The regalia worn at special academic functions has its roots in the Middle Ages when scholars at European universities wore hoods and gowns patterned after those worn by monks as their daily attire.
Caps and gowns have been worn at American universities since colonial times, but it was not until 1885 that they became customary at academic ceremonies. By 1895, a code for academic costume was established and approved by the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States.
In keeping with that code, the academic attire reflects the level of an individual’s degree and the institution granting the degree. The American fashion of academic caps and gowns derives from the attire worn at Oxford University. The mortarboard cap came into popular use in the sixteenth century, although its origin remains a mystery. Some believe it is designed to resemble a book while others claim that the cap is patterned after the mortarboard of f master craftsmen. Still others hold that it is meant to represent the quadrangle shape of the Oxford campus. The mortarboard has a black tassel, which is an embellishment of the tuft on top of the cap. Gold tassels signify a doctoral degree.
Gowns for the three levels of degrees are distinguished mainly by sleeve design. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree wear a gown with long, pointed sleeves. The gown for the master’s degree has an oblong sleeve with the rear part square cut and the front edge of the sleeve cut in the shape of an arc. Doctoral gowns feature large bell-shaped sleeves with three velvet crossbars on the upper portion of the arm and velvet trim down the front of the gown.
Hoods are also worn during the ceremony. The colors inside the hoods identify the institutions conferring the degrees. Masters and doctors hoods have distinguishing border colors as well. The color of the velvet trim bordering the hood signifies the field of learning in which the degree was earned.
Arts, Letters, Humanities white
Commerce, Accountancy, Business drab
Education light blue
Fine Arts brown
Home Economics maroon
Library Science lemon
Philosophy dark blue
Physical Education sage green
Public Administration peacock blue
Public Health salmon pink
Science golden yellow
Social Work citron
Speech silver grey