The academic costume of cap and gown worn by the faculty and students during commencement ceremonies had its origin in the universities of the Middle Ages. Reference to exacting detail on wearing the academic costume can be found as early as 1321. Although the exact reason for the original use of the costume is not known, it is presumed that there was a very practical reason - medieval scholars probably wore the gown and hood for warmth in their unheated buildings. Students of that era wore their gowns daily, setting them apart from fellow citizens and giving rise to the term "town and gown."
In the United States, caps and gowns were worn daily by students at most American universities until the time of the Civil War. These varied in design until they were standardized by the American Intercollegiate Commission in 1894. The American Council on Education established later guidelines on academic costume.
Sleeves of the gown indicate the degree held by the wearer. Closed, pointed sleeves are used for the bachelor’s gown; oblong sleeves, open at the wrist, for the master’s gown; and bell-shaped sleeves, with three velvet bars, for the doctor’s gown. The doctoral robe has full-length velvet panels in front, either black or of a color symbolizing the wearer’s field of learning.
Standard colors are used to represent the various academic disciplines. Some of the colors that will be seen in the commencement ceremony indicate the following fields:
|White||Arts and Letters|
|Lemon Yellow||Library Science|
|Peacock Blue||International Affairs|
|Silver||Bachelor of General Studies|
The hood is a separate ornamental fold hanging down the back of the gown. An outside band of velvet on the hood varies in width according to the degree: two inches for the bachelor’s; three for the master’s; and five for the doctor’s. The color of the band and other velvet on the doctoral hood symbolize the field of learning. The length of the hood also varies with the degree, with the longer the hood, the more advanced the degree (Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders often do not wear their hoods).
The cap worn is usually black mortarboard, decorated with a tassel, which is black or a color symbolizing the field of higher learning. Holders of doctoral degrees may wear gold tassels, and some master’s tassels are white.
Candidates for degrees frequently wear tassels on the right side of the mortarboard and then shift them to the left in unison when the degree is conferred.
Gold cords are worn by bachelor’s candidates graduating with honors.