History of Regalia

The Story Behind the Dress

The strange outfits you see our faculty and staff wearing at commencement are called “academic dress” or “academic regalia” and are traditional for that setting. It means the wearer holds a university degree and, in some ways, is distinctive to the institution from which the wearer graduated. The majority of colleges and universities follow an inter-collegiate code which sets out a detailed uniform scheme for academic regalia.


Most robes are black, regardless of what academic degree (bachelors, masters or doctoral) the wearer holds, though some schools use robes in the school’s colors. Doctoral gowns display three velvet bands on the sleeves and velvet facing running down the front of the gown. Gown trim can either be black or the color designated for the field of study in which the doctorate was earned. Doctoral robes sport full sleeves, instead of the bell-shaped sleeves of the bachelor’s gown.


The shell material of the hood, that colorful cloth draped over the robe, must be black regardless of the color of the robe being worn. The interior lining of the hood, usually silk, displays colors in a pattern prescribed by the institution from which the wearer received his or her degree. The opening of the hood is trimmed in velvet or velveteen, and its color is distinctive of the academic field to which the degree pertains.

Caps & Tams

No academic costume is complete without headwear, which will vary with the level of academic achievement. For headwear, the code recommends mortarboards (you can understand why they call them that if you’ve ever witnessed brick being laid), with the material required to match the gown. The doctor’s degree headwear is the exception – coming in the form of a multi-sided tam made of velvet.


The tassel worn on a mortarboard or tam provides the greatest opportunity for creativity in academic dress. It can be black, gold, the colors of a specific college, or the academic discipline of the degree. It can also be used to indicate membership in honor societies or other awards.

Some colleges have a tradition of moving the tassel from one side to the other on graduating, but this can prove to be impractical in springtime outdoor commencements in Texas due to wind velocity. Not to worry, ours will be inside the Convention Center!

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