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Academic dress

Academic dress or academical dress is traditional clothing worn specifically in academic settings. It is more commonly seen nowadays only at graduation ceremonies, but in former times academic dress was, and to a lesser extent in many ancient universities still is, worn on a daily basis. This article deals chiefly with academic dress in the English-speaking world.

Academic dress in most universities in the Commonwealth is derived from the academic dress of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which themselves are a development of academic and clerical dress common throughout medieval Europe. In the United States, however, academic dress has also been influenced by the academic dress of continental Europe.

Academic dress today generally consists of a gown, hood and sometimes a cap (either a mortarboard or a bonnet). When wearing academic dress, it is usual to dress formally and soberly beneath the gown; so, for example, males would typically wear a dark lounge suit with a white shirt and tie, or military or national dress , and females would wear equivalent attire.


British academic dress

The gown

The modern gown is derived from the roba worn under the cappa clausa, a garment resembling a long black cape. In early medieval times, all students at the universities were in at least minor orders, and were required to wear the cappa or other clerical dress, and restricted to clothes of black or other dark colour.

The gowns most commonly worn, that of the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Master of Arts (M.A.), are subtantially the same throughout the English-speaking world. Both are traditionally made of black stuff, or cloth, (although occasionally the gown is dyed in one of the college's colors) and have the material at the back of the gown gathered into a yoke. The B.A. gown has bell-shaped sleeves, while the M.A. gown has long sleeves closed at the end, with the arm passing through a slit above the elbow. 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.

Undergraduates at many older universities also wear gowns; the most common is a smaller knee-length version of the B.A. gown. In some ancient Scottish universities the undergraduate's gown is red.

Dress and Undress

Since medieval times, holders of a doctor's degree, like bishops and cardinals, have been authorised to wear garments of brighter colours such as scarlet, purple or red. Today, doctors have scarlet dress gowns or robes which are worn on special occasions instead of the black undress gown (for example, at graduation ceremonies and on certain festivals of the Church of England). In Oxford, as well as dress and undress gowns, there is a third form of dress, the Convocation habit or chemir, which is a scarlet sleeveless garment worn over the black gown, with the sleeves of the gown pulled through the armholes of the chemir.

The cap

The academic cap or square, commonly known as the "mortarboard", has come to be symbolic of academia, and can be worn by graduates and undergraduates alike. It is a flat square hat with a tassel suspended from a button in the top center of the board. The tassel may indicate the university's colors, or the colors of the specific college or discipline from which the student is graduating.

In some countries (such as the United Kingdom and Australia), a mortarboard is referred to more traditionally as a trencher cap (or simply trencher). In these countries, holders of most doctorates wear a soft rounded headpiece known as a Tudor bonnet, rather than a trencher.

In some universities, caps are carried rather than worn, and in others caps are usually dispensed with altogether.

The hood

The hood was originally a functional civilian 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 the clergy of the Church of England in choir dress.

The traditional hood consists of a cape and a cowl , as in the full Cambridge shape. In Oxford, the bachelors' and masters' hoods have lost their cape. Various other British 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.

The colour and lining of hoods in academic dress represents the status 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. Undergraduates do not normally wear hoods, but some have adopted the black unlined literates' hood worn by Anglican clergymen without degrees.

United States

As well as deriving from British academic dress, academic dress in the United States has been influenced by the academic dress traditions of continental Europe. There is an Inter-Collegiate code which sets out a detailed uniform scheme of academic dress, but not all colleges follow it.

Bachelors' and masters' gowns in the United States are similar to their counterparts in the United Kingdom, but are worn closed.

Doctoral robes are typically black, although some schools use robes in the school's colors. In general, doctoral gowns are similar to the gowns worn by master's graduates, with the addition of velvet stripes across the sleeves and running down the front of the gown, tinted with the disciplinary color for the degree received. The robes have full sleeves trimmed with bands of velvet instead of the bell sleeves of the master's gown. Some gowns open more at the front to display a tie or cravat, while others take an almost cape-like form.

In the US, academic dress is rarely worn outside commencement ceremonies. In many American schools, the color of the hood represents the school or department that the wearer is graduating from.

Inter-Collegiate colors

The colors allocated to the various academic disciplines have been largely standardized, and are:

  • Agriculture - Maize
  • Arts, Letters, Humanities - White
  • Commerce, Accountancy, Business - Drab
  • Dentistry - Lilac
  • Economics - Copper
  • Education - Light Blue
  • Engineering - Orange
  • Fine Arts - Brown
  • Forestry - Russet
  • Journalism - Crimson
  • Law - Purple
  • Library Science - Lemon
  • Medicine - Green
  • Music - Pink
  • Nursing - Apricot
  • Oratory (Speech) - Silver Gray
  • Pharmacy - Olive Green
  • Philosophy - Dark Blue
  • Physical Education - Sage Green
  • Public Administration - Peacock Blue
  • Public Health - Salmon Pink
  • Science - Golden Yellow
  • Social Work - Citron
  • Theology - Scarlet
  • Veterinary Science - Gray

See also

The following articles describe in more detail on the academic dress schemes and usages of various universities:

External links

  • The Burgon Society Promotes an interest in and the formal study of academic dress.
  • Academic Dress Yahoo Groups discussion group
  • An Academic Costume Code and An Academic Ceremony Guide discussing the American Intercollegiate Code, American Council of Education.

Last updated: 02-23-2005 10:30:19