The origins of academic
dress date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities were
taking form. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher,
was the dress of a cleric. With few exceptions, the medieval scholar had
taken at least minor orders, made certain vows, and perhaps been tonsured.
Long gowns were worn and may have been necessary for warmth in unheated
buildings. Hoods seem to have served to cover the tonsured head until
superseded for that purpose by the skull cap.
A statute of the University of Coimbra in
1321 required that all "Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors" wear gowns. In
England, in the second half of the 14th century, the statutes of certain
colleges forbade "excess in apparel" and prescribed the wearing of a long
gown. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge first began
prescribing a definite academic dress and made it a matter of university
control even to the extent of its minor details.
The assignment of colors to signify certain
faculties was to be a much later development, and one which was to be
standardized only in the United States in the late 19th century. White taken
from the white fur trimming of the Oxford and Cambridge B.A. hoods, was
assigned to arts and letters. Red, one of the traditional colors of the
church, went to theology. Green, the color of medieval herbs, was adopted
for medicine, and olive, because it was so close to green, was given to
pharmacy. Golden yellow, standing for the wealth which scientific research
has produced, was assigned to the sciences.
European institutions have always had great
diversity in their specifications of academic dress and this has been a
source of confusion. In contrast, American colleges and universities opted
for a definite system that all might follow. A significant contribution to
the development of this system was made by Gardner Cotrell Leonard of
Albany, New York. Mr. Leonard designed gowns for his class at Williams
College in 1887 and had them made by Cotrell and Leonard, a firm established
by his family in Albany, New York. He was greatly interested in the subject
and following the publication of an article by him on academic dress in
1893, he was invited to work with an Intercollegiate Commission made up of
representatives of leading institutions to establish a suitable system of
academic apparel. The Commission met at Columbia University in 1895 and
adopted a code of academic dress, which besides regulating the cut and style
and materials of the gowns, prescribed the colors which were to represent
the different fields of learning.
In 1932 the American Council on Education
authorized the appointment of a committee "to determine whether revision and
completion of the academic code adopted by the conference of the colleges
and universities in 1895 is desirable at this time, and, if so, to draft a
revised code and present a plan for submitting the code to the consideration
of the institutional members of the Council." The committee reviewed the
situation through correspondence and conference and approved a code for
academic costumes that has been in effect since that year.
A Committee on Academic Costumes and
Ceremonies, appointed by the American Council on Education in 1959, again
reviewed the costume code and made several changes. In 1986, the committee
updated the code and added a sentence clarifying the use of the color dark
blue for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.
Back to Top
The Academic Costume
Gowns recommended for use in the colleges and universities of this country
have the following characteristics. The gown for the bachelor's degree has
pointed sleeves. It is designed to be worn closed. The gown for the
master's degree has an oblong sleeve, open at the wrist, like the others.
The sleeve base hangs down in the traditional manner. The rear part of its
oblong shape is square cut, and the front part has an arc cut away. The
gown is so designed and supplied with fasteners that it may be worn open
or closed. The gown for the doctor's degree has bell-shaped sleeves. It is
so designed and supplied with fasteners that it may be worn open or
As a means of adaptation to climate, the material of the gowns may vary
from very light to very heavy provided that the material, color, and
pattern follow the prescribed rules. Color. Black is recommended. (For
permissible exceptions, see below.)
Trimmings. Gowns for the bachelor's or master's degrees are
untrimmed. For the doctor's degree, the gown is faced down the front with
black velvet; three bars of velvet are used across the sleeves. These
facings and crossbars may be of velvet of the color distinctive of the
disciplines to which the degree pertains, thus agreeing in color with the
binding or edging of the hood appropriate to the particular doctor's
degree in every instance.
For all academic purposes, including
trimmings of doctors' gowns, edging of hoods, and tassels of caps, the
colors associated with the different disciplines are as follows:
|Fine Arts, including
including Foreign Service
In some instances American makers of
academic costumes have divided the velvet trimming of the doctor's gown in
such a fashion as to suggest in the same garment two or more doctor's
degrees. Good precedent directs that a single degree from a single
institution should be indicated by a single garment.
As usually followed by American colleges and universities, but following
the specifications listed below.
In all cases the material must be the same as that of the gown.
Black, in all cases.
The length of the hood worn for the bachelor's degree must be three feet,
for the master's degree three and one-half feet, and for the doctor's
degree, four feet. The hood worn for the doctor's degree only shall have
panels at the sides.
The hoods are to be lined with the official color or colors of the college
or university conferring the degree; more than one color is shown by
division of the field color in a variety of ways, chevron or chevrons,
equal division, etc. The various academic costume companies maintain
complete files on the approved colors for various institutions.
The binding or edging of the hood is to be velvet or velveteen, two
inches, three inches, and five inches wide for the bachelor's, master's,
and doctor's degrees, respectively; the color should be indicative of the
subject to which the degree pertains (see above). For example, the
trimming for the degree of Master of Science in Agriculture should be
maize, representing agriculture, rather than golden yellow, representing
science. No academic hood should ever have its border divided to represent
more than a single degree.
In the case of the Doctor of Philosophy
(Ph.D.) degree, the dark blue color is used to represent the mastery of
the discipline of learning and scholarship in any field that is attested
to by the awarding of this degree and is not intended to represent the
field of philosophy.
Cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk, to match gown are to be used;
for the doctor's degree only, velvet.
Mortarboards are generally recommended.
A long tassel is to be fastened to the middle point of the top of the cap
only and to lie as it will thereon. The tassel should be black or the
color appropriate to the subject, with the exception of the doctor's cap
that may have a tassel of gold.
Shoes and other articles of visible apparel worn by graduates should be of
dark colors that harmonize with the academic costume. Nothing else should be
worn on the academic gown.
- Only members of the governing body of a
college or university, whatever their degrees, are entitled to wear
doctor's gowns (with black velvet), but their hoods may be only those of
degrees actually held by the wearers or those especially prescribed for
them by the institution.
- The chief marshal may wear a specially
designed costume approved by the institution.
- It is customary in many large institutions
for the hood to be dispensed with by those receiving bachelor's degrees.
- Persons who hold degrees from foreign
universities may wear the entire appropriate academic costume, including
cap, gown, and hood.
- Members of religious orders may suitably
wear their customary habits. The same principle applies to persons wearing
military uniforms or clad in special attire required by a civil office.
- It is recommended that collegiate
institutions that award degrees, diplomas, or certificates below the
baccalaureate level use caps and gowns of a light color, e.g., light gray.
Additional Guidance on Costume
In the light of large numbers of requests for advice about academic dress,
the Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies offers the following
observations and recommendations for the guidance of colleges and
universities in making decisions about regalia for ceremonial occasions.
First, it should be noted that it is
impossible (and probably undesirable) to lay down enforceable rules with
respect to academic costume. The governing force is tradition and the
continuity of academic symbols from the Middle Ages. The tradition should be
departed from as little as possible, not only to preserve the symbolism of
pattern and color, but for practicality as well (when radical changes are
adopted manufacturing problems and scarcity of inventory may ensue).
Second, the fundamental guidelines of the
academic costume code may be adapted to local conditions. Such adaptations
are entirely acceptable as long as they are reasonable and faithful to the
spirit of the traditions which give rise to the code. They are not
acceptable when they further subdivide the recognized disciplines and
designate new colors for such subdivisions. The spectrum of colors which
manufacturers can utilize and which can be clearly identified as distinct
from other colors is, for all practical purposes, exhausted. Problems may
arise with emerging broad interdisciplinary areas; it is recommended that
these be resolved by using the color of the discipline most nearly
indicative of the new area. New disciplinary designations for colors
traditionally assigned would not be readily recognizable or useful.
Third, in response to a number of questions
about gowns and hoods appropriate to the associate degree, the committee's
recommendation is (a) that the gown be of the same type as worn by
recipients of the bachelor's degree, (b) that the color of the gown be light
gray, and (c) that the hood be of the same shape as the one worn by Bachelor
of Arts except that it have no velvet border, that the institutional colors
be on the lining, and that the outside be black.
Fourth, six-year specialist degrees (Ed.S.,
etc.) and other degrees that are intermediate between the master's and the
doctor's degree may have hoods specially designed (a) intermediate in length
between the master's and doctor's hood, (b) with a four-inch velvet border
(also intermediate between the widths of the borders of master's and
doctor's hoods), and (c) with color distributed in the usual fashion and
according to the usual rules. Cap tassels should be uniformly black.
Fifth, as a particular courtesy to guests who
are expected to wear academic costume, institutions should provide robes and
mortarboards of an appropriate type, even if hoods cannot be supplied.
Back to Top
Academic Ceremony Guide
In response to numerous requests from institutions, the Committee on
Academic Costumes and Ceremonies in 1959 prepared the following academic
Many factors, such as the nature of the
institution, the size of the graduating class, the weather, and the place of
the ceremony (indoors or outdoors), affect the details of the various kinds
of academic ceremonies. Institutions have wide latitude in meeting these
conditions. It is therefore recognized that the following suggestions do not
answer all pertinent questions concerning any specific ceremony.
Wearing the Costume
Those wearing academic costumes always wear their caps in academic
processions and during the ceremony of conferring degrees. Men may remove
caps during prayer, the playing of the national anthem and the alma mater,
and at other specified times, e.g., during the baccalaureate sermon or the
commencement address. It is traditional that all such actions be done in
unison. Hence, the plan for each ceremony should be carefully prepared in
advance. The participants should be notified beforehand and someone
(usually the presiding officer) should be designated to give the cues for
removing and replacing the caps.
There is no general rule for the position
of the tassel on a mortarboard. However, numerous institutions have
adopted the practice, during commencement exercises, of requiring
candidates for degrees to wear the tassels on the right front side before
degrees are conferred and to shift them to the left at the moment when
degrees are awarded to them. This custom is, in some respects, a
substitute for individual hooding.
At ceremonies where degrees are conferred, it is proper for a candidate to
wear the gown in keeping with the degree to be received.
If a person holds more than one academic degree, he or she may wear only
one hood at a time. The hood worn should be appropriate to the gown.
The traditional rule is that a candidate for a degree should not wear the
hood of that degree until it is actually conferred. This rule still
applies to those who are to be individually hooded during the commencement
ceremony; they should not wear the hoods in the preliminary academic
procession. However, when degrees are to be conferred en masse, without
individual hooding, the groups involved, e.g., master's degree candidates
at large universities, may wear their hoods in the preliminary procession
and throughout the ceremony.
Many institutions have dispensed entirely
with bachelors' hoods. It is quite appropriate for the bachelor's gown to
be worn without a hood.
Back to Top
Academic Procession in General
There is wide variation in customs
concerning academic processions. In some institutions, the procession is led
by a mace bearer, in others by the chief marshal. Either may be followed by
a color guard. (On some occasions the colors are displayed on the stage and
are not moved during the ceremony.) At some institutions there are more
divisions in the procession than are indicated below, e.g., church
dignitaries. Such groups have traditional places in the procession,
determined by the individual institution.
The Preliminary Procession.
The commencement procession is usually
composed of the following divisions: (1) the speakers, trustees,
administrative officers, and other members of the platform party; (2) the
faculty; and (3) candidates for degrees, with candidates for advanced
degrees in the lead and others in groups according to the degrees for
which they are candidates. The divisions may march in the above order, or
in reverse order. If the latter procedure is chosen, the candidates for
degrees after reaching their seats, face toward the center aisle as a mark
of respect while the faculty and trustees proceed to their places.
The Commencement Ceremony.
The essential elements of the ceremony are the
conferring of degrees and the commencement address. Earned degrees are
usually conferred in ascending order, with baccalaureate degrees first and
doctorates last. Honorary degrees are conferred, with individual
citations, after the earned degrees. (At some institutions, this order is
reversed, with baccalaureate degrees conferred last.)
The Subsequent Procession.
The platform party and faculty leave the hall
in that order. Recipients of degrees may be required to join the
procession or may be permitted to disperse from their seats when the first
two divisions have left the hall.
The Baccalaureate Service
The preliminary procession for the baccalaureate service differs from that
for commencement exercises in the following main respects: (a) the
platform party, faculty, and degree candidates most frequently march in
that order; and (b) candidates for degrees are not required to march in a
special order determined by degrees to be conferred.
The Preliminary Procession.
When a president or chancellor of a college or
university is to be inaugurated, it is traditional for the academic
procession to include at least the following divisions in the following
order: (1) delegates of colleges and universities arranged according to
the dates when the respective institutions were founded; (2) delegates of
learned societies and associations;
the faculty; (3) the trustees; and (4) the speakers and other dignitaries
in the president's party, with the person to be inaugurated marching alone
at the very end of the procession.
The essential components of the ceremony are
the installation, usually by the chair of the board of trustees, and the
inaugural address by the new head of the institution. Additional addresses
preceding the inaugural address may be made by representatives of
governments, churches, other institutions, alumni, etc., as appropriate.
The Subsequent Procession.
The newly inaugurated president or chancellor
leads the procession from the hall, followed by the five divisions listed
above, in reverse order.
Back to Top