The following text was originally published at
Academic Costumes and Regalia:
Compiled by: Dr. Stephen E. Lunce, C.C.P. , Associate Professor
of Information Systems(2)
A Brief History and Chronology(1)
of today have a history of nearly eight hundred years. In Medieval Europe
men and women typically wore gowns or robes. There was a great deal of
variety in color and material, depending upon the position and wealth of
the wearer. Gradually there developed distinctive gowns for various professions,
trades and religious orders. Students and teachers in many medieval universities
such as Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge organized themselves into
guilds. Gradually the academic costume became distinctive for Bachelors
of Arts (the apprentices), Masters of Arts (the teachers), and Doctors
(teachers who had completed postgraduate studies). Most of the distinctive
characteristics appeared in the hood, which was originally a practical
element of dress, but which evolved into a separate and purely ornamental
article, draped over the shoulder and down the back. The academic cap was
a later development. It was first conferred as a symbol of the M.A. degree.
Some of these Master's caps were stiff, some soft, some square, some round
with a tuft in the center. Today's tassel is an elaboration of the tuft.
Although round caps are still used at some universities, Oxford University's
"mortar board" style is more common.
worn by faculty and graduates during Commencement ceremonies is based upon
costumes used in fourteenth and fifteenth century universities, particularly
Oxford and Cambridge in England. This style of academic dress and accouterments
has been used in the United States from colonial times, and it was standardized
by an Intercollegiate Code in 1895. Like the military of medieval times
with its pages, squires, and knights, the academic world has long recognized
three basic levels of dignity and achievement; these are: undergraduates,
bachelors and masters. The distinction between masters and doctors is a
relatively recent phenomenon; both masters and doctors levels of achievement
imply the right to teach.
The variety of styles and colors seen in a faculty procession reflects
the fact that each university retains its own distinguishing customs as
especially revealed by the design of its doctoral robes. When a university
is granted the right to confer doctoral degrees, one of the privileges
that accompanies that right is the opportunity to design unique and distinctive
regalia for its graduates.
12th/13th Centuries: Origin of academic dress - the dress of the scholar
(student or teacher) is the dress of a cleric. Long robes are needed for
warmth in unheated buildings; likewise, the hood provided warmth for the
tonsured head. Eventually, a skull cap replaces the hood.
1321: University of Coimbra stipulates that all "Doctors, Licentiates
and Bachelors" wear robes.
Regulations of certain colleges in England forbid "excess in apparel"
and prescribe a long gown for all scholars. Oxford and Cambridge prescribe
a definite academic dress and exercise university control over all details.
(late): Assignment of specific colors to signify certain faculties is standardized
in the United States.
Cotrell Leonard's designed gowns adopted by Williams College. The standardization
of American system of academic dress has begun.
of leading institutions, including Leonard, meeting as the Intercollegiate
Commission define a system of academic apparel. In the meeting, held at
Columbia University, the first academic costume code regulating the cut
style and materials of gowns as well as the specification of different
colors for different disciplines is established.
Council on Education approves the costume code established by the Intercollegiate
costume code is updated.
American Council on Education committee adds the following sentence to
the code to clarify the use of dark blue for the Ph.D. degree: "In
the case of the Doctor of Philosophy 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."
in part from "American Universities and Colleges", 11th Edition,
Washington, American Council on Education, 1971.
assistance and support from Dr. Jerry Thompson, Dean, College of Arts &
Humanities, Texas A&M International University, Laredo, Texas, for
Winter Commencement, 1996.