Graduation, Robes, and Shaved Heads

Some examples of academic regalia

For many of us, May is a month of graduations as friends and family don robes and funny hats as they move from one stage of their education—and often times their life—to another. Naturally, one of our favorite parts of any college graduation are the doctoral robes. These are the fancy velvet trimmed robes worn with multi-colored hoods and often a jaunty velvet tam. These robes were first used in Medieval Europe when universities were connected to the Catholic church and reflected the fact that most students and faculty had taken at least some level of religious vows. The heavy clerics’ robes (which would have been worn at all times, just not at ceremonies) kept students warm in the cold, stone buildings while the hoods kept those with tonsured heads warm.

Later, academic dress became more strictly regulated and eventually specific colors were assigned to different disciplines. In the United States, the level of degree obtained and the subject of the degree determines the color the velvet on the graduate’s hood. (Interestingly, all PhDs—regardless of what subject they studied—wear the blue hood representing philosophy.) The other colors on the hood are usually black and the school’s colors.

Of course, doctors who received their degrees in other countries have much different outfits. For example, when receiving a doctorate in Finland the graduate wears a top hat and in some cases carries a saber. 

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