White Formals During Graduation

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. She graduated from high school in 1962.

Context: When driving in the car, the talk of college graduation arose. Eventually, the conversation shifted to the informant talking about her own graduation a long time ago.


MC: When I graduated high school, in 1962, girls were supposed to wear white formals and the boys wore a dress suit.

Me: Did you carry anything?

MC: Yes, we carried a large bouquet of a dozen red roses. I really wish I still had pictures from back then. I hope I didn’t throw out the wrong album by accident, as that sometimes happens.

Me: So, just to clarify, they were formal dresses?

MC: Yes, I had to wear gloves. Now, these were floor-length formals. They were very beautiful, and my school did this every single year. I am not sure if they still follow the tradition, though. It has been a while since I have looked them up.


Informant: The informant looked back on the tradition fondly, exemplified by how she wished she could look back at it. It was an extremely proud moment for her and the unique dress code made it stand out in her memory.

Mine: White graduation dresses have been a tradition in America for a long time, since about the 1800s. Both high school aged and college aged students might wear white for their graduation. A different spin on it is the need to wear formals and to carry a bouquet of red roses. The vibe of graduation seems more similar to a prom than a graduation. Roses typically symbolize love, and perhaps by carrying them, it showcases the love the girls have for their school. White, meanwhile, is a color of purity. The need for girls to wear white and carry roses encapsulates the era of the 1950’s and 60’s, and now that the roses and the formals have been discarded, it shows a more modern woman who is going to wear a variety of different dresses and not stay confined to a single space.