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I Didn’t Know That: Graduation Garb (aka Regalia)

graduating students

If you’ve ever wondered about the reason behind the caps and gowns, pomp and circumstance of commencement, read on.

The tradition goes back to 12th century Europe, when the first universities were founded. Gowns and hoods were worn by clergy, and students adopted the same garb. The gowns and hoods set students apart from their fellow citizens.

A more practical reason is that the gowns provided warmth in the unheated buildings.

Fast-forward to 1894 when an American Intercollegiate Commission met to standardize the style and color for robes and hoods, which was glamorous gray or black. Until the 1950s caps and gowns in the U.S. were typically gray because color photos were expensive and uncommon until the 1960s.

At some point, schools just decided to do their own thing and have different styles of robes and trims for baccalaureate and master’s degree recipients. Boise State made the switch from black to Bronco blue in fall 2016 to enhance the graduation ceremony and experience with gowns that reflect the Boise State spirit and culture.

Regalia Elements:

Robe or Gown: There are three styles of robes, depending on which degree is earned — bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral.

Hood: It’s worn over the robe and hangs down in the back. It identifies the degree earned and is basically a color-coded system.

Tam: A hat typically used for doctoral degrees with a poofy top.

Mortarboard or Cap: A flat, four-sided hat that typically has a tassel with a single button at the top.

Cords and sashes: Generally used to denote academic honors and are draped over the neck.