Tone it down, don’t upstage the graduate


Special To The Japan Times

Spring is just around the corner, and for teachers and parents with kids who are moving on to the next stage in the Japanese education system, that means graduation season.

MH has a question about appropriate attire for the big occasion: My kid is about to graduate from public elementary school. When she finished kindergarten six years ago, I showed up in casual clothes at graduation and all the other moms were in dark suits. So then I wore a navy suit to her school entrance ceremony a few weeks later, and the majority were in pastels. I guess I didn’t get the memo on that one! So, is there anything I should know about elementary graduation? My kid sticks out enough as it is, so I don’t want to make it worse by dressing “wrong.”

As a parent of three, I’ve made my fair share of clothing gaffes too. I think it is true to say that clothing trends have relaxed somewhat in the six years between my oldest and youngest graduating from elementary school. For a start, more women are opting for the relative comfort of pants suits over the traditional “graduation suit” of jacket and tight skirt. Today’s younger mothers tend to be less concerned about what others think and dress to suit their personal style, too.

Upmarket department stores Isetan and Mitsukoshi are two popular options for parents seeking formal outfits. I spoke to Masaki Shimizu, head of PR at the headquarters of their parent company, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. He said that the basic idea of a more muted color for graduation, such as navy or gray, still holds true.

“Most women tend to save the brighter colors for school entrance ceremonies in April. These usually coincide with the cherry blossoms blooming, with the feeling that spring has truly come.”

He also said that the trend is toward items that can be worn in a variety of ways.

“Rather than a suit, some women choose separate pieces. For example, if you want to buy a new jacket, team it with a plain dark skirt for graduation, and then with a flowing pleated skirt in a pastel shade for school entrance.”

With the Japanese weather particularly unpredictable at this time of the year and school gymnasiums being notoriously heater-free, MH should consider taking a lap blanket to the ceremony or wearing thick stockings. Don’t forget your slippers, a carrier bag to put all the graduation paraphernalia into and perhaps some tissues or a handkerchief — it’s amazing how emotional these ceremonies can be.

When my youngest graduated from elementary school this time last year, I entertained the idea of wearing kimono to the ceremony. Every year there were one or two mothers in kimono and they looked so elegant. My daughter, however, quickly shot down that idea as being “too embarrassing” (for her). She had no qualms at dressing up in a kimono herself, though.

The hakama style worn by female students back in the early decades of the last century has seen a bit of a revival recently among college graduates, a phenomenon that has started trickling down to elementary schoolgirls, too.

As Masaki noted, “These ceremonies are a celebration, but don’t forget that the child should be the center of attention. Parents shouldn’t try and compete.” In line with that advice, I wore a gray suit to my daughter’s graduation. And for the junior-high entrance ceremony a couple of weeks later? Cherry blossom pink.

Congratulations to MH and all the parents with children moving on up!

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send all your comments and questions here: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

  • How charming for a mother refer to her daughter as, “my kid.”