Types of regalia
Academic regalia is often referred to as the “cap and gown” but involves several distinct components. Required attire for commencement depends on the type of degree you have earned.
The gowns worn for traditional graduation ceremonies originated in the 12th century with medieval scholars’ garments. It’s speculated that these long gowns were donned to keep scholars warm in drafty buildings and symbolized their status at the same time.
In 1895, the Intercollegiate Registry of Academic Costume introduced the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume, detailing black gowns with:
- Pointed sleeves for bachelor’s degrees
- Long, closed sleeves for master’s degrees
- Round, open sleeves for doctoral degrees
It also adds velvet stripes in front and on the sleeves of doctoral gowns, matching in color to the graduate’s respective degree department.
Today, the types and colors of graduation gowns may vary depending on university policy. Most traditions are upheld, however, with long gowns that cover the entire body and velvet stripes on the sleeves signifying doctoral or faculty status. At times, the gown is made of velvet material.
While the hood used to be a fixture of all gowns and robes as a means to keep warm, today they are usually present on robes for master’s and doctoral candidates only.
The hood has areas for specific colors. The hood trim color, for example, can indicate academic discipline affiliation. The chevrons (or stripes) might represent school colors. If there is a hood, it may be worn draped across the back of the robe with a cap in its place.
The flat caps that are now synonymous with commencement evolved from the long hoods of the Middle Ages to skullcaps in the 1700s. The 1895 code standardized skullcaps with mortarboards, the flat, square boards you see today on top of the skullcap. The code also mentioned the requirement that tassels be attached to the middle of the mortarboard, much like you see today.
These flat graduation caps with long tassels typically incorporate a university’s chosen colors and often include some embellishments, such as a school’s insignia as a metal charm on the tassel. Students may also decorate their caps to stick out in a sea of identical caps.
Students earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees wear the typical mortarboard and tassel. Those earning doctoral degrees replace the flat cap with a tam. A tam is typically made of black velvet and has a soft top rather than a rigid board. They can have four, six or eight sides and typically have a similar tassel.
Often a brilliant gold color, the tassel is used in a ceremonial gesture when students are officially declared graduates. For bachelor’s graduates, the tassel is worn on the right until their degree is conferred. Then, they move the tassel to the left. Master’s and doctoral graduates typically keep the tassel on the right to signify achievement.
Once a ceremony comes to a close, graduates often throw their caps in the air to celebrate. This practice may vary depending on school policy.
At some universities, cords are draped across graduates’ shoulders to signify affiliation with certain organizations, such as membership in an honor society. These cords might adopt the school’s colors. Some universities adopt cords to signify academic distinctions or affiliations with honor societies. There is no national standard for these distinctions, but universities award them according to GPA.
Similar to cords, stoles are draped around the shoulders of the gown. They are also sometimes referred to as graduation sashes and are made of a silky material. They signify affiliation with extracurricular clubs, Greek life, military service, professional organizations and more. Stole colors vary but are designed to align with their affiliation and contrast with the main color of the gown.