The history of academic dress dates back to the medieval European universities of the 14th century. European universities continue to follow varied patterns in cut and color of gown, as well as in type of headdress. In the United States, universities have standardized the academic dress so that its features are generally uniform.
Gown – The gown is traditionally black for academic degrees, except in cases where universities have authorized the use of colored gowns. The sleeve pattern varies with the degree held: pointed for the bachelor’s degree; oblong for the master’s degree; and full for the doctorate. The doctoral gown is trimmed with three bars of black or colored velvet on the sleeves and velvet facing down the front. Presidents’ gowns typically feature four bars on the sleeves.
Hood – The shape and length of the hood reflects the highest degree held. The color of the velvet trim indicates the field of study, and the color and design of the lining designate the college or university granting the degree.
Color Trimmings – Color trimmings on gowns and hoods indicate the following: white for Arts, Letters, and Humanities; maize for Agriculture Studies; crimson for Communication Studies; midnight blue for Criminal Justice; copper for Economics; brown for Fine Arts; pink for Music; dark blue for Philosophy; peacock blue for Public Administration; citron for Social Work; drab for Business Administration; golden yellow for Science; apricot for Nursing; light blue for Education; sage green for Kinesiology.
Cap – The standard cap is the mortarboard, which is usually black with a black tassel. Gold tassels may be worn by persons holding doctoral degrees.
Presidential Tam – Tams are typically used for doctoral degrees. Tams are made from black velvet and usually have a ribbon over the fabric. Color variations do occur with some colleges. The number of sides varies, and can be four-, six- or eight-sided. Four-sided is usually only used for master’s degrees, while six- and eight-sided are used for doctoral degrees, depending on which the University prefers. Tams are “poofed” at the top instead of flat, come with a gold tassel, have one or two buttons and sometimes are a gold bullion color.