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What are the different types of regalia for graduation and what do they mean?

At a glance

  • Academic regalia refers to the cap and gown students wear at their graduation.
  • Academic regalia is a ceremonial tradition at commencements. The term dates back to the 16th century, but the practice of incorporating academic dress started even earlier.
  • Different colors and adornments reflect various academic achievements, disciplines and honors as well as which academic level a graduate has completed. 
  • University of Phoenix commencement ceremonies honor the past while recognizing the achievements of our students by approaching regalia in a way that is uniquely UOPX.  

Why do college graduates wear caps and gowns during graduation anyway?

The term regalia originated in the 1530s. It means, “Rights and powers of a king, royal privilege,” and it stems from the Latin regalia meaning “royal things.” The proto-Indo-European root “reg-” means to “move in a straight line” and “to lead, rule” in certain contexts.

In the 1670s, regalia was first used to refer to “decorations or insignia of an order,” and this definition is the closest to how the term is used today. Emblems or insignia are used during formal occasions to denote status, something that also applies to the attire and adornments worn during academic commencement ceremonies. 

Over time, traditions evolve, and graduation ceremonies are no exception. Some educational institutions change their ceremonies to fit their own need; nevertheless, such ceremonies are typically still rooted in tradition.

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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.

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Regalia traditions by academic level

The traditional regalia of caps, gowns, stoles and mortarboards is found across all academic levels, but there are differences based on the level of academic achievement. Let’s take a look at the different regalia at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree levels.

Bachelor’s degree regalia

When earning a bachelor’s degree, the graduate is typically required to wear: 

  • Floor-length gown
  • Skullcap and mortarboard
  • Tassel
  • Affiliation cords and stoles 

Students often personalize their mortarboards. These decorations can include elements from their cultural background, visuals related to their profession, personal messages or artistic expression. 

Master’s degree regalia 

Master’s degree candidates differentiate their attire from that of bachelor’s degree candidates by wearing a gown adorned with a hood.

Traditionally, hood colors for master’s graduates often correspond with different academic disciplines within the master’s program. Regalia hood colors might stick to traditional colors, but some schools use their own brand colors.

Doctoral degree regalia

As the highest graduate achievement, a doctoral degree is differentiated from the others in several ways. As mentioned, doctoral candidates typically wear tams in lieu of caps. They also wear velvet robes with hoods, and their robes have velvet stripes on the front and sleeves, according to academic discipline.

Doctoral degree colors

Hood and stripe colors for doctoral candidates denote different disciplines. These are typically the same as other color designations for departments and include but are not limited to:

Commencement ceremonies at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix commencement ceremonies honor the past while recognizing what makes us distinctly unique. UOPX graduates aren’t the typical 18-to-20-year-old. They’re working adults who desire to learn more and expand their skill set but require a flexible schedule. Being able to take courses and then graduate amid everything else they are juggling is typically a significant event.

At University of Phoenix, commencement ceremonies celebrate individual student accomplishments and recognize faculty who guided students on their educational journeys. They also offer an opportunity for friends and family to share in the achievement of graduates (especially those who supported the graduates throughout their academic journeys). 

To accommodate students who live all over the country and often balance multiple professional and personal commitments while going to school, UOPX offers an annual commencement ceremony in Phoenix as well as other ceremonies in selected locations throughout the year.

Eligible students and graduates can attend one of these ceremonies. They may also choose to attend a virtual commencement, either instead of an in-person commencement or in addition to it. Additional commencement details can be found online at   

University of Phoenix regalia standards

If you’re planning to graduate soon or wanting to picture yourself as a UOPX alum, we’ll provide a glimpse into what you will look like walking across the stage at graduation. 

You will find that like many other commencement ceremonies, students don a graduation cap and gown but other details may vary.

University of Phoenix graduates must wear the appropriate regalia to in-person commencement ceremonies. (Regalia isn’t required for virtual ceremonies.)

The University’s official school colors are UOPX Red and UOPX Platinum. These are custom colors and proprietary to the University. Graduates will see these colors prominently displayed at commencement, as they observe the following parameters:

*It’s important to note that some of the degrees listed below are no longer offered at University of Phoenix.

Associate degree regalia

  • Black gown, worn closed, with pointed sleeves
  • Black mortarboard cap
  • Tassel in UOPX Red and UOPX Platinum with a drop-down medallion on the tassel that features the official UOPX seal
  • No stole or hood should be worn
associate degree black gown and cap

Bachelor’s regalia 

  • Black gown, worn closed, with pointed sleeves
  • Black mortarboard cap 
  • Tassel in UOPX Red and UOPX Platinum with a drop-down medallion on the tassel featuring the official UOPX seal.
  • Satin stole in UOPX Red with the official University seal embroidered with UOPX Platinum thread
  • No hood should be worn
bachelor's regalia showing black gown, satin stole and mortarboard

Master’s regalia

*Includes Post-Master’s Family Nurse Practitioner Certificates

  • Black gown, worn closed, with oblong sleeves, open at the wrist with an arc at the sleeve front and oblong cut at the back of the sleeve
  • Black mortarboard cap for student and faculty
  • Black tassel with a drop-down medallion featuring the official UOPX seal
  • Master’s hood with UOPX Red and UOPX Platinum satin lining and velvet trim in the appropriate degree and college color (only one hood may be worn at a time)
  • No stole should be worn
master's regalia showing black gown, master's hood and mortarboard cap

Educational specialist (EdS) regalia

  • Doctoral gown, worn closed, with black velvet panels and black sleeve chevrons
  • Black mortarboard cap
  • Black tassel with a drop-down medallion featuring the official UOPX seal
  • Master’s hood with UOPX Red and UOPX Platinum satin lining and velvet trim in light blue for Education
  • No stole should be worn
education specialist regalia showing doctoral gown, hood and cap

Doctoral regalia

  • Doctoral gown, worn closed with UOPX Red velvet panels and sleeve chevrons
  • Velvet eight-sided tam in UOPX Red
  • Silk tassel in UOPX Platinum
  • Doctoral hood in UOPX Red with UOPX Platinum satin chevron and velvet border in the appropriate degree color
doctoral regalia showing gown, hood and velvet tam

Master's degree programs:

Light blue

  • Master of Arts in Education (all specialties)
  • Master of Science in Counseling (all specialties)
  • Master of Counseling (all specialties)
light blue color spot


  • Master of Business Administration (all specialties)
  • Master of Management (all specialties)
  • Master of Science in Accountancy
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Management
drab color sample

Science gold

  • Master of Science in Computer Information Systems
  • Master of Information Systems
  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity
gold color sample


  • Master of Science in Nursing (all specialties, including MSN/FNP, MSN/MBA/HC, MSN/MHA, Post-Master’s FNP Certificate) 


  • Master of Science in Psychology 
  • Master of Science in Industrial–Organizational Psychology 

Salmon pink

  • Master of Health Administration (all specialties, including MHA/MBA) 
  • Master of Public Health 
salmon pink color sample

Peacock blue

  • Master of Science/Administration of Justice and Security 
  • Master of Public Administration 
peacock blue color sample

Educational Specialist degree program 

Light blue

  • Education Specialist (EdS) 
light blue color spot

Doctoral degree programs – College of Doctoral Studies  


  • Doctor of Management (all specialties) 
  • Doctor of Organizational Leadership 
  • Doctor of Business Administration 
drab color sample

Light blue

  • Doctor of Education (all specialties)
light blue color spot

Salmon pink

  • Doctor of Health Administration 
salmon pink color sample

Dark blue

  • Doctor of Philosophy, PhD (All Specialties) 
dark blue color sample


  • Doctor of Nursing Practice 
apricot color sample

If you’re ready to earn your degree and embark on the path to graduation, learn more about the University’s more than 100 online programs aligned to upward of 300 careers. 

Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!


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