For the benefit of our visitors, the following information, digested from An Academic Costume Code and Ceremony Guide prepared by the American Council on Education, may prove helpful in identifying the costumes you will see in the Commencement procession.
The history of academic dress reaches far back into the earliest days of the oldest universities. A statute of 1312 required that all "Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors" of the University of Coimbra wear gowns. In England during the second half of the 14th century, the statutes of certain colleges prescribed the wearing of a long gown. During the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, the wearing of a robe often signified a degree candidate's political or religious affiliation; in the northern universities and those of the British Isles, the robe signified that tuition and boarding fees of the wearer had been paid, in addition to entitlement to special immunities in civil law, as well as providing warmth at lectures and chapel.
When American colleges and universities desired to adopt some suitable system of academic apparel, a conference held at Columbia University in 1895, comprising representatives from various institutions, drew up a By-Law, Regulation, or Statute for the establishment of a suitable code of academic dress for colleges and universities in the United States. This code, with modifications made in 1959 by the Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies of the American Council on Education, is still in force. The costumes and colors, trimmings, and patterns you will see are traditional and interpret both the degree and field of learning. The bachelor's gown, designed to be worn closed, has pointed sleeves; the master's gown, which may be worn open or closed, has an oblong sleeve open at the wrist which hangs down in the traditional manner. The rear part of its oblong shape is square cut, and the front has the arc cut away. The doctor's gown has bell-shaped sleeves. It may be worn open or closed.
Black is the recommended color for all academic gowns. Bachelor's and master's gowns are untrimmed. Doctor's gowns are faced with black velvet, with three bars across the sleeves, or the color of the velvet may be that which is distinctive to the degree, agreeing with that of the edging of the hood. During the 1960s, many American land-grant universities adopted the British and Scottish tradition of using the official school color(s) for the robes of their doctoral recipients: for instance, Yale uses sky blue; Harvard uses crimson; the University of Pennsylvania uses scarlet and blue; Columbia uses slate gray; and Rutgers uses deep red and black.
The hoods, differing in length for the three degrees—bachelor's, master's, and doctorate—are lined with the official color of the university or college conferring the degree, usually with one color forming a chevron pattern over the other. Hoods are edged and bound with velvet or a color appropriate for the degree. During our procession, you will see many hoods with dark blue, representing the doctorate of philosophy.
Mortarboards are the approved headgear. The tassel, worn on the left side of the cap, may be gold in color if the wearer has a doctorate degree.
In the procession, the faculty members enter first, followed by the candidates for degrees arranged by order in which degrees are to be conferred, and lastly, the speakers, trustees, administrative officers, candidates for honorary degrees, and other members of the platform party.