Academic dress or academical dress is traditional clothing for academic settings, primarily tertiary and sometimes secondary education. It is also known as academicals and, in the United States, as academic regalia. Contemporarily, it is commonly seen only at graduation ceremonies, but formerly academic dress was, and to a lesser degree in many ancient universities still is, worn on a daily basis. Today the ensemble generally consists of a gown (also known as a "robe") with a separate hood, and usually a cap (generally either a mortarboard, a tam, or a bonnet). Academic dress is also worn by members of certain learned societies and institutions as official dress.
The academic dress found in most universities in the British Commonwealth and the United States is derived from that of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which was a development of academic and clerical dress common throughout the medieval universities of Europe, itself a development of the academic robes worn in the medieval Madrasahs of the Middle East. Formal or sober clothing is typically worn beneath the gown so, for example, men would often wear a dark suit with a white shirt and tie, or clerical clothing, military or civil uniform, or national dress, and women would wear equivalent attire. Some older universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, have a prescribed set of dress (known as subfusc) to be worn under the gown. Though some universities are relaxed about what people wear under their gowns, it is nevertheless considered bad form to be in casual wear or the like during graduation, but a number of universities may bar finishing students from joining the procession or the ceremony itself if not appropriately dressed (though this may often only refer to the academic dress and not what is worn beneath it, if unseen).
The gowns most commonly worn, that of the clerical type gowns of Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA), are substantially the same throughout the English-speaking world. Both are traditionally made of black cloth, (although occasionally the gown is dyed in one of the college's colours) and have the material at the back of the gown gathered into a yoke. The BA gown has bell-shaped sleeves, while the MA gown has long sleeves closed at the end, with the arm passing through a slit above the elbow.
There are two types of yokes which are used for gowns. The more traditional is the curved yoke, whilst the square or straight yoke is used more in modern times.
Another type of gown is called the lay type gown, which is similar to the MA gown in that it has long closed sleeves, but does not have a yoke. Instead, there is a flap collar with the gathers underneath it. Thus it is less voluminous than the clerical type gown. This gown is often used for the dress of officers and graduates of some degrees (especially at Oxford).
In the Commonwealth, gowns are worn open, while in the United States it has become common for gowns to close at the front, as did the original roba.
Since medieval times, doctors, like bishops and cardinals, have been authorised to wear garments of brighter colours such as scarlet, purple or red. In many older universities, doctors have scarlet dress gowns or robes (sometimes called "festal robes") which are worn on special occasions. There are two distinctive shapes used in the UK for doctor's gown; the Oxford doctor's shape and the Cambridge doctor's shape. The former has bell-shaped sleeves, the latter has long open sleeves. Another rarer form is the Cambridge MusD dress gown which is a pattern between the two. At St Andrews, they prescribe a cassock-like gown with a row of buttons running down the front and is meant to be worn closed. This gown is worn as the full dress gown for honorary doctorates.
The other form of doctor's gown is the undress gown. This is a black gown (which may or may not be distinct from the master's gown depending on the university; if it is, it usually is trimmed with lace, braid or other subtle indicators of rank) worn for less formal occasions such as lectures. This type of gown is rarely seen or worn nowadays as many wear the dress gown instead; there are fewer applications for the undress gown in normal university life. However, the undress gown still plays a part in the older universities where academic dress is usually worn. At Cambridge, each doctor has its own undress gown, each trimmed differently, meaning one can identify the degree of the wearer without the hood (the same is also for bachelors and masters gowns at Cambridge).
In the universities of the UK there are days called scarlet days or red letter days. On such days, doctors of the university may wear their scarlet 'festal' or full dress gowns instead of their undress ('black') gown. This is more significant for the ancient universities such as Oxford and Cambridge where academic dress is worn almost daily; the black undress gown being worn on normal occasions as opposed to the bright red gowns. Since most universities have abandoned academic dress to the graduation ceremony (where doctors wear always scarlet), the significance of scarlet days have all but disappeared.
A third form of dress, now rarely seen, is the Convocation habit. This is a scarlet sleeveless garment worn over the black gown, with the sleeves of the gown pulled through the armholes. It is similar to a bishop's chimere. It is worn at meetings of Convocation or Congregation by those presenting candidates for degrees.
In the past, undergraduates wore gowns according to their rank; for noblemen they wore coloured gowns with gold gimp lace, buttons and other decorations whilst fellow-commoners, gentleman-commoners, scholars, commoners, pensioners, sizars/battelors and servitors wore black gowns of decreasing flamboyance based on their standing in the universities
The hood was originally a functional garment, worn to shield the head from the elements. In the English tradition, it has developed to an often bright and decorative garment worn only on special occasions. It is also worn by clergy of the Anglican Communion in choir dress, over the surplice, and it is common in cathedrals, churches, and chapels for the choirmaster and/or members of the choir to wear an academic hood to which they are entitled during services, over their cassock and surplice, although only for the choir offices (Morning and Evening Prayer) and not for the Eucharist.
Hoods comprise two basic patterns, 'full shape' or 'simple shape'. The traditional "full-shape" hood consists of a cape, cowl and liripipe, as is used at Cambridge. At Oxford, the bachelors' and masters' hoods use "simple" hoods which have lost their cape, and retain only the cowl and liripipe. Some universities only have a cape and cowl and no liripipe; these are referred to as the "Aberdeen shape". Various other universities have different shapes and patterns of hoods, in some cases corresponding to the pattern current at the ancient universities at the time when they were founded, and in others representing a completely new design.
The colour and lining of hoods in academic dress represents the rank and faculty of the wearer. In many Commonwealth universities bachelors wear hoods edged or lined with white rabbit fur, while masters wear hoods lined with coloured silk (originally ermine or other expensive fur). Doctors' hoods are normally made of scarlet cloth and lined with coloured silk.
The hood is nearly always worn with a gown though there are some exceptions such as Oxford doctors who do not wear a hood in their festal robes (though this regulation is often ignored at graduation ceremonies at other universities when Oxford doctors are sitting in the faculty).
The mortarboard may also be referred to as a trencher cap (or simply trencher). The tassel comprises a cluster of silk threads which are fixed together and fastened by a button at one end, and fixed at the centre of the headpiece. The loose strands are allowed to fall freely over the board edge. Often the strands are plaited together to form a cord with the end threads left untied.
In many universities, holders of doctorates wear a soft rounded headpiece known as a Tudor bonnet or tam, rather than a trencher. Other types of hats used, especially in some universities in the UK, are the John Knox cap (mostly at Scottish universities), the Bishop Andrewes cap (Cambridge DDs) and the pileus (at Sussex). In some universities, such as Oxford, women may wear an Oxford ladies' cap.
For Catholic — and some Anglican — clergy, the traditional black biretta may be worn in some circumstances instead of the mortarboard. Those clerics who possess a doctorate wear the black biretta with four ridges — instead of the usual three — and with piping and pom of the color of the discipline, thus, e.g., emerald for canon law, scarlet for sacred theology, etc.
As with other forms of headgear, in the Commonwealth, academic caps are not generally worn indoors by men (other than by the Chancellor or other high officials), but are usually carried. In some graduation ceremonies caps have been dispensed with for men, being issued only to women, who do wear them indoors, or have been abandoned altogether. This has led to urban legends in a number of universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland which have as a common theme that idea that the wearing of the cap was abandoned in protest at the admission of women to the university. This story is told at the University of Cambridge, Durham University, the University of Bristol, the University of St Andrews and Trinity College, Dublin among others.
The misinterpretation of some regulations has led to the confusion that certain universities do not prescribe headwear, whilst some universities have abandoned headwear for socio-political reasons, most notably the Open University, or because the designer intended it, such is the case of Vivienne Westwood and her design for King's College London.
The University of East Anglia is infamous for two new hats designed by Cecil Beaton that were prescribed. One is known as the 'Dan Dare' or 'Mickey Mouse' cap which is a skull cap with a narrow rim around the top for bachelors; the other was known as the 'tricorn' which was basically a mortarboard but with a triangle instead of a square for the top board for masters. These caps were unpopular with students who preferred the square and they soon fell into disuse. The tricorn is still used as the official hat of the Registrar.
Officers of the universities generally wear distinctive and more elaborate dress. The Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor may wear a black damask lay type gown (sometimes with a long train) trimmed with gold or silver lace and frogs. They wear a velvet mortarboard, similarly trimmed with gold braid and tassel. This form of dress is not strictly 'academical' but it is typical dress for those in high positions. Other than this gown, they may have other distinct forms of dress, such as the scarlet cappa clausa or cope worn in certain circumstances by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge or his/her deputy and by higher doctors presenting candidates for degrees, which was once worn by Doctors of Divinity.
Officers of lower rank may wear plain black lay type gowns, sometimes with gold or silver trim, or ordinary gowns in university colours. In general, officials do not wear hoods with their gowns.
The practice of wearing academic regalia in what is now the United States dates to the Colonial Colleges period, and was heavily influenced by European practices and styles. Students of most colonial colleges were required to wear the "college habit" at most times - a practice that lasted until the eve of the American Civil War in many institutions of higher learning. After that academic regalia was generally worn at ceremonies or when representing the institution. There was not, however, any standardization among the meanings behind the various costumes. In 1893, an Intercollegiate Commission made up of representatives from leading institutions was created, to establish an acceptable system of academic dress. The Commission met at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1895 and adopted a code of academic regalia, which prescribed the cut and style and materials of the gowns, as well as determined the colors which were to represent the different fields of learning. In 1932 the American Council on Education (ACE) 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 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 academic dress code and made several changes.
Bachelors' and masters' gowns in the United States are similar to their counterparts in the United Kingdom, but bachelor's gowns are designed to be worn closed and all are at least mid-calf length to ankle-length. Like their UK counterparts, the masters' gown sleeve is oblong and, though the base of the sleeve hangs down in the typical manner, it is "square cut" at the rear part of the oblong shape. The front part has an arc cut away, and there is a slit for the wrist opening, but the rest of the arc is closed. The shape is evocative of the square-cut liripipe incorporated into many academic hoods (see, below). The master's gown is designed to be worn open or closed.
Doctoral robes are typically black, although some schools use robes in the school's colors. The Code calls for the outside shell of the hood (see, below) to remain black in this case, however. In general, doctoral gowns are similar to the gowns worn by bachelor's graduates, with the addition of three velvet bands on the sleeves and velvet facing running down the front of the gown, tinted with the color designated for the field of study in which the doctorate was earned (see Inter-Collegiate colors, below). The robes have full sleeves, instead of the bell sleeves of the bachelor's gown. Some gowns expose a necktie or cravat when closed, while others take an almost cape-like form. It is designed to be worn open or closed in the front.
Members of the Board of Trustees or other governing body officers of a college or university, regardless of their degrees, are entitled to wear doctor's gowns, faced only with black velvet and black velvet bars on the sleeves. However, their hoods (see, below) may be only that of a degree actually held by the wearer, or one specially prescribed for them by the institution. The color standardization for the outside shell of the hood as black provides flexibility of use and helps facilitate this practice.
In the U.S., academic dress is rarely worn outside commencement ceremonies or other academic rituals such as encaenia. A notable exception can be seen at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Since 1873, the plain, black academic gown is worn everyday by members of the local honor society and branch of student government, the Order of Gownsmen, and by all faculty members. To receive membership in the Order, undergraduates and members of the School of Theology must obtain and maintain a prescribed grade point average (GPA) and meet other requirements.
The Code calls for the shell material of the hood to match the robe, and for the color to be black regardless of the color of the robe being worn. The interior lining - generally silk - displays the colors of the institution from which the wearer received the degree, in a pattern prescribed by it (usually, if more than one color is used, chevrons or equal divisions). The opening of the hood is trimmed in velvet or velveteen.
The width of the velvet is 2 inches, 3 inches, and 5 inches for the bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, respectively. The length of the hood will vary with the level of academic achievement as well: bachelors wear a 3 foot length, masters a 3.5 foot length, and doctors a 4 foot length. Only the doctoral hood will have "panels" at the sides of the hood that lie cape-like across the back.
In most American colleges and universities, the color of the velvet hood trimming is distinctive of the academic field — or as closely related as possible — to which the degree earned pertains (see Inter-Collegiate colors, below). For instance, one who has earned a Master of Arts in Journalism would wear velvet trim of crimson to signify "journalism", rather than white to represent "arts"
Candidates may have the hood ceremoniously placed upon them, as is done at some British universities, or a college/school may 'self-hood' en masse at the appropriate time during the ceremony as has been the practice at Fordham University in the United States. Additionally, the Code allows for the wearing of the hood into the commencement ceremony as part of the academic procession, but only if neither of the two procedures above are being employed. The Code also states: "It is quite appropriate for the bachelor's gown to be worn without a hood." Many institutions, particularly larger ones, have therefore dispensed with the bachelor's hood at commencement ceremonies altogether, though a graduate is still entitled to wear one once the degree is conferred. Honorary and/or earned doctoral degrees are very often conferred by the highest academic officer of an institution bestowing the appropriate hood at the podium, regardless of the procedure being followed for other candidates at the ceremony.
Only one hood may be worn at any given time. Trim colors may not be combined or displayed together in any way to attempt to indicate more than one academic field. The regalia indicating the highest degree attained is usually worn, though the Code seems to allow for a graduate to revert for some occasion to the entire academic costume (e.g. robe style, trim width, hood length, etc.) of a lesser degree earned. Those who hold multiple degrees of the same level (i.e. more than one master's or doctorate degree) may wear at any given time the regalia, in its entirety, of any one degree earned. The Code does not allow for 'mixing-and-matching.' The regalia prescribed by an academic institution and the degree actually awarded by that institution (as indicated by trim color, hood length, robe style, etc.) must be consistent. The one exception is for officers of the academic institution, who may display one hood from any degree earned from any institution while wearing a doctoral gown of the University being served (see Academic robes, above).
A number of other items such as cords, stoles, aiguillettes, etc. representing various academic achievements or other honors are also worn at the discretion of some degree-granting institutions. Technically, however, the ACE code does not allow their use on or over academic regalia:
"Other Apparel - 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." (emphasis added)
Apparel and tokens representing awards and honors are not considered a component of academic dress, not only because the ACE code does not allow it, but also because (a) they are often worn without the defining cap and gown, and (b) they are usually not worn by a graduate with academic robes after the Commencement year in which the honor was awarded. Nevertheless, they are often seen with academic regalia in the United States, and are therefore mentioned here.
Student protests, which had the effect of cancelling graduation ceremonies at some American universities, led to a general relaxing of protocols on academic attire and ceremonial pageantry. After the war, academic regalia continued to be shunned by some who considered it a symbol of elitism. However, since the 1980s, academic regalia has been in resurgence. Some colleges or academic departments allow graduating students to vote on whether or not to wear academic regalia at graduation ceremonies.
|Arts [Liberal Arts], Letters [Literature], Humanities||White|
|Commerce, Accountancy, Business||Drab|
|Fine Arts, Architecture||Brown|
|Forestry, Environmental Studies, Sustainability||Russet|
|Oratory, Speech||Silver Gray|
|Physical Education||Sage Green|
|Public Administration, Public Policy, Foreign Service||Peacock Blue|
|Public Health||Salmon Pink|
|Science (both "Social" and "Natural")||Golden Yellow|
A distinction is made in the code which calls for a graduate to display the color of the subject of the degree obtained, not the degree itself, the achievement level of which is indicated by the cut of the robe, the length of the hood, and the width of the trim. For example: if a graduate is awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree specifically in "business" the trimming should be drab, representing "commerce/accountancy/business", rather than white, representing the broader "arts/letters/humanities"; if the BA had been in "economics" the trim should be copper; if in "environmental studies" it should be russet, etc. If the BA were in "literature", a subject not represented by its own color and within the "humanities" (as well as the very definition of "letters"), the velvet should indeed be white. Similarly, if a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree were awarded for "physics", the velvet trim should be golden yellow representing physics as one of the "natural sciences"; however, if the BS were in "engineering" the trim should be orange, or if it were in "education" the trim should be light blue, etc. The same method is true of master's degrees and doctorates. A Master of Public Administration in Science and Technology should show trim of golden yellow for "science", not peacock blue for "public administration"; conversely a Master of Science in Public Administration should display peacock blue trim for "public administration" and not golden yellow for "science".
In the case where a color is specified for a field that may be included in another, broader, discipline, and that broader discipline is represented by its own color (e.g.: "oratory", assigned silver gray trim, is generally regarded as among the "liberal arts" [arts], represented by white trim), the graduate should wear the color of the more specific field (in this case, silver gray for a degree in "oratory", rather than white for "liberal arts").
Conversely, it is problematic when a field of study that does not have its own color assigned to it has been considered to be included in more than one discipline which are represented by different colors, e.g.: "history" has traditionally been considered as among the "humanities", represented by white, while also considered a "social science", which can be represented by golden yellow. This is often addressed by an academic institution allowing the degree earned to influence (but not determine) color assignment. For instance: a Bachelor of Arts graduate in "history" might display white while a Bachelor of Science graduate in "history" at the same institution could properly display golden yellow (or, theoretically, vice-versa), thereby creating confusion in appearing to display colors based on degree earned rather than - as stipulated in the Code - academic field studied.
In 1986, the American Council on Education updated the Code and added the following sentence clarifying the use of the color dark blue for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, which is awarded in any number of fields:
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 the degree, and it is not intended to represent the field of philosophy..
The doctorate other than the Ph.D. will be represented by the colors indicated above. For example: the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Public Health should display salmon pink for "public health" not light blue for "education", and the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Public Administration should display peacock blue for "public administration" not salmon pink for "public health." The Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.) degree, if no further specialization was made, should be represented by orange, and the Doctor of Divinity (Div.D.) by scarlet if no further specialization, etc.
In France, academic dress, also called the toge (from the word toga, an ancient Roman garment) is similar to French judges' court dress, except for its colour, which depends on the academic field in which the owner graduated. It is nowadays little worn, except by doctors during the opening of the university year or the ceremony for a doctorate honoris causa. For doctors, it consists of:
The colours of the various academic fields are daffodil (yellow) for literature and arts, amaranth (purplish red) for science, redcurrant (reddish pink) for medicine, scarlet red for law, and violet (purple) for theology. University rectors, chancellors or presidents wear also specific costumes, which are violet regardless of the academic field in which they graduated.
Usage is generally restricted to the first weeks of the semester, during the introductory and reception activities which make part of the Praxe tradition. In some older institutions, where traditions are better implemented, one can see students trajados during the entire year, though.
The materials used for academic dress varies and range from the extremely economical to the very expensive. In the United States, most Bachelor and Master degree candidates are often only presented the "souvenir" version of regalia by their institutions or authorized vendor, which are generally intended for very few wearings and are comparatively very inexpensive. For some doctoral graduates commencement will be the only time they wear academic regalia, and so they rent their gowns instead of buying them. These rented (or hired ) gowns are often made of inexpensive polyester or other man-made synthetic fibre. In Britain, rented gowns are almost always polyester whilst Russell cord, silk or artificial silk gowns are only available when bought. Undergraduate gowns are usually made from cotton or cotton and polyester mix and are relatively inexpensive to encourage students to own them.
People who choose to buy their dress may opt for finer fabrics, such as princetta, poplin, crosgrain, Percale, cotton, wool, cassimere, broadcloth, bengaline, Russell cord or corded/ribbed material. For silk, there are a range of types including artificial silk/rayon, ottoman (i.e. ribbed or corded silk), taffeta, satin, alpaca, true silk, shot silk or a mixture. Pure ottoman silk is rarely used except for official gowns as it is very expensive. Some gowns may be trimmed with gimp lace, cords, buttons or other forms of decoration.
In the past, fur has been used to line certain hoods (especially those of the UK) which range from rabbit to ermine. In the past, sheepskin was widely used. Most now use imitation fur instead, mainly because of cost and animal rights concerns. Some robemakers will use fur if the customer requests and pays for it, as some feel that the quality and feel of artificial fur has yet to match that of real fur.
Doctor's robes usually use wool flannel, panama, damask or brocade and are brightly coloured (or black, but faced with a bright colour) to distinguish them from lower degrees. They tend to be the most expensive because they must be dyed in a specific colour and/or be trimmed in coloured silks. Many doctoral gowns have a special undress version so adding to the cost of a full set.
A full set may cost about $360 (£180) for cheap materials to as much as $5800 (£2900) for high quality materials. Usually, ex-hire gowns are available for purchase at cheaper prices though the quality may be lower .
Academic dress details for the following universities are available via these links:-