Breaking Down the Cap and Gown

Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech Doctoral Regalia

Aaron Greenwood, a December 2015 Ph.D. graduate, models Tech's doctoral regalia.

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Modern day academic regalia, better known as the “cap and gown,” can be traced to the early European universities, which were founded as seminaries and monasteries and where the scholars were required to wear monastic habits. Universities often were housed in cold, damp castles, so wearing a hood provided a layer of warmth and protection. Besides that, religious tradition demanded it.

Academic regalia varies according to the degree conferred and the level of scholarship attained. The bachelor’s gown is a simple robe that covers the entire body. The master’s gown has longer, closed sleeves. The doctoral robe usually is the most elaborate; it is made of velvet, with three stripes on the arms and includes a hood.

For faculty and doctoral robes, the robe itself is usually specific to the university, while the hood trim indicates the academic discipline. In addition, the faculty member wears the robe indicative of his or her highest degree. If the highest degree is an honorary degree, the faculty member has a choice of wearing the robe of the school that conferred the honorary degree, or the one that conferred the highest earned degree. Bachelor’s and master’s candidates wear a square mortarboard. Doctoral students and faculty usually wear a tam.

There is very little standardization regarding American academic regalia today. In the late 1800s, the American Intercollegiate Commission met to decide on a uniform dress code. In 1895, the commission adopted a code that included a method for indicating individual universities in otherwise standardized uniforms: Hoods were to be lined in silk with the school’s colors forming a heraldic chevron. In 1932, a new commission was authorized by the American Council on Education to set forth new rules, and, in 1959, another committee further revised the rules. By the mid-late 20th century, universities had begun to go their own route again.

Georgia Tech’s current regalia was adopted in 2009. Let's break it down: View the full feature with Tech leaders discussing their regalia.

Last revised April 30, 2019