Spelman College
Office of Alumnae Affairs
350 Spelman Lane, SW
Campus Box 304
Atlanta, GA 30314-4399
(404) 270-5048
(404) 270-5050 (FAX)

Reunion Hotline
(404) 270-5064

The White Dress Tradition


The Office of Alumnae Affairs, in conjunction with the Archives, has compiled the following guidelines to inform current students, alumnae and members of the campus community of the history and traditions associated with the wearing of White Dresses to official Spelman College activities associated with Founders Day, Commencement, Reunion and New Student Orientation Induction, among others. Additionally, it provides guidelines and resources to assist students and alumnae in understanding and complying with this tradition.


Spelman College proudly maintains a significant balance between acknowledging our time-honored traditions and establishing new and beneficial opportunities to forward the institutional mission and vision into the 21st century and beyond. The wearing of white dresses on designated official occasions is among the most well-respected and treasured of the College's traditions.

The obligatory commitment for each Spelman student to have a “respectable and conservative” white dress was established around 1900. During this period, a white dress was the attire most often used for formal occasions. This tradition established a uniformed appearance among those present and denoted the significance of the occasion or event. Prior to the 1940s the white dress was worn with hosiery made of cotton. However with the invention of nylons came beige and tan colored stockings. These stockings, referred to as "flesh-toned,” were worn with black shoes. Black shoes were a part of the basic clothing requirements which also consisted of having a pair of “sensible black shoes,” for Spelman students. This recommendation was made in an effort to avoid overwhelming students and parents with the cost of having to provide more than one pair of shoes.

In the spirit of this tradition, all first-year students are required to wear this “traditional white dress ensemble” for the New Student Orientation Induction Ceremony. All students are required to wear it when attending the Founders Day Convocation, and graduating seniors are required to wear this same attire underneath the academic regalia for Founders Day, Class Day, Baccalaureate and Commencement. Additionally, it is requested that alumnae wear this attire when attending the Founders Day Convocation, related Founders Day activities hosted by alumnae and chapters of the Alumnae Association around the country, and for the March through the Alumnae Arch held during Reunion.

As such, the traditional white dress attire is as follows:

  • A solid white dress or a skirt suit. The dress or suit should be “true” white -- not off-white or cream.
  • For graduating seniors, when wearing academic regalia, the white dress or skirt should range from calf length to two inches above the knee, so that the dress does not hang lower than the gown. Pants are not allowed.
  • For first-year, sophomore and junior students, the white dress or skirt can range from ankle or calf length to two inches above the knee. Pants are not allowed.
  • Flesh-toned hosiery
  • Black, closed-toe shoes
  • Functional jewelry only, which consists of a wrist watch and rings worn on the hand

The white dress tradition symbolizes a seriousness of purpose and a sense of formality. Choose a traditionally conservative dress or suit that you would feel comfortable wearing to a traditional worship service or in a professional environment.

If the weather is inclement, a white sweater or a jacket may be needed. If you are unable to wear a white outer garment, please choose a color and style of garment that will maintain the dignity of the processional.

Do not carry a purse or backpack; however, if you need a place for keys, medications or other necessary items, please choose a small purse or wallet that can be held or “clutched” comfortably in your hand.


  1. Solid, white dress (with sleeves), skirt suit, or blouse and skirt
  2. Flesh-tone hosiery
  3. Closed toe black shoes
  4. Functional jewelry – wrist watch and hand rings only
  5. White sweater or jacket, if weather requires or your dress is strapless or has “spaghetti” straps
  6. Small wallet or “clutch” purse
  7. Nude or white undergarments; camisoles and slips as needed
  8. Skirt lengths that range from ankle or calf length to two inches above the knee
  9. Garments appropriately sized and tailored for your body style


  1. Cream, ivory, winter white, off-white, taupe, eggshell, ecru or similar colors
  2. Pants are not allowed.
  3. Large purses, backpacks or cell phones
  4. Strapless or “spaghetti” strapped dresses without a sweater or jacket, except when worn under the academic regalia
  5. Sequins, beads or colored appliqués
  6. Revealing, see-through or extremely clingy spandex or knits
  7. Dresses or blouses with “cut-out” designs or cropped tops
  8. Thigh length dress or suit skirt
  9. Earrings and bracelets. Lip, nose and eyebrow rings are considered to be decorative jewelry and should not be worn on this occasion