Ask Unclutterer: Graduation garb

Reader Eri submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

As a recent graduate, I am stuck with a graduation gown that will definitely not be worn again (the school is changing the gown colors next year, so no luck in passing it on down). I also have my high school gown tucked away somewhere. What is the best approach to get rid of these things? Are there places that accepts gowns to remake new gowns or something else? I have found the tassel to be a small and simple ornament. And the hat? Not sure what to do with that either.

You have the traditional three options: sell it, recycle it, or throw it away.

To try and sell it, pair it with the hat and throw it up on eBay. In March or April you might find someone at a different school with the same colors who might need one on the cheap.

If you want to recycle it, I would suggest contacting a local preschool and asking if they want it. They could use it in their dress-up and imagination stashes. Local theaters might also have a need in their costume departments. If the fabric is of decent quality, you could cut it up and repurpose a little of it into a quilt or garment. Another idea might be to simply give it to a friend with kids who might enjoy using it for dress-up at home. Check out the comments for even more recycling ideas from our readers — they always have great ideas for repurposing items.

Finally, you could just throw it away. Take a photograph of it (if you don’t already have a picture of you wearing it during your graduation ceremony) and then put it in the trash. Most graduation gowns are made of extremely cheap fabric that will quickly decay.

Thank you, Eri, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Congratulations on your recent graduation!

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43 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Graduation garb”

  1. posted by WilliamB on

    Awfully sorry to hear you had to buy your gown. I suggest trying an animal shelter as well – they’re always on the lookout for cloth for their critters.

  2. posted by mo on

    The black ones can be used for Darth Vader costumes.

  3. posted by chacha1 on

    Donating to a local theater was my first thought, too. But given the time of year and the fact that *I* have never gotten tired of playing dress-up, these things (even the caps) pack pretty flat and might make a fun Halloween costume some day!
    That said, Erin’s absolutely right – the fabric will not “keep” well, so if you can’t imagine doing the Halloween thing, donate it.

  4. posted by mycrazyhair on

    Given the time of year, you might be able to freecyle it to someone who wants it as a Halloween costume. Or, for that matter, donate it to a local charity that will turn around and sell it to someone as a costume.

  5. posted by Michele on

    Zombie graduate for Halloween — zombies seem to be all the rage lately.

  6. posted by Dawn on

    What about giving it away through your local Freecycle group at

    Perhaps you could give it to the school where you graduated from? Maybe they would give it to a graduate who is short of funds…

    I love the Darth Vadar costume idea!

  7. posted by Lisa on

    I was thinking about using my hat as the cover for a scrapbook album about my high school years. I could punch holes in it with my Crop-a-Dile and put binder rings through the whole album.

  8. posted by mdm on

    Donate it to graduates of next year’s class. That’s what my graduate school encouraged. After tuition and year’s of textbooks, it helped that I didn’t have to buy a cap and gown, just borrow it and return it. The school had about 20 of these which we entered a lottery to win..

  9. posted by Dawn on

    Ooops – Freecycle information can be found at – not .com

  10. posted by Patch on

    Just curious, why do un-/declutterers put so much stuff in the trash?

    It just seems like a lot of what I see lately is “toss it in the trash, just get rid of it NOW” without any thought to the planet or more stuff piling up in landfills.

    Most everything we want to get rid of that is not unsanitary or hazardous is usable by SOMEBODY; with a little effort on our parts those items could be recycled or outright donated.

    And it can be fun to come up with creative ideas for different recipients or repurposing an item. For instance, I’ve seen that a lot of people toss CD boxes in the trash when they could be donated to libraries or schools. Every community could do something like Teacher Exchange, in Las Vegas, and staff it with volunteers if needed:

    Sorry, back to lurk mode.

  11. posted by schmei on

    Patch, I think that’s why throwing it out is offered as the last resort.

  12. posted by Kate on

    To the posters who said to give it to next year’s class… the person who wrote the e-mail already said that they’re changing the colors, so it can’t be passed down!!

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Patch — As @schmei said, trashing is always the last resort. However, if something IS trash, it should be trashed.

  14. posted by megan on

    Don’t throw it out. A thrift store would even be a better option than throwing it away. If they can’t use it, they’ll know. But let them be the judge of that.

  15. posted by Loren on

    I still have my graduation robes hanging in the back of my closet (we couldn’t rent them either and the school changes their robes nearly every year) I think the ‘trash it’ mentality is meant for things like my graduation robe that I was SURE there was SOMETHING I could do with. But it’s been hanging in the back of my closet for years. And the chances that I will do anything with it now are pretty slim.
    Believe me I re-purpose and give away as much stuff as possible (from empty pickle jars to old clothes) but sometimes things just need to be trashed to get them out of your life before you stress about them to much. I like that Erin and the Unclutterer gang give you permission to throw things away which my trifty/eco-friendly side always has a problem doing.

  16. posted by catherine on

    How about buying up all your classmates’ old gowns and setting up a business renting out graduation gowns? Not just for your old school but for ALL schools in your state, maybe? Probably far more attractive to most people anyway to hire a gown for the day for $50 than buy it outright for $100 and never use it again. (I’m making up those numbers, I have no idea what they cost.)

    This unclutterer problem strikes me as the classic clutter problem – buying for the one-off occasion. It’s the clothing equivalent of a unitasker!

  17. posted by infmom on

    Cut the two gowns into equal sized squares and make yourself an interesting quilt.

  18. posted by Sooz on

    Can you sell the robe (or donate it) to a company that rents out graduation robes?

  19. posted by Karyn on

    I can’t believe some schools make people buy the robes. In both high school and college, the only things I bought were the caps and tassels; the robes were checked out, used for graduation, and then returned. As this post illustrates, what the heck are you going to do with a graduation robe after the graduation? Make a very big pillow?

  20. posted by Michelle on

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the use of robes in greek life. My soroity uses graduation robes (all different colors) in some of our formal meetings and would always love a donation of a new robe seeing that ours are old and get used quite a bit. So another sugestion would be to check with the greek life on a campus neer you and see if they would like the robe!

  21. posted by Tanya on

    Unfortunately, I doubt that most gowns will “quickly decay” if you throw them away. The cheap fabric they’re made of is usually polyester – thin fibers of man-made polymers, similar to plastic. These synthetic fabrics can take over 40 years to “decay” into small pieces that are too small to see. Natural fibers are probably okay to toss but synthetics and blends are best re-used. Check with your school to see whether any low-income students could use a donated gown.

  22. posted by Dingham on

    You could always offer it to your local ReUseIt group. There are plenty of college students in the groups.

    You can find local ReUseIt groups at:

    “In a disposable society where many items are discarded long before they have actually outlived their use, The ReUseIt Network helps get things from people who have them but don’t want them to people who want them but don’t have them.

    Our goal is to find new uses for unwanted items that would otherwise be thrown into the trash.”

  23. posted by Sue on

    Be careful giving it away… if you are a teacher, or are in education, you frequently have to continue to attend commencement ceremonies!! I’ve taught High School & the staff is encouraged to attend & participate in the ceremony.. in our graduation gowns. Well, we don’t use the flat-topped graduation ‘hats’ but the “thing” that hangs down our back (brain went blank on its name).

    So, you can also donate to a local High School, so that those staff that no longer have a gown, can now have one to dress up in each year.

    PS: the students really do appreciate having their teachers there!!

  24. posted by Katie Alender on

    Another voice in support of donating it to a thrift store–that gives it the chance to be picked up as a graduation gown, choir gown, Halloween costume, fabric source for a craft project… many possible uses!

    Another option would be to collect a bunch of your classmates’ robes and arrange to donate them to a church choir as robes.

  25. posted by Claudia Ziegler on

    Or it could be made into a quilt. I had a quilt made out of my graduation gowns, a few dresses that had sentimental value but no longer fit, and some of my favorite t-shirts that were well-worn. Surprisingly, the result is wonderful and I use it year-round.

  26. posted by Vicki K on

    Depending on your particular gown, the fabric quality of the run-of-mill grad gown is very low. You might not want to invest too much time into a remake. People (like me) go to Goodwill looking for these gowns to make into costumes for drama or parties. Mo was right.

  27. posted by Another Deb on

    I am with Sue on letting the schools have it. I taught at a grade 6-12 school and had to wear one for each graduation. It was very impressive to see all of the colorful hoods and the variations of sleeves as we processed into the venue. The school bought several of these each year for new teachers and that cost builds up!

  28. posted by Cheryl on

    My local adult day care has started a graduation awarding a “life experience” degree. They have the clients wear caps and gowns since many did not ever have a graduation ceremony. Maybe this can be something more groups do.

  29. posted by Nancy on

    I have gotten an incredible amount of use from my academic robes from college. Add a witch’s hat and, “poof” you’re a witch. They’ve been the basis for a whole slew of different type of costumes for me. Later, my son used it as “wizard robes” for Harry Potter. It’s one of those things that doesn’t take up a lot of space but comes in very handy when you need a costume in a pinch. Definitely a Halloween multi-tasker.

  30. posted by Leslie on

    Some costume shops will take them.

    I threw mine away years ago after saving a swatch of the material.

  31. posted by Kristen on

    If it’s black and you know a Harry Potter fan, graduation robes make great wizard costumes. That’s what mine was used for.

  32. posted by Christine on

    I love the Harry Potter costume idea! My school colors were purple and white, and the girls always wore the white. I donated my white robes to my church where they used them as angel costumes for the Christmas Pageant.

  33. posted by Nadine on

    I turned our old robes into wizard costumes by fusing on gold shiny fabric moons & stars. A great, easy costume for any size! Create a pointy hat and you’re ready for a party.

  34. posted by belugagirl on

    Depending on the color/type of fabric, you could donate it to one of the following:

    This is also a great outlet for donating wedding/bridesmaid/prom dresses, miscellaneous fabric, ribbons, silk flowers, and lots of other stuff.

  35. posted by Laura on

    My kids’ school colors are bright blue and gold, with the average kids wearing the blue and the smart kids wearing the gold.

    My daughter was a blue and my son will be a gold. They have to buy their gowns … for $5 each. No charge for hat & tassel.

    Soooo cheap, and cheaply made, we donated/will donate to Goodwill. The colors are way too neon to be cute or subtle Halloween costumes.

  36. posted by Marie on

    Yes, Halloween! When you’ve got a costumes-required party to go to, and a surly, I-don’t-want-to-be-involved-in-this husband, a graduation outfit is the perfect thing. Just toss it on over your regular clothing and you’re ready to go.

  37. posted by Lyrehca on

    I’ve repurposed two different gowns (one black, one blue) as Halloween costumes over the years. I stapled construction paper stars, planets and a sun on to the black one and went as the universe, and did the same with construction paper fish and boats for the blue one as the ocean.

  38. posted by Demi on

    I gave mine away to my young cousin 3 days after graduating. She was so psyched about getting it.

  39. posted by Susie Fire on

    another costume idea!
    I used mine as a judge’s robe, just put a shirt with a lacy collar on underneath and its easy and comfortable 🙂
    I like the wizard idea too.

  40. posted by JC on

    When I graduated college, the gowns and caps were of very high quality, and provided by the school. However, if you did not return yours (or pay for it if you didn’t do so), you would not be receiving your diploma or your transcript.

    We had to buy our HS gowns (cheap-$10). I had formal cap and gown photos taken the summer after graduation; and then sold the gown to the photographer for $15. You may be able to donate to a photographer.

  41. posted by Josephine on

    I was surprised to read this. I’ve always rented my graduation gowns. The only part renters kept was the tassle, which had a trinket indicating the year of graduation.

  42. posted by TatiLie on

    Reading this post made me so happy my graduation gown was rented! This is the usual service we get in Brazil for graduation parties. We try the size previously and on the day of the graduation they bring it for you and in the end of the ceremony you give it back.

  43. posted by Karina on

    A leadership school in Armenia is currently looking for donations of graduation caps and gowns. If you still have yours, or know anyone who would like to make this contribution please let me know! The first graduating class of this school will truly appreciate it!

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