Graduation Gowns: Everything You Need to Know

Graduation Gowns: Everything You Need to Know

Why Graduation Gowns

What’s the first image that springs to mind when you think of a graduation ceremony? For the majority of people, we’re going to guess the image of a smiling person in their graduation gown and hat is your first thought! The graduation gown is synonymous with graduation ceremonies worldwide – from preschool to high school grads, degree, diploma, and doctorate conferrals to training course graduations.

In fact, it can be a key goal of many to get the opportunity to wear that famous cap and gown one day, no matter the level of educational honors they are being bestowed with. One simply envisions themselves wearing and tossing the famous graduation gown and cap.

The graduation gown and cap is a symbol of achievement and one which is recognized as right across the globe. But why are the gowns and hats such an important feature of graduations?

The History of the Graduation Gown

The custom of wearing gowns at graduation or conferring ceremonies started way back in the 12th century (according to the earliest dates referenced) when early universities were still beginning to be formed in Europe.

The scholars, who were usually aspiring clerics or already clerics, started the practice of wearing a long robe with a hood, mimicking that of religious elders. Gowns were eventually made the official attire of academics and conferring ceremonies to prevent the need for excessive apparel and to keep a “uniform” of sorts at these ceremonies.

In 1321, the University of Coimbra declared a mandate that plain gowns be worn by graduating Licentiates, Bachelors, and Doctors. Soon after, the same academic attire was established in mandates by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This trend would eventually accrue popularity in graduation ceremonies worldwide, albeit the style of graduation gown would become more relaxed, with the hood becoming less commonplace and the gowns becoming less heavy in the material.

The colors of graduations were generally black in the beginning. In fact, black was the only graduation color for several centuries. Adorning different colored gowns to represent specific areas of study or specific departments was a practice that was not established until a few centuries later in the late 1800s and is today quite a commonplace practice.

Some colleges and universities will specify wearing a specific color gown representative of the establishment itself; others specify a different colored gown per graduation department while many choose to wear specific colored stoles with a plain gown.

The Graduation Stole

The wearing of graduation stoles also originates from the 12th century and has a religious origin too. When a clergy member became a part of the Roman administration, they wore a “scarf of office” which indicated specific honors, just like the stole does in graduation ceremony attire today.

The Graduation Cap

The graduation cap often called a mortarboard due to its resemblance to the board used by masons to hold mortar, is the final piece of graduation attire and goes hand in hand with the graduation gown and stole. It is believed to have derived from the “biretta” worn by Catholic clerics, scholars, and professors in the 1300s and 1400s.

It was initially reserved only for the graduation ceremonies of Masters and Ph.D. graduates but in later centuries was adopted in graduation ceremonies for all educational accolades. The hat usually comes with a tassel, which may be the same color as the color of the graduate’s area of study/educational establishment they are graduating from.

Looking at the part on graduation day

Graduation day simply isn’t complete if the graduate isn’t accepting their certificate parchment while wearing the famous graduation gown. A long-standing tradition steeped in history, the graduation gown and attire is central to every graduation ceremony worldwide. It’s a picture-perfect moment!

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