Academic Attire

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Ceremonial garments worn at academic functions take their meaning from the original centers of learning of the Western world in the Church of the Middle Ages. Caps, hoods, and gowns of the early students and monks have been held through the centuries to be traditionally symbolic of the scholarly devotion so basic to education and to the deliberate and orderly evolution of knowledge.

The introduction of classical studies, the gradual rise of the great universities across Europe, and the ever-increasing awareness of the decisive role of education in the entire development of civilization influenced leaders among academicians in their desire for a singular identity. In the attempt to create this differentiation, educators fell upon the medieval system of classic heraldry, whereby the coat of arms, assorted ornamental trappings, and patterns of colorful design had been adopted to denote the distinctive character of designated chivalric orders. The function of “pedagogical heraldry” became, then, simply identification. As such, measures were taken to signify through distinctive markings on the academician’s attire the institution that had granted the degree, the field of learning in which the degree has been earned, and the level of the degree—bachelor, master, or doctorate.

Of the three pieces of academic attire, the cap, the gown, and the hood, it is the hood that offers the most abundant and most readily discernable information about its owner. The inner lining of the hood identifies the institution at which the individual earned the degree. Some schools have adopted two-color patterns and introduced chevrons and bars in various designs to set themselves apart from other institutions. The velvet trim bordering the hood indicates the major field of learning, or faculty, in which the degree has been earned. A final feature of the hood concerns its length and width and distinguishes further between holders of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees. At Notre Dame, individuals receiving a bachelor’s degree do not wear a hood. A master’s degree holder has a hood three-and-one-half feet in length with a three-inch wide border, and is slit at the bottom. Those individuals with a doctorate degree wear a hood four feet in length, open at the bottom, with a five-inch border.

The gown is usually black in color, but some American universities, including Notre Dame, have adopted distinctive colors for their robes. Notre Dame doctorate degree robes are blue, reflecting one of its official colors.

The cut of the gown aids in differentiating between the three levels of degrees. The bachelor’s gown is relatively simple and falls in straight lines from an elaborate yoke. It may be recognized most readily by the long, pointed sleeves. The master’s gown is somewhat fuller and bears no adornment. The sleeves are oblong in shape and open at the wrist, with the rear part of the oblong square cut while the front edge has a cutaway arc. The doctor’s gown is more elaborate with velvet panels down the front and around the neck of the garment. The sleeves are bell-shaped at the end and have three bars of the same material as the front panels at the upper portion of the arm. It is cut rather full and may be ornamental in color. Notre Dame’s doctoral gown has royal blue velvet front panels with the University’s shield embroidered in gold. The royal blue sleeve chevrons are outlined in gold.

The mortarboard or Oxford-type cap has been adopted throughout most universities in the United States, although Notre Dame’s doctoral cap is royal blue tam. Colored tassels are usually worn by holders of the bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  These denote the field of learning. Gold tassels are reserved for those with doctorate degrees and governing officers of educational institutions. Tassels are worn on the right side and shifted to the left after the degree has been conferred.