The Meaning and Symbolism of Academic Regalia

Academic regalia are the traditional robes worn by college graduates, but the origins of this custom are not well understood. Read on to discover the meaning and symbolism behind this tradition. You may be surprised to learn that the origin of academic regalia goes back a lot farther than you think. Learn how they were made and why they are still used today!


The tradition of wearing academic regalia dates back to the Middle Ages when education was the primary function of religious organizations. During those times, cloaks and hoods were worn by scholars in cold stone buildings to protect them from the elements. Modern black gowns and hoods evolved from monks’ habits. Skullcaps were also used, but American universities were the first to introduce a finite system for academic regalia.

The hood is an essential part of academic regalia. It reaches from the shoulders down the back of the gown and displays different colors based on the disciplines the wearer is pursuing. Usually, black hoods represent the disciplines the wearer has completed and the college or university they attended. In addition to the hood, academic regalia also has an outer lining made of silk or other material. This layer provides a warm, protective barrier against the elements.


This article explores the history of academic regalia and the evolution of the “hooding” ceremony. This article also explores the evolution of the “hooding” tradition.

The origins of academic regalia are unclear, but there are a few key points to consider. First, it is essential to understand that academic regalia originated in monasteries. Faculty members of European universities were men of religion and wore the habit of their Order when they taught. As a result, the garments came to be recognized as a university symbol. Although laymen were not familiar lecturers in universities in Europe until the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until that time that they began teaching there. Eventually, British law made dons of universities not have to be in a holy order, but professors continued to wear clerical garb. Colors of academic regalia often matched the city they represented, such as the red of the bachelor’s gown worn at Simon Fraser University.


The meaning of academic regalia is different in each country. It is traditionally black or navy blue, with the colors indicating the academic discipline or school. Doctoral regalia may be open or closed, depending on the degree. They may be decorated with velvet panels around the neck and down the front, and some have six corners, while others have four. Doctoral candidates wear these regalia. Their hoods are traditionally made of black or velvet.

The tradition of academic regalia dates back to the late 18th century when leading colleges and universities met to decide on uniformity. The Intercollegiate Commission, chaired by Columbia University’s President Seth Low, adopted a set of regulations that outlined the gowns’ cut, color, and material. However, it took until 1932 for the American Council of Education to approve the regalia.


The symbolic significance of wearing academic regalia was first understood during the Middle Ages when university students would wear medieval clothing to stay warm in the halls and castles they lived in. Academic life originated in the guilds and churches of Europe, and a bachelor or apprentice was known as a Master of Arts. This academic garb was a visible manifestation of one’s status and purpose. In the United States, however, academic attire remained conservative until a conference of institutions in 1895 agreed on the fundamental academic garb that a student would wear.

Colleges first began to form in the 12th and 13th centuries, and their students were required to wear brown or black hoods, symbolizing their religious status. Their purpose was to separate the students from the laypersons. The symbolic significance of wearing the hoods has long been recognized, and Columbia University is no exception. This period is one of the earliest examples of the origins of the “town and gown” divide.


The purpose of academic regalia dates back centuries. The clergy founded the first universities in the 12th and 13th centuries. Students wore black or brown hoods that symbolized religious status and distinguished them from laypeople. According to Columbia University’s history of regalia, the “town and gown” division first started with this practice. Today, academic regalia is worn by students to demonstrate their academic achievement and to commemorate a successful school year.

Academic regalia, also known as cap and gown, differ in style and material depending on the level of scholarship. The bachelor’s dress is modest and straightforward, while the master’s robe features long sleeves. The doctoral robe is the most ornate and often consists of three stripes on the arms and includes a hood. If you’re in a doctoral program, the hood will be made of the most expensive fabric, usually velvet or Russell cord.

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