The Cap and Gown

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Sitting at my son’s Graduation at Gettysburg College yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder what the history is of the cap and gown and why we always wear this academic apparel at Graduations. This is what I found out:

The custom started during the 12th century when early universities were still beginning to be formed in Europe. These universities were tasked to validate degrees as well as list the names of scholars who were officially enrolled, and they were to record the progress of students to the next degree.

At that time, no sufficient heating system was provided in such universities, and as such, students were forced to improvise to keep warm.

The scholars, who were usually aspiring clerics or already clerics, started the practice of wearing a long robe with a hood for heat. Later that century, gowns were made the official dress of academics to prevent excessive apparel.

On the other hand, the square academic cap also called a mortarboard-because of its resemblance in shape to the device utilized by masons to hold mortar-was reputed to have originated from a biretta worn by scholarly clergies, which was used to signify their superiority and intelligence. These hats became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries and were only worn by artists, humanists, students, and all those learned. They usually came in the color red signifying blood and life, hence, power more than life and death.

Regardless if you live in America or in another country, graduation caps and gowns, along with tassels, hoods, stoles and diploma covers are common apparel whenever men and women graduate from school.The colors,designs, and opulence used in the tassels,hoods,velvet and satin trimmings, and robes designate everything from the level of degree held by the wearer to his or her field of study to the institution from which the degree was earned. From a child graduating from preschool or kindergarten, all the way up to doctoral graduates, you’ll find various colors, styles, and materials for your educational affiliation.

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