Academic gowns represent a tradition handed down from the universities of the Middle Ages. Universities were founded by the church and students, being clerics, were obliged to wear the prescribed gowns at all times. Round caps later became square mortarboards. The hoods, originally cowls attached to the gowns, could be slipped over the head for warmth.
Many European universities have distinctive caps and gowns different from those commonly used in this country. Some of the gowns are brightly colored and some are embellished with fur. A number of these may be noted in the procession.
The usual color for academic gowns in the United States is black. The bachelor’s gown is worn closed, the master’s and doctor’s may be worn open or closed.
The shape of the sleeve is the distinguishing mark of the gown: bachelor’s have long pointed sleeves; master’s are oblong, square cut in the back with an arc cut away in front; doctor’s are bell shaped.
Caps are black. The tassels for the Ph.D. degree are gold, and those for other graduate and professional degrees may correspond to the trimmings on the hoods.
Of all the components of the academic costume, the hood bears the heaviest symbolic burden.
The hood must make clear the level of the degree, the faculty in which it was given, and the institution that awarded it. The level of the degree is shown by the size of the hood, the width of the velvet trimming, and in the case of doctors, by the shape.
The bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s hoods are three feet, three and one-half feet, and four feet long, respectively.
The velvet trimming in the same order is two, three, and five inches and extends all around the hood on the exposed edge. This same trimming identifies the faculty in which the degree was awarded.
For each faculty there is a corresponding color; so a glance at the trimming is all that is needed to identify the faculty.
A partial list of the colors follows:
- Agriculture - maize
- Architecture and Art - brown
- Science - golden yellow
- Economics - copper
- Education - light blue
- Engineering - orange
- Forestry - russet
- Physical Education - sage green
- Religion - scarlet
- Speech - silver gray
- Veterinary Medicine - gray
- Textiles - wine red
- Anthropology, History, Languages, Literature,
Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology - dark blue