The Academic Regalia

The pageantry and color of an academic processional comes to us from the early Middle Ages when academic robes and regalia; having been adapted from Ecclesiastical garb, were worn daily in the European universities to lend academic rank and distinction to the wearer. They also lent warmth, an important feature since most halls of medieval buildings were damp and drafty with no heat.

American universities of the late nineteenth century developed a uniform scheme of academic garb based on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England where the most colorful gowns in the world are still worn at official university functions. The regalia which you most see today serves as a visible reminder of these antecedents of intellectual pursuits. Most robes were black to symbolize the democracy of scholarship, since they covered any dress or rank of social standing worn beneath, and were designed to denote levels of academic achievement: bachelor, master or doctor. Bachelor's gowns still are cut with long, pointed sleeves; master's gowns feature closed slit sleeves, which reputedly were once used to carry books, sandwiches, etc,; and doctor's gowns are full-cut with wide lapels and faced with panels of velvet down the front and three bars of velvet across each sleeve - except for the presidential gown which bears a fourth bar. Although gowns are normally black, some universities have designed their own bearing the color of that institution.

The hood, which drapes over the back of the gown, is the most symbolic part of the academic regalia. Its length, width, color of rim and color or colors of lining denote the wearer's highest academic achievement. The master's hood is pointed; the doctor's hood is long and bell-shaped. The color of the border of the hood indicates the scholar's major field of study; the lining color or colors identify the institution that conferred the wearer's degree. Hoods were originally trimmed in fur, but now have satin borders for master's and velvet for doctor's.

The square cap, or mortarboard, dates back to the nineteenth century at the University of Paris. It came to England in Tudor times, was more rounded and was sometimes called the Oxford cap. Those who possess a doctor's degree may wear an eight-sided tam. Tassels are worn on the left side of the cap and are usually black or, in recent years, match the border of the hood to indicate the field of study. Doctoral tassels are shorter than bachelor's or master's and are often gold, metallic threads.

The degree colors are appropriate to the category of the degree, rather than to the scholar’s major subject. For example, the appropriate color for degrees in Arts and Letters (B.A., M.A., B. Litt.) is white; in Commerce, drab; in Education, light blue; in Engineering, orange; in Fine Arts, brown; in Humanities, crimson; in Law, purple; in Library Science, lemon; in Medicine, green; in Music, pink; in Pharmacy, olive; in Philosophy (Ph.D.), dark blue; in Physical Education, sage green; in Science, golden yellow; in Theology, scarlet. These colors are used for the edging of all hoods and may be used for the velvet facing and sleeve bars of doctors’ gowns and tassels on bachelors’ and masters’ caps.