Academic dress had its beginning in the Middle Ages. When European universities were taking form in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, scholars were also clerics and adopted robes similar to those of their monastic orders. Caps were a necessity in the drafty buildings, and capes with hoods attached were needed for warmth. These early scholars made the hood distinctive for the various degrees by its color, trimming, and binding. As the universities gradually passed from the control of these ecclesiastics, academic dress took on brighter hues.
The use of academic garb in the United States has been continuous since the founding of our first institution in colonial times. A uniform system was not widespread, however, until about 1895 when the well-defined code of the Intercollegiate Commission was adopted by nearly all institutions of higher learning.
Gowns worn by those in the procession vary according to the degree held. Although the gown is more frequently black for academic degrees, certain universities have authorized the use of colored gowns. The academic gown has short or regular sleeves for the bachelor’s degree, pointed sleeves for the master’s degree, and round full sleeves for the doctor’s degree. There are no trimmings on the bachelor’s and master’s gowns, but the doctor’s gown is faced in front with black velvet and has three bars of the same material across the sleeves. In some cases, the color of this velvet relates to the field in which the degree is granted.
Hoods are not usually worn by recipients of the bachelor’s degree. The hood, which is the most distinctive feature of the American code, varies in length according to the type of degree held and is lined with the official colors of the institution conferring the degree. The velvet border or edging of the hood indicates the discipline of the degree it represents: scarlet, theology; blue, philosophy; light blue, education; brown, fine arts; blue violet, architecture; copper, economics; drab, business administration; golden yellow, science; green, medicine; sage green, physical education; orange, engineering; pink, music; purple, law; russet, forestry; and white, arts, letters, humanities.
The cap is usually square and is the same for all degrees. The standard tassel is black, but the doctor’s cap may have a gold tassel. The standard cap is the mortarboard and is usually the color of the gown. Undergraduates wear the tassel on the right side of the cap until the moment the degree is conferred.