05/17/2012 02:01 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

11 Graduation Dresses That Transition Into The Real World (PHOTOS)

When I was shopping for a dress to wear to my college graduation, it was practically impossible. My school didn't require that I wear a white dress, however, I felt obligated by tradition and wore a dress I already had. Looking back at photos, I regret that "it's there" approach. I wish that I wore something that felt more "me."

There are some simple ways to look appropriate for the occasion while still staying true to yourself. And by doing so, you'll end up with something you can actually wear after graduation (perhaps to a job interview?).

The easiest way is color. Unexpected spring hues can literally brighten up your graduation look. A warm pastel, like a light coral-kissed pink or sunny yellow, flatters nearly any skin tone. It will also look great in the photographs and won't stand out too much underneath a slightly sheer graduation gown. If you choose to go with a pattern, either embrace a more conservative shape (a-line or shirt-dress, for example) or opt for a smal print to balance the more busy style. We encourage the more conservative looks anyway, since you can wear them again in an office environment. Select patterns that have a timeless feel, like a delicate floral or stripe, that won't overshadow you. This is not the occasion to explore the many different types of leopard print.

Short-sleeve or sleeveless dresses will be most comfortable. You won't realize until the big day how warm it will be, regardless of the weather, as at graduation, you are not only wearing a floor length, long-sleeved gown over a dress, but you are also likely surrounded by hundreds or thousands of others in a small space. (Note: This doesn't mean that tube tops are acceptable, though!) Also consider picking light fabrics, such as cottons or silks, which will let your skin breathe a little more under than mystery polyester-blend gown.

Short on time but still need a few cute graduation dress options that you can wear long after the ceremony? Check out our slideshow, below!

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Unconventional Graduation Dresses