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Academic attire dates back at least to the 14th century. Its origin is attributed to ecclesiastical influence, to the need for warmth in unheated rooms used by medieval scholars, and to avoidance of “excess in apparel” by wearing a long gown. Ultimately there developed distinctive caps, gowns and hoods denoting the institution that granted the degree, the field of learning in which the degree was earned, and the level of the degree—bachelor, master or doctorate.
American universities, unlike those of England and Europe, have adopted a standard code of academic costume in which the cut and material of the gown, the color of the tassel on the cap, and the pattern and colors of the hood all have special significance.
Bachelors’ gowns are closed at the throat and have long, pointed sleeves. Masters’ gowns may be worn open or closed and have long, oblong sleeves, square and closed at the end, the arms coming through slits near the wrist. Doctors’ gowns, worn open or closed, are faced with velvet and have full, bell-shaped sleeves. Each sleeve carries three bars of velvet, called chevrons. Trustees, presidents and marshals of colleges or universities may wear caps and gowns which are especially designed and colored.
Academic caps are usually mortarboards, though soft caps are also worn. The cap is black; the tassel is black or the color appropriate to the discipline or field of study, or for a doctor’s cap it may be gold.
The hood gives color and real meaning to the academic costume. The color of the lining identifies the university granting the highest degree held by the wearer. The color of the trim indicates the field of learning in which the degree is received.