Graduation is an exciting time. Although mine was many (many) years ago, I still remember the feeling I got when I put on my cap and gown for the first time. I don’t believe there is another rite of passage that exists that carries as much weight as high school graduation. You are growing up, leaving home and embarking on the rest of your life outside of your parents’ safety net. It is scary, fun and intimidating all at once.
And what rite of passage would be complete without a photo to document it?
Graduation photos have changed so much since I was a senior in high school. I went to a small Catholic school in Natchez, similar in size to Sacred Heart. From what I remember, we got little to no instructions on our graduation photos. We wore whatever we wanted and were at the mercy of our parents and the photographer when it came to staging and scenery. The only guidance we got came when it was time to submit our photos for the yearbook and were told to submit an outdoor photo. We were clearly going for a casual vibe that year.
Looking through the photos we have on file at our office, I see that the majority of schools use tux and drape photos. I can’t speak for the other high schools in my hometown, but we were not required to take those photos at my school. I had never even seen a drape until a few years ago when I took my neighbor’s daughter to Oak Grove to have her senior picture taken. While they are a great way to have all of the photos look the same in the yearbook, they are extremely formal.
The other option for senior pictures appears to be the graduation gown, minus the cap. Thank goodness for that. I don’t know who designed the graduation cap, but they clearly didn’t think it through. No one looks good in that goofy cap, yet it is worn on a day forever immortalized in photos. Fashion fail, I say. But back to the gown. I understand the concept behind everyone wearing the gown – everyone still looks uniform, but not as formal as the tux and drape photos. We didn’t take these, either. The only photos I have of myself in my cap and gown are from our baccalaureate mass and actual graduation ceremony.
In my hometown, there was a definite formula for senior pictures.
First, there is the photographer. There is one man in Natchez who is the end-all, be-all of portraits. If memory serves me correctly, he took 95 percent of my classes’ photos, if not all of them. Quick shout-out to Hattiesburg – he is a Southern Miss graduate. Ask almost anyone from Natchez if their mother has one of his portraits hanging on their wall, and the answer will be a resounding yes. My mother has seven. There was no question who would take my photos.
Second, there are the clothes. My mom wanted me to take some formal photos and some casual photos.
For my formal photo, I recycled a prom dress from my sophomore year. It was a simple sleeveless, floor-length black sheath dress. Like any good Southern girl, I added my strand of pearls. Thank goodness you can’t see my feet in any of the photos, or you would see that I am wearing sheer black stockings with my dress and black kitten-heel pumps. God bless the ’90s.
My casual outfit was even worse. For some reason I cannot defend today, I owned a lot of sweater twin sets in high school, all in pastel colors. I remember a canary yellow, a pale pink and a white set. I am quite sure there are more that I have blocked out of my memory. The white one made the cut for my senior photo. This is also when Girbaud jeans had hit peak popularity, so those were the only jeans I owned. They were straight-legged and made me look at least three sizes bigger than I really was, but I loved them. According to Google, you can still buy them. Please don’t. As for the shoes, what else would you wear with a white twinset and Girbaud jeans besides Timberland hiking boots? Again, thank goodness my feet aren’t visible in any of the pictures. Just when you think this outfit couldn’t possibly get any more ’90s, we come to my jewelry – silver hoop earrings.
Third is the scenery. This particular photographer has a studio set up in his home in downtown Natchez. All of my photos were taken in and around this house. The formal photos were all taken in the studio around a dark red wingback chair. I am sitting in it, standing to the side of it, leaning on it and perching on the arm. Any pose you can imagine with a chair was achieved during my session. That same chair was used as a prop when both of my brothers took their senior photos. My mom has all three portraits hanging next to each other in her den.
For the casual photos, we moved outside. Trees were a big deal back in the day when it came to senior photos. Again, I was leaning on one. I did the requisite “hands folded on the tree, face leaning on the hands” pose. There was also the “hold the tree trunk, but lean away from it” pose. Then we went over to the white wicker rocking chair on his porch. Of course, I couldn’t just sit on the chair like a normal person. I had to turn sideways and throw my legs over one arm. There was a lot of uncomfortable posing happening to get such a care-free, casual picture. The rocking chair photo is the one that made the cut for the yearbook.
Taking this trip down memory lane made me realize how easy seniors have it today. All they have to do is throw on a drape, tux, or graduation gown and sit in a chair for their yearbook photos. I realize that some seniors today choose to take other photos outside of the tux and drape or graduation gown, but those aren’t usually the ones that make the paper or the yearbook. When they look back 20 years from now, they won’t have any terrible jeans or twinsets to laugh about. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe tux and drape photos aren’t so bad after all…
Emily Hall is the Fashion Editor for Signature Magazine. She was significantly better dressed at her graduation from Southern Miss, but only because her Girbaud jeans had been thrown out by that time.