, quality watch can have as much impact as a much more flamboyant arrangement”, she adds.

Des is a big believer in accessorising. “The pocket square is a must. Throw it in there and pull the front out like a dandy. Don’t leave it folded as you’ll look like a try-hard. Tie pins are cool, but keep them subtle and narrow”.

“Braces – if your trousers allow – are a great way to jazz up and individualise your suit. However, you should keep the novelty Bart Simpson braces out of sight for the comic book convention. Striped, coloured braces are a truly classic look”.

If you’re planning an overnight stay or just want to have an extra-safe place for your diploma, Lisa suggests taking a bag. “Take a holdall or messenger bag. If you can stretch your budget to a leather one then it will age beautifully.” See look #1 (above) for inspiration.


Lisa suggests knitted ties for their youthful image and versatility, but almost any tie will do so long there are no novelty designs and the colour doesn’t clash too harshly with your shirt. Regardless of the style, both Sarah and Des stress that a properly-tied tie can have a notable impact. Des advises a classic Windsor knot.


“Pointy shoes – or those that turn up at the end – can look cheap and will look dated in photos; especially those with brightly coloured soles,” says Sarah. “A classic pair of Oxfords or brogues in black, tan or oxblood are a timeless choice”.

It usually goes without saying, but ensure that your shoes and belt are the same colour.

Oliver Sweeney Brogues

Lisa suggests these tan brogues from Oliver Sweeney at Mainline

What if I don’t want to wear a suit?

Lisa suggests ‘smart separates’ as an alternative to the arguably staid suit-and-tie. Try pairing dark chinos with a formal shirt. Finish with a heritage tweed or dark-coloured linen blazer and a pair of classic brown Oxford shoes or brogues. See look #2 (above) for inspiration.



What did you think of this post?


Thumbs up review image


Average review image

Not for me!

Thumbs down review image