© Charlie Bishop | dreamstime.com
The current style of academic costume in the United States is barely a century old. Harvard used caps and gowns at its 250th Anniversary in 1886. The University of Michigan’s graduating class of 1894 was the first to wear caps and gowns for a commencement.
Gardner Cotrell Leonard, a freshman at Williams College, decided he could design better robes himself after watching seniors graduate in 1883. His family was in the dry goods business, and they made the gowns he designed for his own class’s graduation.
After graduation Leonard toured Europe to study academic costume there, and in time became the greatest single influence on American academic costume. The Cotrell and Leonard Company became and remains to this day a major supplier of academic robes.
The master’s gown Leonard designed was adapted from the informal gown worn by doctors at Oxford University. The doctor’s gown was “an Oxford bachelor of arts gown with trim from Cambridge undergraduate gowns.”
With Leonard as technical advisor, representatives of a number of colleges and universities met at Columbia University on May 16, 1895 and fashioned an Academic Costume Code. Revised slightly in 1932 and 1960 by the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costumes (founded in 1902) and committees of the American Council on Education, this code is still in use. Not all institutions observe its guidelines; Harvard and St. Johns, for example, have never subscribed.
Gowns for the different degrees are distinguished, among other things, by the length of the hood and the width of its edging.
|hood length||3 feet||3½ feet||4 feet|
|width of hood edging||2 inches||3 inches||5 inches|
Most gowns are black (the doctor's gown of Harvard and a few others is in the institution’s color). Most line the hood with the institution's color. On bachelor’s and master’s gowns that is the only color.
On doctor’s gowns, the wearer’s subject is indicated by the color of the trimming of the hood. In some institutions the facing on the front of the gown and the three bars across each sleeve (all in velvet, and only found on doctor’s gowns) and the tassel may also be the subject color.
|Arts, Letters, Humanities||white|
|Commerce, Accountancy, Business||drab|
|Criminal Justice, Criminology||midnight blue|
|Fine Arts, Architecture||brown|
|Oratory (Speech)||silver gray|
|Physical Education||sage green|
|Public Administration, Foreign Service||peacock blue|
|Public Health||salmon pink|
|Science, Mathematics||golden yellow|
The following colors are unofficial:
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Last revised: 23 October 2009.