Comment & Analysis
Oct 20, 2021

Trinity’s Graduation Dress Code Needs a 21st-Century Rethink

Rigid, heteronormative dress codes can make the commencement ceremony unappealing to many, writes Jonathan Andrews.

Jonathan AndrewsContributor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

For many, graduating from college is an incredibly important life event. It marks the closing of one chapter on someone’s path through life and the opening of a new one. Perhaps, for this year’s graduates, after over a year of being apart, it is even more important as it gives us an opportunity to be together for one last time.

One would think that this is a day where we should celebrate graduands, whose participation in College life has shaped and contributed to the fantastic place that Trinity is today. However, it appears that this is not necessarily the full story – while on one hand the institution wants to project an image of openness and inclusivity, an odour of exclusivity still reeks from the graduation’s regulations and nothing says this clearer than the degree ceremony’s dress code. Male graduates “must wear dinner jackets or full evening wear (tuxedo), white shirt, black or white bow tie (military dress accepted), hood, and gown”. Female graduates “must wear black, or white, or a combination of both (military accepted), hood, and gown”. Clerical graduates also have the exciting option of wearing a “clerical shirt that is either black or grey”.

There is also huge pressure to conform to this dress code. If you don’t, you may be “denied permission to proceed with conferral on the day.” For numerous reasons, the dress code is outdated and desperately needs reform.


While some may look at the dress code and have everything that is required, others will read it and feel a sense of dread. For some of us, graduation presents costs. Personally, I moved abroad to teach English in Madrid after completing my last few assignments. Those of us who live abroad or even in another county and want to graduate in person may have to consider transportation costs, accommodation costs if you’ve no one to stay with, PCR tests (unvaccinated/unapproved vaccine) and other travel expenses. The dress code only adds to these costs.

An odour of exclusivity still reeks from the graduation’s regulations

If one doesn’t own a piece of clothing they will likely have to rent, buy or borrow clothing that adheres to the dress code and while one can borrow a dickie bow and a pair of trousers, “gowns and hoods (which will only cover what you’re wearing anyway) must be worn.” The guidelines recommend renting from Armstrong and Oxford, who allow you to hire a gown for €41 if you book online and €50 on the day, with you having to return the gown “90 minutes”
of the ceremony ending.

A graduation is a formal event, there is no doubt about that. Dress codes help set the tone of such formal events, however Trinity’s monochrome colour scheme is too strict. There are plenty of alternatives to a black and white that are surely suitable for a graduation. Surely, students should be allowed to have some form self expression whilst they graduate – after all, this ceremony is about the graduates, is it not?

One fellow graduand I know was planning on wearing a beautiful jacket embroidered with red birds and flowers – a jacket most would consider suitable for the event – but it breached the graduation dress code. When enquiring about whether navy, a colour sometimes mistaken for black, would be acceptable, the response I got was: “It’s not ideal.”

This dress code is also very restrictive when it comes to gender. It only gives instructions for men and women, it doesn’t take into account LGBTQ+ identities and thus excludes people who are non-binary, gender fluid or anyone who doesn’t conform to heteronormativity. The risk of being turned away from the ceremony may deter queer students from attending or make some shy away from being their authentic selves when they attend.

The graduation dress code doesn’t take into account LGBTQ+ identities and thus excludes people who are non-binary, gender fluid or anyone who doesn’t conform to heteronormativity

While I personally doubt that someone would turn away a queer student, having a binary dress code is not welcoming and flies in the face of what students learn within the institution itself. As a student of both drama and sociology, I studied how gender is a social construction that is performed through behaviour, body language and most notably, dress. It makes no sense to introduce students to queer theory only to then enforce heteronormativity for such important ceremonies. The institution will have to do much more than change freshman to “fresh” in order to move the university towards gender equality.

Clothing is much more than materials we use to keep warm and cover our genitals. Dress is a way of communication and expression that can tell people a variety of different things about an individual including gender, culture, class, family, political affiliation and so on. We also have various rules around clothing that tell us who can or should wear what. When these rules are broken, there are consequences.

A graduation ceremony should be about celebrating the graduate for achieving their degree, regardless of what will be covered by their graduation robes. However, the dress code, along with other factors such as holding the ceremony in Latin, alienates some graduates and perpetuates the notion that Trinity is a snobbish institution with an aura of superiority.

Jonathan Andrews is a drama and sociology graduate.

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