Happy Graduation! Where Did The Cap and Gown Tradition Come From?

It's graduation season! Check out the colorful history of the cap and gown tradition during ceremonies.

The academic costume (gowns or robes) worn at many American colleges and high schools today goes back to the Middle Ages. The oldest universities of northern Europe, such as Paris and Oxford, grew out of church schools, and both faculty and students in the Middle Ages were regarded as part of the clergy. As such, the students wore clerical garb that was similar to the monastic dress of their day, both on a daily basis and on special occasions. Who knew this was the start of the cap and gown tradition that we have today?

Cap and Gown Traditions

The head covering of graduation robes developed out of the skullcap worn by the clergy in cold weather to protect their tonsured heads. In the universities, this skullcap acquired a point on top, which gradually evolved into a tassel. Today, the familiar mortarboard has replaced the skullcap, but it still retains the medieval tassel.

College Graduates – Fur?

In the Middle Ages, undergraduates, bachelors, and masters could be distinguished by the simplicity or elaborateness of their gowns—the masters’ gowns were often furred–and this survives today in the ornamentation found on doctoral gowns.

What Do The Colors Mean?

The wide velvet borders extending down the front of the doctoral gown and the velvet bars on the sleeves are usually black, or may match the border of the hoods, which are colored according to the scholarly field of the wearer: i.e., philosophy, dark blue; theology, scarlet; law, purple.

Do you have a graduation ceremony coming up? Say congratulation to your graduate here!

This article was published by the staff at Farmers' Almanac. Do you have a question or an idea for an article? Contact us!

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