Every graduating class comes together to celebrate and participate in the ritual of earning a diploma or degree, and a large part of that celebration is the traditional academic dress that goes along with the ceremony. The rituals involved in education help elevate academics, even above their practical value. The shared experience of walking across the stage in a cap and gown helps break down social barriers and brings graduates together. But, where did these customs come from?
The Beginnings of Graduation Regalia
As with many traditions, graduation regalia began due to practical considerations. In the 12th century, the first Universities were formed. As completely new ventures, these Universities did not have campuses or even a single centralized building. Instead, most classes were taught at nearby churches. Many prospective students were studying for a clerical position, so it made sense to use the churches as places of both worship and learning. The downside was the heating situation.
Old churches may look stunning and imposing, but many of them also possess drafts and poor insulation. The high ceilings, poorly sealed windows and lack of fireplaces made for pretty chilly classrooms. Graduation regalia as it is seen today is thought to stem from the adoption of robes to keep warm. Many students wore floor length gowns to help combat the cold.
Modernization and Reading Today's Regalia
Today, students still wear traditional academic garb in honor of their antecedents. Depending on where a university is located, there are different traditions surrounding a cap and gown. In the U.S. it is common for gowns to close in the front, allowing some institutions to relax their dress code for graduation ceremonies. In Europe, most universities leave the gowns open, and students must wear formal garb underneath their cap and gown.
In the U.S. the graduation regalia has specific codes, with different colors assigned to different areas and place of study. The degree color is found on the trim on the hood, while the university color is found on the hood lining. Some examples include:
• Copper for Economics
• Gold for Science
• Brown for Fine Arts
• Light Blue for Education
• and many more!
In Europe, there is no central body to regulate university colors, so the styles and modes of dress vary from school to school.
In addition to colors, modern cap and gown designs sometimes include different details depending on the level of the degree obtained. Students earning a master's degree may wear gowns with oblong shaped sleeves, while Doctoral students may wear gowns with bell sleeves. This differences show at a glance the levels of each student.