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4990 - Academic Regalia


  • Position: University Registrar
  • Name: Lindsey Brown
  • Email:

Last updated: August 01, 2010


A. Origin
B. The Gown
C. The Cap
D. The Hood
E. The Mace
F. The Medallion
G. Honor Cords
H. Academic Costume Now Worn Infrequently
I. Illustration

A. ORIGIN. The colorful and distinctive garb conspicuous at commencement ceremonies had its origin in the High Middle Ages, 12th and 13th centuries, when the university itself came into being. The nascent universities grew up in the shadow of the church--they obtained papal charters, most of the knowledge they disseminated was theological or ecclesiastical, and their scholars and pupils were largely clerks, i.e., clerics or aspiring clerics. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the cap, gown, and hood grew out of the clerical dress of that period.


B-1. Standardization. Our academic gown can be traced back to the Council of Oxford in 1222. There Stephen Langton, perhaps England's greatest medieval archbishop, decreed that all clergy within his jurisdiction should wear the cappa clausa, a closed, flowing gown then in lay fashion. He wanted to bring some conformity to the Province of Canterbury. Because Oxford and Cambridge were within the province, the clerks at both institutions complied with the decree. Over the years English clergy turned to other styles, but the clerks, compelled by stringent statutes, held to the cappa clausa, and it eventually became exclusively academic.

B-2. American Practice. The cappa clausa, only slightly modified, crossed the Atlantic with the colonists and served as the norm at Harvard, William and Mary, and all American colleges and universities founded in the two centuries thereafter. During the latter part of the 19th century, however, the styles of academic gowns proliferated, prompting representative trustees from interested institutions to convene in 1895 at Columbia University. They repeated the role of Archbishop Langton and issued formal standards that have stood with little change to the present.

B-3. The Intercollegiate Bureau's Code. An outgrowth of the conference was the establishment of a body that, in 1902, came to be known as the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume. The bureau's standards, somewhat revised with the cooperation of the American Council on Education in 1932 and subsequently, provided that all caps and gowns were black. The intercollegiate code also standardized, on the basis of practice at Oxford and Cambridge, the cut of the various kinds of gowns--bachelor's, master's, and doctor's.

a. A bachelor's gown falls in a straight line and has full bias-cut, pointed sleeves.

b. A master's gown is similar to a bachelor's, except that it has long closed sleeves with the opening at the wrist (the extended portions of the sleeves used to be handy receptacles for handkerchiefs, snacks, and the like). Until recently, the long sleeves on a master's gown had the opening at the elbow.

c. A doctor's gown has bell-shaped sleeves, velvet panels down the front and around the neck of the gown, and three velvet bars on each sleeve.

B-4. Unique Doctoral Gowns.

a. During its first century, UI followed the intercollegiate code exactly, but not all schools in the United States and Canada did so, particularly when it came to doctoral gowns. For instance, instead of black, the doctoral robe proper to the University of Chicago is maroon (with black velvet); Harvard's is crimson (also with black velvet); Yale's is blue; Princeton's is black with orange; and those of Columbia and the University of British Columbia are different shades of light purple.

b. UI has adopted a doctoral gown of its own, which was worn for the first time at the centennial commencement (1989). It is silver, and the panels and sleeve bars are of black velvet outlined in antique gold.

C. THE CAP. In comparison to the gown, the mortarboard is relatively young. It descends from a favorite headdress of the medieval laity, the pileus, a close-fitting felt cap that was adopted by the Church in 1311 and became typical at the universities.

C-1. Two varieties of the pileus survive: Cambridge and Oxford versions. The Cambridge tradition results in a beret-like "softcap" that probably gives a better idea of the 14th-century pileus than its more common rival, the Oxford cap or mortarboard, notorious for its intractability in any kind of breeze.

C-2. Foreign universities, however, may sport even more exotic and less practical caps: a French graduate's cap looks something like a chef's hat, and in Spain a woman graduate wears headgear resembling a Tiffany lampshade, a blue satin bowl covered with tiny glass beads.

C-3. The Tassel. The intercollegiate code does not specify the position of the tassel fastened to the middle of the top the mortarboard. However, numerous institutions have adopted the practice, during commencement ceremonies, of having candidates for degrees wear the tassels on the right front side before degrees are conferred and shift them to the left at the moment when degrees are awarded to them. This custom is in some respects a substitute for individual hooding. At UI, candidates do not move their tassels from right to left in unison during the ceremony, but it is generally recognized here that degree recipients wear the tassel on the front left side after the degrees are conferred. The code specifies that the tassel is black or the color of the wearer's branch of learning; a doctor's tassel may have gold threads.


D-1. Style and Sizes. The most colorful and distinctive element of academic garb is the hood (see figure 1 on page 5). Another medieval relic, it descended from cowls worn by monks to ward off cold drafts in English monasteries. (They would, therefore, not be without use on occasion in northern Idaho.) The cowl, worn over a short cape or scarf, tippet, had a "tail," liripipe. One pulled the hood over the head and then wrapped the tail around the neck to secure the hood. At some point the tippet and hood merged into a single unit while the liripipe evolved into the funnel-shaped ending of the hood. The shorter, three-foot bachelor's hood is rarely seen today; master's hoods are three and one-half feet; and doctoral hoods are four feet and have panels at the side.

D-2. Significance of Colors. The intercollegiate code provides that a hood should be lined with the official colors of the institution conferring the degree, and the lining is worn exposed; hence, UI hoods are lined with silver and gold. The same code provides that the hood should be trimmed--bound or edged--with the color indicating the branch of learning to which the degree pertains. The trim is two inches, three inches, and five inches wide for the bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees, respectively. The colors associated with the different subjects are: Agriculture, Maize; Family and Consumer Sciences, Maroon; Architecture, Violet; Journalism, Crimson; Arts, Letters, Humanities, White; Law, Purple; Business, Drab; Library, Science, Lemon; Dentistry, Lilac; Medicine, Green; Economics, Copper; Music, Pink; Education, Light Blue; Nursing, Apricot; Engineering, Orange; Pharmacy, Olive Green; Fine Arts, Brown; Philosophy, Dark Blue; Forestry, Russet; Physical Education, Sage Green; Public Administration, Peacock Blue; Speech, Silver Gray; Public Health, Salmon Pink; Theology, Scarlet; Science, Golden Yellow; Veterinary Science, Gray; Social Work, Citron.


E-1. The mace in medieval times was a weapon, a heavy staff or club made wholly or partly from metal and used for breaking armor. Particularly in France in the 13th century when the king's bodyguard carried it, the mace acquired a ceremonial function as a symbol of all kinds of secular authority.

E-2. The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, the British Parliament, and many other governmental and academic bodies have ceremonial maces. In the U.S. Congress, its symbolism is strong enough that merely placing it in front of the offending member brings order to the chamber. It even worked in 1890 when a hotheaded representative from Georgia pulled a knife on a fellow congressman.

E-3. It is the custom at some universities for the mace bearer to lead the procession on ceremonial occasions. Where there is no such tradition, the mace--the ensign of authority--may be carried by the chief marshal, who organizes the procession; however, instead of the mace, the marshal customarily carries a baton.

E-4. UI's mace, also used for the first time at the centennial commencement, is 32 inches long, made of walnut, and encircled with bands of Idaho gold and silver in which Idaho garnets and opals have been set. The head is embellished with silver and gold representations of camas plants and syringa flowers (see figure 2 on page 5). The chair of UI's Faculty Senate, the marshal of the academic procession, carries the mace in the American tradition, at a 45-degree angle across the chest (in England the bearer carries it over the shoulder).

F. THE MEDALLION. UI's medallion (see figure 3 on page 5) was created by Idaho artists George and Macky Roberts. Its base is a three-and-a-half-inch disc of pure Idaho silver. Mounted on the base is a disc of native jasper, and on that is a sterling silver sunburst. Inside the sunburst is a modification of the Chinese character meaning "mountain," which features three upward-pointing prongs. Over the center prong is a gold inlay--thus symbolizing "Light on the Mountain." The heavy medallion is worn suspended from a collar woven of Idaho wool, some of which is dyed with dahlia flowers to match the jasper and some of which is from a black sheep; between wearings it is kept in a cedar box. It was first used in 1965 at the inauguration of Ernest Hartung, UI's 12th president, and is now a regular element of the president's academic attire.

G. HONOR CORDS. Reminiscent of the cleric's stole, UI students graduating with honors wear colored cords around the neck and hanging loosely down the front. The gold cord identifies those graduating summa cum laude (with highest distinction); silver, magna cum laude (with great distinction); and bronze, cum laude (with distinction). The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi provides these cords. Students wear honor cords only at the commencement at which the honors are awarded; the cords are not a permanent part of their academic regalia.


H-1. In the United States before the Civil War, most professors and students wore caps and gowns daily to classes. In England, the faculty and students wore gowns until well after the Second World War. Faculty members in England still lecture in gowns, and students wear them for their final examinations and in certain other formal situations. In America, however, during the latter half of the 19th century, the custom of daily wear disappeared.

H-2. At the University of Idaho, with the exception of graduates being commissioned in the Armed Forces, participants in the procession at commencement wear academic garb. It is also de rigueur at presidential inaugurations and other ceremonial events. The centuries-old pageantry and the display of these ancient and colorful symbols make us aware of the heritage this university shares with its sister institutions and of UI's common bond with them--dedication to freedom of inquiry and to exploring and expanding the frontiers of knowledge.

I. ILLUSTRATION.  The illustration can be found in the hardcopy of the Faculty Staff Handbook or by calling the Faculty Secretary's Office to obtain a copy.

Version History

Amended August 2010. Updated language, other minor editorial changes.

Adopted June 1988.

Campus Locations

Physical Address:
Bruce M. Pitman Center
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264

Phone: 208-885-6111

Fax: 208-885-9119