How To Succeed in College/Academic Regalia
Academic dress is a traditional form of for academic settings, primarily tertiary education, worn mainly by those that have been admitted to a university degree (or similar) or hold a status that entitles them to assume them (e.g., undergraduate students at certain old universities). It is also known as academicals and, in the United States, as academic regalia.
Contemporarily, it is commonly seen only at graduation ceremonies, but formerly academic dress was, and to a lesser degree in many ancient universities still is, worn on a daily basis. Today the ensembles are distinctive in some way to each institution, and generally consists of a gown (also known as a robe) with a separate hood, and usually a cap (generally either a square academic cap, a tam, or a bonnet). Academic dress is also worn by members of certain learned societies and institutions as official dress.
The academic dress found in most universities in the British Commonwealth and the United States is derived from that of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which was a development of academic and clerical dress common throughout the medieval universities of Europe.
Formal or sober clothing is typically worn beneath the gown so, for example, men would often wear a dark suit with a white shirt and tie, or clerical clothing, military or civil uniform, or national dress, and women would wear equivalent attire. Some older universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, have a prescribed set of dress (known as subfusc) to be worn under the gown. Though some universities are relaxed about what people wear under their gowns, it is nevertheless considered bad form to be in casual wear or the like during graduation, and a number of universities may bar finishing students from joining the procession or the ceremony itself if not appropriately dressed (though this sometimes refers only to requiring the proper wear of academic dress and not what is worn beneath it, if unseen).
In general, the materials used for academic dress are heavily influenced by the climate where the academic institution is located, or the climate where the graduate will usually be wearing the costume (as a faculty member at another institution, for example). In either case, the American Council of Education (ACE) allows for the comfort of the wearer, and concedes that lighter materials be used in tropical climates, and heavier materials elsewhere. In addition, it acknowledges cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk as appropriate.
The materials used for academic dress varies and range from the extremely economical to the very expensive. In the United States, most Bachelor and Master degree candidates are often only presented the "souvenir" version of regalia by their institutions or authorized vendor, which are generally intended for very few wearings and are comparatively very inexpensive. For some doctoral graduates commencement will be the only time they wear academic regalia, and so they rent their gowns instead of buying them. These rented (or hired) gowns are often made of inexpensive polyester or other man-made synthetic fibre. In Britain, rented gowns are almost always polyester while Russell cord, silk or artificial silk gowns are only available when bought. Undergraduate gowns are usually made from cotton or cotton and polyester mix and are relatively inexpensive to encourage students to own them.
People who choose to buy their dress may opt for finer fabrics, such as princetta, poplin, grosgrain, Percale, cotton, wool, cassimere, broadcloth, bengaline, Russell cord or corded/ribbed material. For silk, there are a range of types including artificial silk/rayon, ottoman (i.e. ribbed or corded silk), taffeta, satin, alpaca, true silk, shot silk or a mixture. Pure ottoman silk is rarely used except for official gowns as it is very expensive. Some gowns may be trimmed with gimp lace, cords, buttons or other forms of decoration.
In the past, fur has been used to line certain hoods (especially those of the UK) which range from rabbit to ermine. In the past, sheepskin was widely used. Most now use imitation fur instead, mainly because of cost and animal rights concerns. Some robemakers will use fur if the customer requests and pays for it, as some feel that the quality and feel of artificial fur has yet to match that of real fur.
Doctor's robes usually use wool flannel, panama (worsted), superfine cloth, damask or brocade and are brightly coloured (or black, but faced with a bright colour) to distinguish them from lower degrees. They tend to be the most expensive because they must be dyed in a specific colour and/or be trimmed in coloured silks. Many doctoral gowns have a special undress version so adding to the cost of a full set.
A full set may cost about $360 (£180) for cheap materials to as much as $5800 (£2900) for high quality materials. Usually, ex-hire gowns are available for purchase at cheaper prices though the quality may be lower.
Academic regalia in the United States has been influenced by the academic dress traditions of Europe. There is an Inter-Collegiate code which sets out a detailed uniform scheme of academic regalia followed by most, though some institutions do not adhere to it entirely, and fewer still ignore it.
The practice of wearing academic regalia in the United States dates to the Colonial Colleges period, and was heavily influenced by European practices and styles. Students of most colonial colleges were required to wear the "college habit" at most times - a practice that lasted until the eve of the American Civil War in many institutions of higher learning. In some rare instances the practice has persisted, such as at Sewanee, where members of one student society continue to wear the gown to class. After the Civil War, academic regalia was generally only worn at ceremonies or when representing the institution. There was not, however, any standardization among the meanings behind the various costumes. In 1893, an Intercollegiate Commission made up of representatives from leading institutions was created, to establish an acceptable system of academic dress. The Commission met at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1895 and adopted a code of academic regalia, which prescribed the cut and style and materials of the gowns, as well as determined the colours which were to represent the different fields of learning. In 1932 the American Council on Education (ACE) authorized the appointment of a committee "to determine whether revision and completion of the academic code adopted by the conference of the colleges and universities in 1895 is desirable at this time, and, if so, to draft a revised code and present a plan for submitting the code to the consideration of the institutional members of the Council." The committee reviewed the situation and approved a code for academic costumes that has been in effect since that year. A Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies, appointed by the American Council on Education in 1959, again reviewed the academic dress code and made several changes.
Although academic dress is now rarely worn outside commencement ceremonies or other academic rituals such as encaenia in the U.S. graduation ceremonies have gained popularity and have expanded from high school graduations to middle school, elementary school and kindergarten graduation ceremonies.
Bachelors' and masters' gowns in the United States are similar to their counterparts in the United Kingdom, though bachelor's gowns are now designed to be worn closed, and all are at least mid-calf length to ankle-length. The masters' gown sleeve is oblong and, though the base of the sleeve hangs down in the typical manner, it is square cut at the rear part of the oblong shape. The front part has an arc cut away, and there is a slit for the wrist opening, but the rest of the arc is closed. The shape is evocative of the square-cut liripipe incorporated into many academic hoods (see, below). The master's gown is designed to be worn open or closed.
Doctoral robes are typically black, although some schools use robes in the school's colours. The Code calls for the outside shell of the hood (see, below) to remain black in that case, however. In general, doctoral gowns are similar to the gowns worn by bachelor's graduates, with the addition of three velvet bands on the sleeves and velvet facing running down the front of the gown. The Code calls for the gown trim to be either black or the colour designated for the field of study in which the doctorate was earned (see Inter-Collegiate colors). However, it should be noted that in the case of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), although it is awarded for study in any number of fields, the dark blue velvet of philosophy is always used regardless of the particular field studied. For example, if not choosing black trim, a Ph.D. in theology would wear velvet gown trim in dark blue, while a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) would wear scarlet trim, if not choosing black. The robes have full sleeves, instead of the bell sleeves of the bachelor's gown. Some gowns expose a necktie or cravat when closed, while others take an almost cape-like form. It is designed to be worn open or closed in the front.
The Code calls for the shell material of the hood to match the robe, and for the colour to be black regardless of the colour of the robe being worn. The interior lining - generally silk - displays the colours of the institution from which the wearer received the degree, in a pattern prescribed by it (usually, if more than one colour is used, chevrons or equal divisions). The opening of the hood is trimmed in velvet or velveteen. In most American colleges and universities, the colour of the velvet hood trimming is distinctive of the academic field — or as closely related as possible — to which the degree earned pertains (see Inter-Collegiate colors, below). Many institutions, particularly larger ones, have dispensed with the bachelor's hood at commencement ceremonies altogether, though a graduate is still entitled to wear one once the degree is conferred.
Headwear is an important component of cap-and-gown, and the academic costume is not complete without it. The headwear will vary with the level of academic achievement and, to some extent, on the individual academic institution's specifications. For caps, the mortarboard is recommended in the Code, and the material required to match the gown. The exception—velvet—is reserved for the doctor's degree only, seen in the form of a multiple-sided (4, 6, or 8) tam, but the four-sided mortarboard-shaped tam in velvet is what the Code seems to recommend here. The only colour called for is black, in all cases. The tassel worn on the mortarboard or a tam seems to provide, by tradition, the greatest opportunity for latitude in American academic dress. It has been black, or represented the university's colours, or the colours of the specific college, or the discipline. The tassel has also been used to indicate membership in national honour societies or other awards. There is at some colleges and universities a practice of moving the tassel from one side to the other on graduating, but this is a modern innovation that would be impractical out of doors due to the vagaries of the wind. For doctoral and masters students, the tassel commonly begins and remains on the left.
The colours allocated to the various fields of learning have been largely standardized in the United States by the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume, and accepted by the American Council on Education in its Academic Costume Code. Some of the more common colours seen are that liberal arts is represented by white, science by golden yellow, medicine by green, law by purple, and philosophy (including all Ph.D. degrees) by dark blue. A distinction is made in the code, which calls for a graduate to display the colour of the subject of the degree obtained, not the degree itself. For example, if a graduate is awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree specifically in business the trimming should be drab, representing commerce/accountancy/business, rather than white, representing the broader arts/letters/humanities; the same method is true of master's degrees and doctorates. However, in 1986, the American Council on Education updated the Code and added the following sentence clarifying the use of the colour dark blue for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, which is awarded in any number of fields: "In the case of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, the dark blue colour is used to represent the mastery of the discipline of learning and scholarship in any field that is attested to by the awarding of the degree, and it is not intended to represent the field of philosophy."
A number of other items such as cords, stoles, aiguilettes, etc. representing various academic achievements or other honours are also worn at the discretion of some degree-granting institutions. Technically, however, the ACE code does not allow their use on or over academic regalia.
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- e.g. Burgon Society: Robes
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- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Gowns, Material
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- American English uses 'rented', British English uses 'hired'.
- An Ede & Ravenscroft Oxford MA hood made of pure Ottoman silk will cost around £347. Source: http://www.gownhire.co.uk (21 September 2007)
- The cost difference between artificial and real fur can be as much as a few hundred pounds.
- Ede & Ravenscroft: Oxford DMus undress and full dress academic dress costs £2910 (undress gown: £181, hood: £409, rigid mortarboard: £80, full dress gown: £2117, velvet bonnet: £123). Information retrieved 18 May 2007.
- Hired hoods are usually partially lined instead of fully lined when the regulations specify a fully lined hood. However, there are some cases where a hood that is specified as fully lined in the regulations, in practice, is part-lined to save on materials. This is especially the case for Glasgow full-shape hoods [f9] as they are large and most of the lining may not be seen when worn.
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- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Gowns
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods;Linings
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Hoods;Trimmings Invalid
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- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Additional Guidance on Costume
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Some Permissible Exceptions
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Caps
- Sullivan. The Academic Costume Code, Wearing the Costume